Starting Points

Points (n.) 1. marks of punctuation. 2. something that has position but not extension, as the intersection of two lines. 3. salient features of a story, epigram, joke, etc.:  he hit the high points. 4. (slang; U.S.) needles for intravenous drug use.

The Eyes of the City: Fiorello La Guardia’s Committee on the Marihuana Problem in New York

Fiorello LaGuardia

I recently attended the Urban History Association conference in Chicago, October 13-16 along with Tina Peabody and Shannon Missick, two colleagues from the University at Albany, SUNY, presenting a panel about the shifting focus of municipal resources toward (and away from) issues of trash collection, food access, and marijuana use. I examined the La Guardia Committee Report on the Marihuana Problem in New York, published in 1944. The committee was tasked with investigating the validity of public hysteria surrounding marijuana use in New York City during the so-called Reefer Madness era, which galvanized political support for the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937.

Harry Anslinger

The committee report stands as a clear refutation of Anslinger’s version of the marijuana threat, and though largely ignored at the time, constitutes a rallying cry for advocates of legalization today who use the report to expose the flimsy bases for the drug’s initial prohibition. The report has thus become a hot new source for historians to re-examine. In a newly published article in the Journal of Policy History, Emily Brooks discusses the disconnect between federal marijuana policy approaches and local marijuana policy approaches, centering the La Guardia report within this policy conflict. Brooks argues that the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was able to exert its power to shape marijuana policy and along with an assist from the American Medical Association, to circumscribe medical and scientific inquiries into the plant despite the efforts of La Guardia and the New York Academy of Medicine to counter their power in the late 1930s.

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Dissertation Abstracts: Drug History Edition

At Points we periodically post abstracts for dissertations published in fields relevant to the history of drugs, graciously compiled by Jonathon Erlen, History of Medicine Librarian at the University of Pittsburgh ( Last week we offered you an interdisciplinary collection, somewhat representative of the ongoing bibliography, minus hard science fields such as neuroscience and pharmacology. This week, we bring you an assortment of international histories of drug use, policy, and commerce.

Narcotics vs. the Nation: The Culture and Politics of Opiate Control in Britain and France, 1821–1926

Author: Padwa, Howarad Philip

Abstract: Even though they faced similar drug problems in the early-twentieth century, Britain and France adopted radically different approaches towards narcotics control and addiction. The British allowed for their addicted citizens to receive maintenance treatments for their opiate habits, and pushed for stringent controls internationally; the French, by contrast, took a more penal approach towards handling addiction at home, yet were not particularly enthusiastic when it came to the global struggle against narcotics. In this dissertation, I set out to explain why this came to be by examining the development of drug discourses in the nineteenth century, and then the birth of each country’s national narcotics control regime in the first two decades of the twentieth. Using primary-source evidence mined from contemporary works of literature, medical texts, journalistic accounts, official government documents, and state archives, I argue that the driving forces behind the British and French pushes towards narcotics control in the early-twentieth century lay in broader understandings of the nation, and fears of what narcotics could do to the national community if the state did not intervene. In Britain, where the nation was imagined as one defined by liberty and freedom of trade, narcotics became a major concern for the authorities in London when they were feared to pose an economic threat—both by making citizens apathetic and unwilling to work, and by endangering the nation’s ability to continue trading freely with other countries that had already placed restrictions on the drugs. In France, on the other hand, narcotics became particularly problematic because of their association with solipsism, and their apparent irreconcilability with the tenets of republican citizenship. Consequently, the French crusade against narcotics was painted with a particularly nationalist brush, and was instigated by the military, not the guardians of public health. Officials in Britain and France approached the task of narcotics control differently, therefore, because they had two very different goals—to preserve economic well-being in Britain, and to preserve ideological well-being in France.

Advisor: Baldwin, Peter

University/institution: University of California, Los Angeles


“Red Tabs”: Life and Death in the 6th South African Armoured Division, 1943 – 1945

Author: Bourhill, James Fraser


Abstract: The thesis seeks to understand, first and foremost, what the members of the 6 th South African Armoured Division in Italy during the Second World War experienced in their day-to-day lives on campaign. It is therefore primarily a social history. Although an exhaustive analysis of the demographics of the division is beyond the scope of this study, an attempt was made in Chapter 2 to identify some of the characteristics of the volunteers and their motivations for enlisting. Recruitment statistics and other sources show that in the final stage of the war, volunteers were most likely to be school-leavers and university students. Chapters three to eight detail the daily life in camp and on the road as the division progressed up the length of Italy. The main themes revolve around the necessities of life, recreation, leisure and ways of dealing with long periods of inactivity. The more controversial topics of sexuality, alcohol use, and battle fatigue are not avoided. Regardless of the capacity in which they served, all those attached to the 6th South African Armoured Division experienced the country and its people. Homesickness, discomfort and the fulfilling of basic needs was the common bond. Chapter nine examines the topic of casualties and what it reveals about the men and their experience. At first glance, it would appear that the casualty rate was exceptionally low for a front line division. However, on closer examination, the casualty rate was found to be in line with that experienced by other nations involved in the Italian campaign. As expected, it was found that casualties occurred mainly in infantry units, although accidents accounted for 25 per cent of injuries. In the final chapter, the conclusions are presented and discussed in a theoretical context. Memory is used as a category of analysis. Scholars are in agreement that distortion and cleansing occurred due to the tendency of contemporary accounts to accentuate the positive. The needs of post-war society also helped to ensure that the language and experience of the front line soldier was overwhelmed.

Advisor: Pretorius, F.

University/institution: University of Pretoria (South Africa)

Department: Historical And Heritage Studies


Grand Plans in Glass Bottles: A Social, Economic, and Technological History of Beer in Egypt, 1880-1970

Author: Foda, Omar D.


Abstract: Contrary to common perceptions, the history of beer (and indeed of other alcoholic beverages) in the Muslim-majority context of Egypt has not been a history of government officials desperately seeking to extirpate the evil of alcohol as rumrunners, backyard brewers, and moonshiners stayed one step ahead. Rather it was a history of a commercially-marketed product that enjoyed relatively wide popularity and robust growth from 1880 to 1980, and sat at the cutting edge of technological innovation in Egypt in that same period. Its success was not only evident from the profitability of the companies that sold it, but also from its increasing appearances in all popular forms of art and media. The title of my dissertation is “Grand Plans in Glass Bottles: An Economic, Social, and Technological history of Beer in Egypt, 1880-1970”. My dissertation studies Egypt during an exciting period, when the country was transitioning from being a quasi-colonial state, under British Occupation after 1882 and, until 1914, under Ottoman influence as well, to being an independent country within a highly competitive global economy. Using American, Dutch, and Egyptian archival sources, as well as Arabic literary sources, I focus on two closely linked companies, Crown and Pyramid Breweries. Originally founded by Belgian expatriates in Egypt, these two firms in their various incarnations developed the Egyptian beer industry and cultivated a wide customer base. I take the story past the 1950s, when the Egyptian government under Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the beer industry (which was by then led by Stella Beer and owned primarily by Heineken) much as it nationalized the Suez Canal. Through the study of this beverage, my research connects the history of Egypt to Belgium, Netherlands, Britain, and elsewhere; the history of a business to developments in technology, politics, and consumer culture; and the history of the people – of “everyday Egyptians” – to business elites. Viewed through a mug of beer, we can tell the economic, political, and cultural history of Egypt at large.


Advisor: Sharkey, Heather J.


University/institution: University of Pennsylvania

Department: Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations







CFP: The Alcohol and Drug History Society’s “Drinking and Drug Policies in History”


Drinking and Drug Policies in History:

Contextualizing Causes and Consequences

Call for papers: Alcohol and Drugs History Society conference

 22-25 June 2017, Utrecht University, The Netherlands.

The twentieth century dawned with an unparalleled drive to regulate the production, distribution, and consumption of alcohol and other psychoactive substances. Many countries have developed their own specific historical trajectories of substance regulation, consumption, and user cultures. This regulatory drive continued into the 21st century, where today we live once more in a period of decisive regulatory changes and discussion. For instance as can be seen in the submission of national regulations in Europe to EU directives. On the other hand, the ‘war on drugs’ is now more contested than ever before.

Global discussions have intensified concerning the consequences, feasibility, and desirability of drug prohibition. Moreover, the rise of virtual communities of substance use defies regulation within national borders.

To befit the context of this global discussion, and to stimulate comparative transnational research on substance use and regulation, the organizers of the conference would like to invite contributions addressing histories, problems and consequences of substance regulation in their wider contexts – including political, social, and cultural developments, as well as responses by and consequences for civil society, communities, and individuals.

Questions may include but are not restricted to the following:

  • To what extent were regulatory practices shaped and determined by national, local, or international factors?
  • How did user cultures and consumption develop within the context of changing regimes, for instance in specific national or urban settings?
  • How and why did substance use and substance regulation differ between periods and regions?
  • How can we explain similarities and dissimilarities between regulation of different substances (e.g., alcohol, tobacco, ‘drugs’) and their consequences, and other regulatory regimes (e.g., food, medicine, gambling, etc.).
  • How did legal markets and illegal economies, their impact on social, cultural and political life, and trading and trafficking patterns and routes develop in the context of changing regulation?
  • What was the role of media debates and public discourses on changing regulatory regimes and on their impact?
  • Finally, in light of the increasing availability of digitized sources the organizers are particularly interested in methodological contributions: on availability of sources in general, and on the impact of digitization of sources and the possibilities of using advanced text mining tools for transnational comparative research in alcohol and drug history in particular.

Proposals for papers (300 words and a short CV) and sessions can be send to:

Stephen Snelders ( or Lisanne Walma (

before 15 December 2016.

More information is available on


The Points Interview: Mark Hailwood

Editor’s Note: Today’s interview comes courtesy of Mark Hailwood, author of Alehouses and Good Fellowship in Early Modern England. (Available from Boydell and Brewer, and in paperback later this month!) Contact the author at or follow him on Twitter @mark_hailwood. You can also follow his blog, Many Headed Monster, on WordPress.

  1. Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

Well, it is a book of particular relevance to bartenders, because it tells the story of the emergence of their institution – at least in the English context – in the years from 1550-1700. It is a book about how and why the English pub became such a central part of our cultural life, which I argue it did for the first time in the period covered by the book. Various incarnations of the ‘pub’ existed before this time, but they were relatively few in number and their main function was to cater to travelers. Communal, recreational drinking took place instead in churchyards and church buildings, and was tied in with feast days and holy days. But after the English Reformation the church became hostile to such activity, and recreational drinkers found a new home in the growing number of alehouses that sprang up in villages and towns all across England.

This rise of the alehouse was a controversial process though: the government in particular were concerned about the effects that recreational drinking had on the work ethic and the political loyalty of its subjects, and they launched an ambitious campaign to try and restrict both the numbers and the functions of alehouses, including introducing a one-hour time limit on drinking in an alehouse. The state martialed all of its resources to try and discipline this emerging institution, but the book shows – through a close study of the regulatory records generated by such efforts – that many publicans and villagers dug their heels in, and ultimately resisted the bulk of regulation directed against them. The reason why so many villagers rallied behind the institution, I argue, is because alehouses had quickly become important sites of what contemporaries called ‘good fellowship’ – a popular and significant form of social bonding, based around choreographed drinking rituals, that appealed to many men and women of both the lower and middles classes.  So, it is a book about the way ordinary villagers fought for and won a place for recreational drinking at the heart of English community life, one that it still holds to this day.

  1. What do you think a bunch of alcohol and drug historians might find particularly interesting about your book?

I’d like to hope they might find the whole thing interesting! I have tried to construct it as a coherent overall ‘story’ about the rise of the alehouse which I hope gives it some narrative drive, but it is also an attempt to use a focus on alehouses as a way of highlighting a wide range of broader themes and issues of interest to historians – a kind of ‘prism’ effect. So, for those interested in the ways in which governments attempt to regulate alcohol and drugs it provides a case study of what I would consider one of the first examples of a concerted ‘war on drugs’ (the ‘campaign against the alehouse’). For those interested in ‘moral panics’ about alcohol and drug consumption it offers an insight into another early example, detailing the language and arguments used to condemn alehouse sociability in seventeenth-century England. Scholars interested in the relationship between alcohol or drug consumption and the formation of social identity will find plenty here on the ways in which alehouse ‘good fellowship’ fed into the articulation of individual and collective identities in the period, and historians interested in the ways that gender shapes and is shaped by practices of intoxication might be surprised to find that the alehouse was an important site of mixed-gender forms of sociability. So, in ranging quite widely I’d hope most historians of alcohol and drugs could find at least one angle that would interest them.

  1. Now that the hard part is over, what is the thing YOU find most interesting about your book?

I love uncovering colorful vignettes of the everyday lives of ordinary men and women in the past – those tantalising insights into a world that is often very difficult for historians to uncover. So, for me, the most fascinating part of researching and writing the book was turning up lots of examples of sixteenth and seventeenth century villagers engaging in bizarre drinking rituals, scatological political commentary, or touching acts of romance and friendship. I’ve written about quite a few of my favourite ‘alehouse characters’ on my own blog, and the book is packed with them, but I think the most interesting vignette of the lot was the one involving a drinking ritual from 1604, in Essex, in which a village constable led an all-night drinking bout involving a 2 gallon stone drinking vessel nicknamed ‘Fowler’ and ended with a sack placed over one man’s head and the untying of his codpiece. It’s certainly interesting trying to ‘decode’ rituals like this one!

  1. Every research project leaves some stones unturned. What stone are you most curious to see turned over soon?

Like many historians I have tried to tell a story about historical change without being an expert on what came before or after the period I’ve studied. I’ve done my best to read up on the late medieval period, but I would love for someone to come along and challenge my overall narrative with a book about the importance of alehouses in medieval England. Likewise, I’ve done some homework on the eighteenth century, but it would be great to see more work done on the role of the alehouse in the years after my book finishes: there is a lot of work on gin in the eighteenth century, largely centred on London, but I’d really like to read a book on the ongoing political, social and cultural significance of the alehouse in England’s eighteenth-century market towns and villages. I’m not really qualified to study these periods myself, so I’ve got my fingers crossed that others will come along to fill in the gaps and provide a much clearer sense of the longer term trajectory of the role played by pubs and recreational drinking in English culture.


BONUS QUESTION: In an audio version of this book, who should provide the narration?

It would be nice to have it read by the English actress Maxine Peake. Given that it is in large part a story about the agency of ordinary people it would be fitting to have a narrator with a working class background, and I would also want to have a female narrator – the ‘pub’ is often thought of as a very masculine environment, but certainly in the seventeenth century it was an important social space for both women and men, so I wouldn’t want too ‘blokey’ a tone set by the narration.  It might be a bit of a step down from her recent role in Hamlet, but she did once play a character in the British sitcom ‘Early Doors’, which was an affectionate homage to the English pub, so I’d like to think she recognizes the historical importance of the institution!

Guest Post: Jonathon Erlen’s Dissertation Abstracts

Editor’s Note: Frequent Points readers are aware of Jonathon Erlen’s ongoing bibliography of dissertations related to alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Entries were formerly published in the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs journal but have since moved to the Points blog. Below are a few highlights from recent years. Contact Dr. Erlen through the link above.

Religious coping as a moderator of the five factor model of personality traits and alcohol abuse severity at six-month follow-up in a Twelve Step treatment sample

Author: Rachel L. Huhra

Institution: University of Akron

Department: Counseling Psychology

Committee: Loreto Prieto (Advisor)

Abstract: Personality traits and religious coping are often viewed by counseling psychologists as strengths that influence how difficult situations are handled. Within the substance abuse literature, both personality traits and religious coping style are proposed to have profound impacts on substance abuse and treatment outcomes. The success of Twelve Step treatment programs is predicated on the notion that treatment works by affecting both “positive” personality changes and use of positive religious coping as means for decreasing substance abuse. However, virtually no empirical research exists to account for the impact of religious coping and personality on treatment outcomes. In contrast, a large literature base exists that examines the roles of personality on substance abuse and treatment outcomes. Because Twelve Step treatments utilize both personality traits and religious coping as means for decreasing substance abuse, an investigation of the unique and shared influence of these factors on treatment outcomes seems appropriate. In this dissertation, I examined the influence of personality factors (Revised NEO Personality Inventory, NEO-PI-R), religious coping (Coping Styles Test, CST), and the possible moderating effect of religious coping on the relationship between personality factors and alcohol abuse severity in a sample of 500 veterans who received a structured Twelve Step group treatment for alcohol abuse at a Midwestern VA hospital. The results of this study were 1) high level expressions of several facets of the NEO-PI-R were associated with decreased alcohol abuse severity six months after formal treatment ended; 2) the use of a Collaborative Religious Coping Style was also associated with decreased alcohol abuse severity after treatment; 3) religious coping style moderated the relation among NEO-PI-R traits and alcohol abuse severity six-months after Twelve Step treatment; and 4) the combined effect of high level expression of the Five Factor Model trait Agreeableness and the use of a Collaborative Religious Coping Style had the greatest impact on decreased alcohol abuse. Therefore, this study provides preliminary support for religious coping as a moderator of the relationship between personality traits and alcohol abuse in a Twelve Step treatment sample.


Pathways to drug use among rural and urban African American adolescents: The mediating and moderating effects of parent and peer influences

Author: Trenette Clark

Institution: Virginia Commonwealth University

Department: Social Work

Committee: Melissa Abell, Faye Belgrave

Abstract: African American adolescents have traditionally engaged in drug use at disproportionately lower rates than youth of other ethnic groups. Nonetheless, African American youth and adults suffer disproportionately higher rates of drug-related consequences. This paradox is a health and social disparity that has been given fair attention but needs additional culturally intelligent theoretical and empirical explanations. Research that targets African American adolescent drug use has emerged but has failed to fully or moderately explain this paradox. The purpose of this study was to fill a gap in the literature by helping to explain the first part of the paradox, African American adolescent drug use. More specifically, this study examined the role of parents and peers in drug use among African American adolescents that live in rural and urban settings. To achieve the goals of the present study, a cross sectional design was used. A purposive sample of 567 African American adolescents completed a paper-and-pen survey. Findings of this study indicate that parental monitoring and peer risky behavior completely mediated the relationship between parental attitudes toward drug use and drug refusal efficacy and partially mediated the relationship between parental attitudes toward drug use and current alcohol use. Only peer risky behavior mediated the relationships between parental attitudes toward drug use and current tobacco and marijuana use. This study also sought to determine the manner by which parenting variables interact with peer risky behavior to influence adolescent drug use. Although parental monitoring was not found to moderate the relationship between peer risky behavior and drug refusal efficacy, it moderated the relationship upon the drug use variables. This study also examined the interaction of demographic characteristics and peer risky behavior upon adolescent drug use. Gender moderated the relationship between peer risky behavior and current marijuana use. Age moderated the relationship between peer risky behavior and current tobacco use. This research helps to explain the process by which parental attitudes toward drug use influence drug refusal efficacy and use. The results suggest that parental attitudes toward drug use has a direct effect on adolescent drug use independent of peer influence. In addition, the results suggest that parents are influential and may be a protective mechanism against the strong influence of risky peers.


Causes and impacts of institutional and structural variation: Globalization in the tobacco and pork industries

Author: Ryan Denniston

Institution: Duke University

Department: Sociology

Committee: Gary Gereffi, David Brady, Bai Gao, Suzanne Shanahan, Kenneth I. Spencer

Abstract: Among the most significant changes to the agricultural sector in the twentieth century include a sharp decline in employment and the numbers of farms, a decline in the proportion of total value that accrues to agricultural producers, and an increase in farm level and regional specialization. Within the U.S., substantial differences in the characteristics of agricultural producers and the spatial distribution of production persist amid industry change. These changes coincided with changes in global markets, domestic consumption, consolidation and concentration within the processing and retailing sectors, and government policy. The causality that lies behind these developments is the key puzzle that this study addresses.

This study advances an institutional explanation of industry formation across locations within the U.S. Differences in industry constitution at the local level produce different impacts of and responses to global markets, reflected by economic changes and policy developments, as actors work to secure stability and advantage in markets (Fligstein 2001). This study uses the global value chains’ definition of the industry, which incorporates the network of actors arrayed along a process of production, to capture the set of actors with the capacity to affect industry operation (Gereffi 1994). An assessment of the relative importance of local economic characteristics, global markets, organization and coordination within industries, and government policies to where production locates in the primary objective of the study.

The pork and non-cigar tobacco industries across several states within the United States from 1959 through 2005 allow for a contrast along the key changes identified above. Within case comparison is used to construct causal narratives of industry change at the state level. Panel and pooled time series analysis assess the relative importance the factors to agricultural change.

Local economic characteristics largely fade from significance with the inclusion of the theoretical perspectives. Total and net trade in agricultural and manufactured products is generally significant across industries for production, although this is not the case for specific tobacco types. The proportion of farms composed of small farms is significant for production and for farm structure in both industries. The presence of manufacture is significant for hog production and could not be assessed for tobacco. While federal policies are broadly significant for the tobacco industry, identified state policies exhibit few consistent effects for hog production. Importantly, farm structure measures were only available for Census years, which reduces sample size. Second, many of the measures are industry-specific, which reduces comparability.




The Points Interview: Scott Jacques

Editor’s Note: In this installment of the Points author interview series, Georgia State University criminologist Scott Jacques discusses his new book, Code of the Suburb: Inside the World of Young Middle-Class Drug Dealers (co-authored with Richard Wright). Contact Dr. Jacques at 


1. Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

A young, white drug dealer walks into the bar and orders a drink; thinks he’s real cool. Someone runs out with his drugs and money. Dealer yells in wimpy voice, “Hey, those are mine!” Does nothing else about it. Pays for drink with parents’ credit card. Goes on to live conventional middle-class life.

2. What do you think a bunch of alcohol and drug historians might find particularly interesting about your book?

The book explores the lives of drug dealers who, unlike their disadvantaged counterparts, rarely wind up in police reports, court records, and correctional rosters. This testifies to the importance of unofficial archives for understanding drugs, especially as they relate to crime and control.

3. Now that the hard part is over, what is the thing YOU find most interesting about your book?


The cover. The baggie with little houses inside makes me laugh every time I look at it. The designer, Brian Chartier, is a genius.

4. Every research project leaves some stones unturned. What stone are you most curious to see turned over soon?

For the teenagers in “Peachville”, where most of the book takes place, it was easier to buy illegal drugs than tobacco or alcohol. This is because legitimate businesses only sold to of-age persons, whereas the dealers sold to anyone they knew and trusted. What I wonder, then, is whether legalizing marijuana will make it harder for youth to get high, and, in turn, make hard drug use and sales more common among them.

BONUS QUESTION: In an audio version of this book, who should provide the narration?


Aaron Paul in the voice of Jesse Pinkman.


Editor’s Note: Today’s post is cross-hosted at Points and Cannabis Life Network. Contact author Lucas Richert at 

From 2014–2016, Canadian health authorities were forced to address the issue of medical marijuana, even as activist groups and industry sought to influence the decision-making process and its place in the medical marketplace. First, the system was privatized, then issues of use and access, not to mention the full-on legalization of recreational marijuana, dominated headlines.

In light of last week’s shocking medical marijuana report, the policy debate will certainly grow more heated here in the UK. The All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform stated there is “good evidence” cannabis can help alleviate the symptoms of several health conditions, including chronic pain and anxiety. According to Prof Mike Barnes, a leading consultant neurologist who contributed to the report, “We must legalise access to medical cannabis as a matter of urgency.”

In a recently co-edited series on Canadian cannabis called Waiting to Inhale, it became clear that medical marijuana was a supremely complex policy issue. Some of the questions included, but were not limited to, the tenuous balance between consumers and regulators, Canadian physicians as unwanted gatekeepers, marijuana as a measure (and potential leveller) of inequities, and the major struggles between Big Cannabis and craft cannabis.

Looking ahead, the UK can learn lessons from other countries, including Canada.

Background: Canadian medical cannabis

Medical marijuana has been available in Canada since 2001, after the Canadian Court of Appeal declared that sufferers from epilepsy, AIDS, cancer and other ailments had a constitutional right to light up. Prohibition of this “medicine” was, in short, unconstitutional.

The original regulation that allowed patients to access medical marijuana in Canada was enacted in 2001 and called the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR). It allowed patients to possess dried marijuana flower/bud with a license issued by the government, provided that the application was signed off by a physician.

One strain of medicine was available for purchase from one single government supplier, Prairie Plant Systems, but optional licenses were available for patients to grow their own plants or to designate a grower to supply medicine to them.

The MMAR was repealed and replaced by the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), enacted on Apr. 1, 2014. With this, medical marijuana was officially opened for business. And the new rules generated a craze as dozens of new entrants jumped into the marketplace.

As of Aug. 24, 2016 the MMPR was replaced with the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulation (ACMPR). These new regulations included legislation that satisfied the latest Supreme Court decision to allow patients who possess a prescription from a doctor to grow their own medicine.

During this period, certain problems have hindered the medical marijuana industry’s growth in Canada, and Britain could learn from these.

Dispensaries vs. Big Cannabis

These stores and clubs are illegal because they procure and sell their products outside the federal medical marijuana system, which was overhauled and expanded last year to allow industrial-scale production of pot products that are mailed directly to licensed patients.

The pushback against dispensaries has come from national and local law enforcement as well as the Canadian Medical Cannabis Industry Association. Yet, the Cannabis Growers of Canada, a trade association representing “unlicensed” growers and dispensaries, have fought to be included at the table. Along with several other organizations, the CGC has lobbied the government to be included in the new legal regime.

As the New York Times put it, “a lobbying battle is raging between the new entrepreneurs and the licensed medical marijuana producers, who were the only ones allowed to grow and provide the plant under the old regulations. One side complains about being shut out by a politically connected cartel, while the other complains about unfair and damaging competition from those who are breaking the law.”


Medical marijuana has not approved as a medicine by Health Canada, although there is a growing body of clinical evidence regarding its pain-alleviating effects.

As such, physicians in Canada have struggled with the science and ethics of medical marijuana. At the 147th annual meeting of the Canadian Medical Association in Ottawa last August, many doctors expressed serious reservations about prescribing marijuana.

Some doctors said they felt threatened or intimidated into signing prescriptions, whereas others felt as though patients were shopping for doctors. Worst of all, there were reported cases of malfeasance, where doctors charged their patients for a prescription.

The result is that the CMA remains divided on, if not outright opposed to, being the gatekeepers of medical marijuana.

Workplace Safety and Performance

With more relaxed rules around medical marijuana (along with federal legislation looking to legalize cannabis),employers are wondering whether this will grow as an issue when it comes to pre-employment or on-the-job testing.

Aside from certain industries, such as transportation, most provinces don’t have clear policies or precedents for dealing with medical marijuana.

Besides that, workplace screening of marijuana is a mediocre indicator of performance in the workplace as it doesn’t actually test for impairment. Rather, it tests for by-products excreted from the body after the drug’s been ingested.

Looking ahead, human resource departments will be forced to develop a raft of new policies.


The core problem rests with the amount of cannabis veterans are authorized to take. In 2014, Veterans Affairs doubled the amount to 10 grams per day for eligible veterans. Yet, this is twice the amount Health Canada considers safe.

An internal Health Canada document showed that more than five grams has the potential to increase risks to the cardiovascular, pulmonary and immune systems, as well as psychomotor performance and has a chance of increasing the risk of drug dependence.

Ferguson’s office could not find any evidence to support this decision to increase the threshold. Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr expressed shock in March that his department lacked an “informed policy” on the use of medical cannabis, even as the number of claims by veterans for medical marijuana grew more than tenfold over the past two years.


The intersection of vaping and medical marijuana has also caused tension. As vaping has moved from a niche presence to mainstream practice, its unregulated nature – at the federal level – poses problems to policy-makers.

For example, the Ontario government exempted medical marijuana users in mid-November from a law that bans the use of e-cigarettes anywhere regular cigarettes are prohibited. These regulations were set to come into effect Jan. 1. This exemption meant medical marijuana users could vape in restaurants, at work or on playgrounds. However, Ontario’s associate health minister Dipika Damerla stated that the government would remove the exemption.

Local governments in various cities recently voted to implement a vaping bans in public spaces, with only a vape shop exemption predicated on “safety” concerns, specifically for the uninitiated e-cigarette user who doesn’t know how to install batteries in the device. But it was also predicated on the notion that buyers should be able to see what they’re getting, which is the same argument made by authorized medical cannabis users about the value of a local pot dispensary.

The Future

Marijuana remains a highly contested medicine for various scientific, political and social reasons. That is obvious.

Policy makers from government, industry leaders, and physicians will face considerable question marks. Cutting through all the haze won’t be an easy task, yet all participants, including the public, would be wise to use recent examples from Canada to light the way.

Reconsidering Ansinger: Race, the Gateway Theory, and the Origins of Marijuana Prohibition (Part II)

Editor’s note: This post concludes Seth Blumenthal’s two-part series on the origins of marijuana prohibition and the gateway theory of drug use. Make sure to catch up on Part I and please email the author at

Even the people who stood in opposition to the Marijuana Tax Act, such as Dr. William C. Woodward encouraged enforcement, claiming “we need heavier penalties” to stop the “illicit traffic that has developed in it [marijuana] for injurious and deleterious purposes.”  Yet, Woodward argued against the law to protect physicians’ and pharmacists’ right to prescribe cannabis as he blamed marijuana addiction on youth and claimed the problem will continue “until we develop young men and young women who are able to suffer a little and exercise a certain amount of control.”  When it came to educating young people and the medical industry, Woodward suggested, “we must deal with the narcotic addiction as something more than a police measure.”  In this context, even for opponents of prohibition, it was assumed that “young men and women” were the symbolic white victims that should be protected from marijuana and criminalization.


Marijuana also became a representation of the new concerns about youth, specifically, the advent of the teenager.  In 1937, a FBN representative spoke to over two thousand members of the National Congress of Parents and Teachers and asked them to help in the “relentless warfare on marihuana”; the most “pernicious” of drugs caused “temporary sense of complete irresponsibility that led to sex crimes” and was sold by “Mexican peddlers who have since reaped a financial harvest in the larger centers.” While this the FBN’s rhetoric linked marijuana dealers with immigration and urban settings as an enforcement issue, the Congress’ president spoke about ways to protect youth from pot as she told parents and educators to teach children to “think clearly…weigh evidence and enable them to meet new situations.” Naming these “new situations,” this gathering feared taverns, pool rooms with slot machines, “soft drink parlors with curtained booths” and “moving picture houses with low grade pictures and ‘bank nights.’”[1] So concerned about white teenagers learning about this vice from films such as Reefer Madness, the New York Board of Regents banned Assassin of Youth unless shown for educational purposes and not at “any place of amusement.” This distinction meant to emphasize the film’s warnings about marijuana and protected kids from learning about pot in the context of leisure and entertainment. Thus, parents concerns about marijuana’s seductive and addictive high served as the incipient foundation for the gateway theory. All sorts of threats lurked in the new suburban landscape that now confused so many parents who had never witnessed the rebellious behavior exhibited by adolescent American whites.


Scholarship on the advent of the teenager in the 1920s and 1930s shows American parents’ fears about adolescents’ vulnerabilities in modern, suburban leisure settings.  More widespread and pernicious than the racial minorities who purportedly smoked and sold pot; music, cars, cigarettes, and soda bars also invaded a new youth culture that spread throughout the growing suburban neighborhoods across America. These were new facets of the adolescent lifestyle that sparked their parents’ imaginations about the dangers lurking beneath.  As Grace Palladino explains the problem; “by the 1930s high school students seemed more convinced than ever that experimentation was a normal part of growing up.”[2] While Anslinger emphasized reports about Mexican peddlers, stories also blame pot for other youthful indiscretions and experimentation.  Kids were doing crazy things while high; one couple eloped while smoking marijuana, another young marijuana addict pawned his mother’s jewelry to satiate his craving for cigarettes.  Reading this anecdotal evidence cynically, perhaps marijuana also became a convenient excuse for young people looking to defend their actions.

In addition, in the 1930s, the depression raised fears of suicide, violence, crime, and the youth unemployment, and marijuana became a symbol of each these problems.  In one example, Anslinger explains that the depression had increased “vagrant youths coming into contact with older psychopaths” and initiated a rise in marijuana use.[3] While pot’s associations with opioid addiction evolved, marijuana’s unknowns created opportunities for its opponents to connect its use with whatever danger threatened young Americans. Since 1937, each version of the gateway theory requires historical context, as the larger danger that awaits “addicts” shifts with temporal and popular anxieties.

Although Reefer Madness has been revived to mock the 1930s’ silly perceptions about cannabis, dismissive reactions to this cult classic miss the film’s depiction of pot’s enduring threat as a gateway for young whites in an idealized suburban space.  As historian Martin Lee observed, prohibition resulted from “the synchronicity among Washington, Hollywood and mainstream media in the war against cannabis.”[4]  This does not mean, however, that the message was the same or repetitive, rather they each offered an important piece to the prohibition argument. Reefer Madness, for example, contrasted the ideal white suburban space with the various dangers it included. This larger anxiety, not the FBN’s racist scapegoating, shaped this film and resonated with many Americans. After all, it was a local church group of parents who began the project before a Hollywood production team bought the film to adapt and sell on the heavily attended sensationalist circuit of exploitation pictures.  The timing seemed right for another drug film as Marijuana had just played an eighteen day showing in Minneapolis for 25,000 admissions. Thus, Reefer Madness and the rash of exploitation drug films in the 1930s offer an important window into the cultural foundation for prohibition and the gateway theory.

A scene from Reefer Madness, 1936

The opening scene establishes the message and the audience, as the story of fallen innocence is told in a School-Parents Association meeting on the recent evil marijuana had wreaked on a lily white and otherwise pristine community. During the meeting, Dr. Alfred Carroll excoriates the adults in the room and “school-parent groups about the country” to demand “compulsory education” and “stamp out this frightful assassin of our youth.” The film describes a group of friends who are lured into a marijuana den by an adult couple.[5] Here, young people laugh hysterically, dance frantically, grope each other and are led into a world of crime and murder. This threat did not require an “other,” as the casts of all the drug films in the 1930s– even the pushers who prey on the high school students– are white. Reefer Madness is so white for several possible reasons. First, the film genre during this time almost never casted villains as non-whites.  As historian Schaefer explains, the film only showed “pleasure-seeking, attractive, white, middle-class youth” because it followed Hollywood’s pattern of avoiding stories that featured minorities.[6]  Second, the audience itself was mostly white and often young. This crowd had very little exposure to Mexicans, urban blacks, or marijuana as the film played nationally under four regionally specified titles and also appealed to movie-goers in the East where Anslinger admitted marijuana had not yet appeared in significant quantities.[7] To grab a national audience, then, popular drug films such as Marihuana and the Assassin of Youth showed the stepping stone argument for protecting innocent kids.[8] For most Americans in the late 1930s, the plight of experimental white teenagers proved more compelling than targeting Mexicans. Still, in the congressional hearing on prohibition, Anslinger could not admit marijuana needed a gateway theory as his reach for complete prohibition precluded any complexity in comparing pot to heroin.

As early as 1931, Dr. A.E. Fossier had claimed that marijuana use led to heroin addiction. Anslinger dismissed weed’s stepping stone potential in Congressional hearings out of the pragmatic need to separate marijuana as an unknown narcotic with unique effects unrelated to and more monstrous than anything that existed.[9]  “In medical schools, the physician to be is taught that without opium medicine would be like a one armed man….Opium has all of the good of Dr. Jekyll, and all the evil of Mr. Hyde.”  When it came to weed, however, Anslinger warned: “This drug is entirely the monster Hyde, the harmful effect of which cannot be measured.”   While Anslinger’s testimony avoids the pot to heroin gateway argument for prohibition, his effort to protect American youth shares an ideal that framed marijuana as a seemingly innocuous yet deadly Trojan horse. This view marijuana as a deceptive attack on innocent and vulnerable youth also drives the “stepping stone” theory. Anslinger denied the connection between pot and opiates during the hearings, but that relationship resonated with the many Americans who attended the drug exploitation films during the 1930s.

In 1951, Anslinger pivoted and argued that marijuana led to heroin use in the context of the new American fear, the Cold War.  Why he made this change is clear, as heroin had become widely labeled a seditious infection promoted by the Chinese who imported the opioids to make Americans pacifists.  Thus, the shift in American fears, from local concerns about adolescents, crime and sexuality to the foreign invasion of soul numbing narcotics forced anti-marijuana activists to advocate cannabis’ gateway potential. In 1951, the Senate voted to declare marijuana a drug that led to other drug use and soon after increased penalties.  The worst part, as Anslinger argued, was that drug addiction was a “contagious disease,” and “Red China” was attempting to subvert American society by smuggling heroin into the country. This meant that all pushers were criminals who infected American youth and threatened the nation’s democracy.

In 1972, spelling out marijuana’s gateway potential to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, President Richard Nixon explained: “once you cross that line, from the straight society to the drug society — marijuana, then speed, then it’s LSD, then it’s heroin, etc. then you’re done.”[10] Nixon, the first President to declare a “War on Drugs,” railed against marijuana’s role in the youth revolt and drug culture as he cheered his aides to “hit it hard,” opting to, “Enforce the law, you’ve got to scare them.” But, even as the War on Drugs began in the early 1970s, enforcement focused on busting pushers and sparing first time offenders–plenty of cover for white suburban pot smokers trying to avoid the punitive American justice system.

During the 1980s. new and since debunked research showing that marijuana caused brain damage (think “This is your brain on drugs” and Just Say No) once again made marijuana the problem, and a gateway theory became less essential to the reasoning behind Ronald Reagan’s own War on Drugs.  As Reagan pointed out, “hard and soft….drugs are bad and we’re going after them.” Still, while marijuana legalization efforts sprang from gay rights activists in San Francisco who saw its medicinal potential with AIDS patients, Reagan’s drug advisor, Carlton Turner, offered a contradictory version of the drug that once again adapted the gateway theory.  Turner connected the drug to a new scourge, HIV, claiming that homosexuality “follows along from their drug use” and puts pot smokers at a higher risk of getting the disease. Though these comments cost Turner his job, this Reaganesque fantasy of pot and social depravation showed once again why historians and recently more Americans have become skeptical of the gateway theory.[11]

The medicinal marijuana movement evolved in the 1990s, kryptonite for the super gateway theory.  This development blurred the distinction between medical “cannabis” and menacing “marihuana” that made possible the concerns about pot as a stepping stone drug. As it has become abundantly clear, many Americans now think that marijuana does have the good of Dr. Jekyll.  In fact, the website for the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program just recently removed marijuana from its list of gateway drugs, and researchers now even contend that there is a potential reverse gateway as some states are attempting to treat opioid addicts with marijuana. The rise and fall of the gateway theory provides a clear picture of what is changing now, and why the legalization effort has achieved so much success.  Still, David Simon, the director of the popular show about Baltimore’s own war on drugs, The Wire, argued that new US drug laws only help “white-middle class kids.”[1] “If they [politicians] can find a way for white kids in middle-class suburbia to get high without them going to jail,” Simon argued, “and getting them to think that what they do is a million miles away from black kids taking crack, that is what politicians would do.” Blaming Anslinger for this phenomenon ignores the more complicated forces that shaped prohibition. By understanding the protectionary, spatial foundation of the war on drugs, the recent reforms appear to mirror the traditional concern over public health for suburban, white youth and perpetuate “the reciprocal criminalization of blackness and decriminalization of whiteness.”  The rise and the fall of the gateway theory indicates that marijuana reform is limited, but also show that this change in drug policy could lead Americans to expand the public health emphasis concerning narcotics laws.

[1] “David Simon, Creator of The Wire, Says New US Drug Laws Help Only ‘white, middle-class kids’”, The Guardian, April 25, 2013.

[1] “War on Marihuana Urged on Parents: Federal Expert Calls on P.T.A”, May 4, 1937; The New York Times, p. 26.

[2] Grace Palladino, Teenagers: An American History, (Basic Books; New York, 1997.)

[3] Ibid

[4] Martin Lee, Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana – Medical, Recreational and Scientific, (New York: Scribner;, 2013), p.53.

[5] Reefer Madness, Louis J. Gasnier: Director; George A. Hirliman Productions, 1936.

[6] Eric Schaefer, Bold! Daring! Shocking! True: A History of Exploitation Films, 1919-1959, Duke University Press Books; Durham, North Carolina,1999), p.233.

[7] “Marihuana makes Maniacs of Mild People: Is WarningThe Milwaukee Journal, Jan 30, 1945, p.4.

[8] Marihuana, Dwain Esper: Director, Roadshow Attractions, 1936; Assassin of Youth, Elmer Clifton: Director, BCM Roadshow Productions, 1937.

[9] David F. Musto, The American Disease: Origins of Narcotic Control. (New Haven: Yale University Press., 1973).

[10] Oval Office Conversation.690, March 21, 1972, 1:00 pm – 2:15 pm White House Tapes.

[11] “Reagan Aide: Pot Can Make You Gay”, Newsweek, October 27, 1986, p.95.

Reconsidering Anslinger: Race, the Gateway Theory, and the Origins of Marijuana Prohibition (Part I)

Editor’s Note: This week’s post comes courtesy of contributor Seth Blumenthal. In Part I, he unpacks some of the racial motivations for marijuana prohibition. Stay tuned for Part II, chronicling other national concerns about cannabis. Contact the author at  

Amidst the political debate over marijuana legalization in Massachusetts, State Representative Hank Naughton recently argued: “Marijuana is a gateway drug to the problems of the opioid crisis that we’re having today.” The Committee Chair on Public Safety and Homeland Security continued, “It’s not just a business and it’s not like a six pack of beer. There’s a lot more to it.” This stepping stone narrative– that marijuana is relatively benign but leads to something much worse– has served as the foundation of prohibition in America that treats young white users as victims and criminalizes the “invading pusher.” As historian Matt Lassiter points out; “the marijuana-as-gateway mystique…helped institutionalize two inter-linked but spatially distinct approaches: public health campaigns in white middle-class neighborhoods and militarized interdiction in urban minority areas.” Despite the changing rhetoric that drove anti-marijuana politics over the decades, the gateway theory connected these two principle motivations; one based on enforcement and the other on protection.


Harry J. Anslinger, Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics

In 1937, however, as the first director for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN), Harry J. Anslinger eliminated any possibility that cannabis, or “marihuana,” could be a gateway drug. When asked during Congressional hearings if “the marihuana addict graduates into a heroin, opium or cocaine user,” Anslinger responded, “I think it [marijuana] is a different class. The marihuana addict does not go in that direction.” This definition of the “marijuana menace” left little room for nuanced understanding of pot’s stepping-stone relationship to “harder” drugs in the nascent debate over its prohibition. Still, Anslinger explained the racialized difference between marijuana’s predators and its victims, as he warned Mexicans were “selling cheap joints to white children.” By separating the two, white users as victims and immigrant pushers as criminals, the first prohibition of marijuana began the two-tiered effort to confront drug use. Anslinger’s simplistic emphasis on criminalizing marijuana still allowed for a widely shared distinction between arresting dealers and protecting youth. “Primarily,” one leading prohibitionist from New York’s Federation of Women’s Clubs argued in 1937, “we want to protect our young people from a danger which is not apparent to them.” Although Anslinger denied the “gateway theory,” he and the various voices in the anti-marijuana effort created the idealized white adolescent victim trope that set the racial framework for the “stepping stone” mythology.
Most scholars promote the Anslingerian narrative that simplifies the initial prohibition of marijuana as one man’s strategy. While not as distinguishable in the 1930s, the gateway theory’s racist implications should also complicate this interpretation of marijuana’s political history. As Lassiter contends, “While historians are belatedly examining crime politics and mass incarceration, which have clearly shaped the inequalities of the metropolitan land¬scape, the role of social movements and interest groups in the formation of drug policy remains underexplored.” Considering marijuana prohibition’s beginnings by examining the social and cultural landscape that inspired parents’ concerns about their adolescent children, I argue that even before pot smoking increased amongst white middle class youth in the 1950s, parents, politicians and popular media from films to newspapers began the crucial step of imagining a gateway theory and the spatial distinctions that supported the racially bifurcated policies during the ensuing war on drugs.
For several decades now, scholars have debated Anslinger’s motives. Many recent interpretations blame racism, drawing a clear line that connects prohibition politics since the 1930s to the inequalities of mass incarceration today. One Huff Post article about Anslinger modeled this teleological, simplified explanation under the headline, “Marijuana Prohibition Was Racist from the Start. Not Much Has Changed.” This focus on Anslinger’s racist motives make sense–after all, Anslinger cultivated and spread the bigoted underpinnings of prohibition, especially the regional argument shared amongst the southwestern states concerning Mexican immigrants and “marihuana.”
Several quotations attributed to Anslinger also highlight his racist views, the most common of which being: “Their [“Negroes”] satanic music is driven by marijuana, and marijuana smoking by white women makes them want to seek sexual relations with Negroes.” In addition, race drives the contemporary debate about marijuana policy, as the New York Daily News reported that 86.5% of the city’s roughly 46,600 misdemeanor arrests like pot possession in the first three months of 2016 involved people of color. Furthermore, recent scholarship such as Khalil Muhammad’s prove that marijuana became a tool of the carceral-state and intensified painful racial disparities in the justice system, as the modern war on drugs created “the reciprocal criminalization of blackness and decriminalization of whiteness.” Thus, the war on pot after WWII involved a racist, punitive “New Jim Crow” emphasis on enforcement.
Mono-causal arguments about prohibition’s origins gloss over the reason that the war on marijuana is such a rich case for scholars of carceral studies and the history of drugs and alcohol. The popular determination to exclusively credit Anslinger’s racism for prohibition misses an opportunity to scrutinize the tenuous, shifting gateway argument for making pot illegal. To be sure, xenophobic and racist notions about invading pushers motivated the initial prohibition of marijuana in 1937. Scholars such as David Musto found that regional, anti-immigration pressure pushed Anslinger to act on marijuana in the 1930s. As one letter to Anslinger from a Colorado journalist complained: “I wish I could show you what a small marihuana cigarette can do to one of our degenerate Spanish speaking residents.” Though, even this urgent appeal for action was built on widely held assumptions in the press about weed’s frightening potential, as the letter continued: “officials fear it, not for what it had done, but for what it is capable of doing. They want to check it before an outbreak does occur.” Thus, even where the racially charged pressure to act was greatest, its mostly preventative motivation came from popular, national fears and mythology.


In fact, many racist quotations attributed to Anslinger are either poorly cited, wrong or just plain fabrications. (while Wikiquote labels this quotation as “disputed” several books have used it, which has sparked an unresolved controversy about its validity). In fact, when Anslinger revealed his obvious racism in 1934, it nearly lost him his job. After Anslinger called one marijuana user and informant a “ginger colored nigger,” Senator Joseph Guffey (PA-D) complained and asked that Anslinger be replaced. While Anslinger’s pejoratives explicitly betray his bigotry, politics demanded that he make a more subtle connection between race and marijuana.
The most racially charged depictions of black and Mexican peddlers appeared in yellow journalistic efforts to exploit sensationalized marijuana atrocities. Much of Anslinger’s anecdotal evidence relied on these articles, some of which he himself wrote, and each story fell into three basic types: articles about the prohibition movement, articles about criminals who blamed their actions on marijuana and the most common type, marijuana busts. Articles that documented marijuana and heroin arrests established the dominant narcotics storyline after 1937, as they emphasized busts that caught “peddlers” and always emphasized when dealers and growers were “Negro.” Once prohibition began, the message became less about the growing crisis and more to reassure Americans that the FBN had control of the situation and the problem was somewhat contained.
Still, the actual enforcement relied heavily on local police and Anslinger’s efforts did not translate into the racially targeted carceral state we recognize today. While over 500 Americans went to federal prison under the Marijuana Tax Act by 1943, the New York Academy of Medicine’s careful study on marijuana users, commissioned by New York Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia in 1944, provided glimpses into ways marijuana smoking continued with relative impunity. As the report reads, “In the Harlem dance halls smoking was frequently observed either in the lavatories or on the main floor.” The report then reveals, “Whereas the smoking of marihuana was not encouraged, nothing was done to prohibit such practice.” By 1945, total arrests actually declined sharply as law enforcement began to accept the difference between “individual violators” and “well-financed conspiracies.” This focus on peddlers assured the federal law’s wide support as it comforted Americans that the government could protect their children from the sinister side of adolescence and from prison. Americans feared criminals, but more commonly feared their children becoming criminals.

Another Shot: Will dAd5GNE “End” Cocaine Addiction?

Among Facebook friends familiar with my work, dozens of conversations have started by their linking me to relevant pieces on, for example, the racial disparities of marijuana legalization, the therapeutic application of psychedelics, and, perhaps less pressing but no less appreciated, the varieties of ways our ancestors got high.

As much as I try to stay up on my drug news, sometimes people scoop me. This most recently happened last month when I received an article with a fantastically understated title: “Groundbreaking Treatment could be the End of Cocaine Addiction.” It was certainly enough to make a skeptical drug historian smile (and chuckle at the layered humor of Yahoo Finance covering anything related to the stockbroker’s culturally purported substance-of-choice).

Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort fulfilling every stereotype

Cocaine addiction is probably here to stay for the foreseeable future, but the new treatment, called a cocaine “vaccine,” offers some promise. It’s certainly groundbreaking at least. Dr. Ronald Crystal, principal investigator for currently-enrolling clinical trials at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornel Medical Center, correctly notes that, “While there are drugs like methadone designed to treat heroin, there aren’t any therapeutics available to treat cocaine addiction.” Addiction research scientists understand fairly well how our opioid receptors operate but most are perpetually vexed by cocaine’s complex neurotransmitter influence.

The vaccine, named dAd5GNE, combines parts of a common cold virus with a particle molecularly similar to cocaine, triggering an immune response against both. “Once immune cells are educated to regard cocaine as the enemy,” Crystal explains, “it produces antibodies, from that moment on, against cocaine the moment the drug enters the body.” The idea is to neutralize cocaine particles before they pass the blood-brain barrier, blunting their effects. This is a key distinction among addiction medications like methadone, which partially block opioid receptors once drugs like heroin cross over.

Crystal concedes that the process may not reliably pan out for humans. Years ago, his team observed vaccinated rats appearing less hyperactive after cocaine use than non-vaccinated rats, and the isolated antibody absorbing cocaine particles in a test tube, but scaling up is not necessarily linear. “We need to find out if the vaccine will cause enough anti-cocaine antibodies to be produced so that it works in humans, too.”

Crystal’s cautious optimism is not reflected in articles like the one my friend shared (though author Melody Hahm is considerably more measured in the main text). Once Crystal began experimenting on primates after mice, an article from The Fix invited readers to “[i]magine that cocaine addiction could be eradicated, poof, with a simple vaccine. [Crystal] now thinks his team has actually figured out a very clever trick to make that dream a reality.” A recent article in the New York Post calls the treatment a potential “saving grace” for addicts.

Methadone did little to alleviate the structural inequalities that contributed to drug addiction, as elaborated in this 1966 pamphlet

Poof! The drug historian continues smiling. In the early 1960s, scientists Vincent Dole and Marie Nyswander began using the synthetic opioid methadone to treat heroin addiction. Soon, journalists began proclaiming the drug as the “magic bullet” solution to the nation’s growing heroin problem. (But not without reason; the uniquely favorable conditions of early methadone trials, which featured rigorous screening processes for applicants and included staggered patient cohorts in cumulative retention data, produced impressive results: anywhere from 71 to 94 percent of users ceased criminal activity, found steady employment, and/or enrolled in college.) But heroin addiction was most prevalent in poor, high-stress urban neighborhoods characterized by racial discrimination in housing and employment. Methadone didn’t alter the scene much in places short on opportunity and long on reasons to use and sell dope. For decades, critics have credited the drug with simply perpetuating social conditions that give rise to drug use in the first place.

dAd5GNE may face similar charges. It doesn’t eliminate craving for cocaine, it just reduces the drug’s effect. Research suggests cocaine must occupy at least 47 percent of a dopamine transporter to produce a characteristic high and Crystal’s vaccinated primates never reached levels above 20 percent. But committed human addicts may accidentally overdose trying to bridge the gap, assuming they stick with the vaccination booster regiment at all, while polydrug users have an easier workaround. In any case, neither the setting or consequences of cocaine use on a social or individual level will probably change much. And, like its opioid-blocking counterparts, the cocaine vaccine gets us no closer to answering questions about addiction’s natured and (or?) nurtured etiology.

However, the vaccine has one major advantage over most opioid maintenance therapies: it has virtually no addictive potential. Twelve-step adherents and other abstemious interests liken methadone maintenance to substituting one drug – read: addiction – for another. Opioid replacement drugs can induce a mild euphoria, create physical tolerance, and even be fatal at certain dosage thresholds, which, at least theoretically, are non-issues for vaccine boosters administered weeks apart.

However, this treatment is not for everyone who does cocaine. The vast majority of users enjoy it as a fun or utilitarian stimulant without adverse outcomes. Many have no desire to stop. But even for problem users hoping to quit, the cocaine vaccine may go the way of methadone, Antabuse, and nicotine patches: magic bullets for some, stopgaps for others, nothing for most. (Assuming, of course, that trials confirm dAd5GNE is viable for human use.) But for anyone who earnestly desires to break patterns of destructive behavior, here’s hoping for more poofs in the future than the past.