Editor’s Note: Edgar-André Montigny’s edited volume, The Real Dope: Social, Legal, and Historial Perspectives on the Regulation of Drugs in Canada (University of Toronto Press, 2011) takes the spotlight today.
The Real Dope is a collection of scholarly articles exploring how the government and society in general have dealt with various drugs, from alcohol and tobacco to ecstasy and LSD. The articles introduce us to 19th-century moral reformers, 1920s flappers, downtown Vancouver heroin addicts, psychology professors, hippies, glue-sniffing high school students, ravers, post-war government officials and senators, all interacting in some way with intoxicating substances through using, studying or regulating them.
2. What do you think a bunch of alcohol historians might find particularly interesting about this book?
The collection is useful to historians for several reasons. Simply by bringing together such a wide range of material covering so many aspects of the history of drug use and regulation in Canada, the collection offers something unique. Many of the individual articles deal with novel material or arguments.
The most interesting thing about The Real Dope, aside from the title, is that the various articles allow the reader to compare and contrast how various substances have been treated over time, often revealing how arbitrary have been the approaches to intoxicating substances and the potential consequences attached to their use.
For instance we can see that drug use often played a vital role in social life, community building, and developing a sense of belonging, whether the drug was tobacco or heroin. The difference is that middle class women who used tobacco in the 1920s were considered fashionable and sophisticated whereas heroin users were social outcasts. The Real Dope reveals many other contradictions and irrationalities related to the social and political aspects of drug use.
Beyond the issue of drugs and drug use, the collection offers insight and historical perspectives on various aspects of social policy development, political decision making, and the intersection between law and morality.
3. What is the thing you find most interesting about the book?
To me the most interesting aspect of the collection is its elaboration of the irrationality that has so frequently governed the social and political response to intoxicating substances. Explaining the irrationality is where the most interesting questions arise. When the impact of race, class, or gender are added to the mix, entire fields of potential research emerge. It is clear that the full range of possible research in this area is just beginning to become evident.
4. What stone are you most curious to see turned over soon?
I would like to see further research on the legal and social treatment of more modern street drugs/designer drugs. Such research could help place the social and political aspects of this issue into historical perspective. It could also shed light on various social anxieties that may be driving policy in this area — and while there is still time to prevent policies that may simply repeat the errors of the past rather than learning from them.
We need more work that deals with a variety of intoxicants to compare and contrast the various issues without distinguishing between illegal and legal substances — since I think the purpose of scholarship is to challenge those distinctions and their justifications more so than perpetuating them. When the various properties, health consequences, and social impact of substances such as tobacco and marijuana are compared, for example, one is often hard pressed to understand the logic of treating the substances (or those who use them) differently.