Notes from the Field as Massachusetts Does Medical Marijuana

Editor’s note: Today guest blogger and medical anthropologist Kim Sue offers her observations on how changing marijuana laws have slowly begun to impact the world of the opiate-addicted patients she studies–and the wider society’s assumptions about drugs and the reasons people use them.

I have been closely following the campaign for and roll-out of medical marijuana in Massachusetts as I conduct ongoing ethnographic fieldwork on opiate use and incarceration. Given marijuana’s prominent place in the historical, political, and cultural framings of the War on Drugs, it is critical to consider evolving legal frameworks and cultural attitudes toward the drug.

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Last fall, advocates for medical marijuana managed to get it enacted via referendum. Continue reading →

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On E.M. Jellinek’s Trail

Note:  Readers are encouraged to send potential leads, sources, or thoughts relating to E.M. Jellinek’s life to Judit Ward, at jhajnal@rci.rutgers.edu, or Ron Roizen, at ronroizen@frontier.com.  With thanks in advance, from both of us.

Edna Jellinek Lindh Pariser, E.M.'s younger sister, in a 1921 passport photo

Edna Jellinek Lindh Pariser, E.M.’s younger sister, in a 1921 passport photo

Who was E.M. Jellinek?

As a great many Points readers will already be aware, Jellinek rose to prominence in mid-20th-century America as a spokesman for “a new scientific approach” to alcoholism and alcohol.  Prohibition was repealed at the end of 1933, the temperance movement and its paradigm were discredited, and the nation was, in the ‘40s and ‘50s, looking for a new perspective on its longstanding problematic relationship with Demon Rum.  For a variety of reasons, Jellinek proved to be an excellent instrument for inviting the nation to embrace a new and more scientifically oriented disposition toward alcohol-related problems.  He also published two very useful artifacts with respect to the modern alcoholism movement:  a widely employed description of alcoholism’s progressively unfolding symptomatology and a formula for estimating the prevalence of alcoholism.  E.M. Jellinek’s name is still revered today in both the alcohol science community and in Alcoholics Anonymous.

For the past several months,  we — i.e., Judit Ward and her staff at the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies library and Ron Roizen in Idaho — have been collecting material on E.M. Jellinek’s life, loves, career, and times.  In part, we’re searching for elements of his past that may have prepared him for the profound role he played in transforming our society’s relationship to alcohol and alcoholism.  Yet — and also — he’s just a damn interesting guy to learn about.  So far, it’s been both an intoxicatingly exciting adventure and a very frustrating task.

One of the project’s strengths is that one of us (viz., J.W.) is a native Hungarian speaker.  This advantage holds considerable promise for ultimately sorting out Jellinek’s currency trading caper in 1920 and his rapid and ignominious departure from Budapest the same year.  It’s also an advantage with respect to new work being done of late by Hungarian scholars on Jellinek’s life and relationships (see Kelemen and Mark [2012], Mark and Brettner [2012], and Hars [2009]).  To date, the American readership of these articles might not stretch far beyond the two of us – with, of course, J.W. doing the translating and R.R. doing the attentive listening.  Yet, this tick up in Hungarian interest is certainly a very welcome sign.  We’ve had the privilege, too, of communicating directly with Gabor Kelemen, one of the Hungarian scholars.  He reports, among other things, that he’s currently at work on an examination of Jellinek’s 1917 monograph on the ethnographic history of the shoe (Jellinek, 1917).

Was that the shoe?!

Not the least engaging aspect of our biographical project is how colorfully varied Jellinek’s many intellectual pursuits were. Continue reading →

On F. Scott Fitzgerald’s finances: alcoholism and the question of downward economic mobility

The qualities associated with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s brand of literary celebrity—youth, intoxication, romance, tragedy—are as saleable as ever, nearly one hundred years later. Yet Fitzgerald himself died indebted and desperate in 1940, the victim of a disease that smart people were beginning to call alcoholism.

Fitzgerald, Circa 1940 and 2013

Fitzgerald, Circa 1940 and 2013

Ernest Hemingway famously blamed Fitzgerald’s alcohol abuse on his wife, Zelda; later, in a letters to Zelda’s psychiatrists and family members, Scott Fitzgerald seemed to agree. The literary scholar Julie M. Irwin argued that Fitzgerald’s alcohol abuse could not be blamed, as many of his biographers claimed, on external circumstances like his finances or marital problems. Instead, she argued, Fitzgerald “drank through” all of his “successes and failures” for one simple reason: he was an alcoholic. Continue reading →

Kojak Liberals and Stingy Suburbanites

Journalist and political commentator E.J. Dionne Jr. began his Washington Post Op-Ed of June 15, 1993 by chronicling the recent success of then-elect mayor of Los Angeles, Richard Riordan.  Elected on the promise that he was “tough enough to turn L.A. around,” Riordan talked an awful lot about crime and business confidence.  Despite his Republican status, Dionne haled Riordan for his “back to basics” approach to crime control and urban policy, suggesting that Democrats would do well to follow suite. “Democrats and liberals who want to maintain their power in urban areas” wrote Dionne, needed to respond with a similar program of their own.  What the cities needed quipped Dionne, were “Kojak Liberals”.  Liberals that could think, talk, and act “tough as nails” all while maintaining a “heart of gold”—much in the model of Kojak, the quintessential TV cop played by Telly Savalas (and soon, Vin Diesel in a theatre near you).

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“Who Loves Ya Baby?”

In the future, Kojak Liberals would be wise to return to “the things government knows how to do,” such as, “putting cops on the street” and “keeping the parks clean,” all the while cutting spending on the “things it doesn’t know so much about”—namely, “a range of social service programs.”  After all, according to Dionne, “Social service spending has mostly benefited the urban poor and—perhaps at least importantly—the providers (social workers, health administrators and the like) who served them.  In the cities, the poor are disproportionately African American and Latino.”  Following the desperately needed demographics lesson, Dionne speculated that more efficient, equitable spending on “basic services” (like enforcement and incarceration) “help all classes,” because “rich and poor alike benefit from more cops on the beat and safer public parks.”

Sounding increasingly like Oscar Lewis, Richard Nixon, or perhaps, Mitt Romney, Dionne railed on: “for now, the biggest problems confronted by the inner city poor are created by rising violence and lawlessness.”  All other problems were secondary.  First, these dangerous districts needed to be controlled in an effort to “take back the streets” as high crime rates had made “life miserable for the law-abiding majority among the poor.”  Lest there be any confusion, Dionne made the future priorities of Kojak Liberalism very clear: “Kojak Liberals are unabashed in saying when it comes to priorities, law-enforcement and crime prevention get top billing.”  Unfortunately, somewhere along the way law enforcement learned that high-volume arrests created the illusion of progress and sound police work in the Drug War.  As such, this quickly became the standard practice, crime prevention receded from view.  By 1990, Drug Czar William Bennett happily gloated that “a massive wave of arrests” was now “top priority for the War on Drugs.”  Indeed. Continue reading →

A Map of the Falling Sky: On the Passing of Jason Molina

On March 18, I finally got a Google Alert about Jason Molina. It delivered news I did not want to hear. At only 39, Molina (who fronted the bands Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co.) had died of liver failure brought on by severe alcoholism, alone in his Indianapolis home the previous Saturday. Molina reportedly wrestled with a somewhat mysterious health issue that came to light when he uncharacteristically cancelled a 2009 tour with fellow indie-folk artist Will Johnson (who produced a collaborative album with Molina that year and remembers his friend here). Rumors and then news of rehab stints circulated across the Internet. But I hadn’t known about Molina’s struggles then. I’d been too busy battling my own body in New York, and it did not seem odd to me that the ordinarily prolific singer-songwriter hadn’t released anything in several years. If anything, I assumed he’d taken a well-deserved break. (Some of you may be understandably lost at this point; Jason Molina was not Amy Winehouse. I’ll back up in a minute. But for now, if you don’t know the incredible body of work on which you’ve missed out, use this currently-streaming live performance, recorded in 2007 at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, NC, as your reading soundtrack or download songs from Molina’s catalog courtesy of Secretly Canadian, the label that patronized Jason since its inception and calls him its “cornerstone.”)

Jason Molina (1973-2013)

Jason Molina (1973-2013)

Continue reading →

Reflections on Addicts Who Survived: How to Survive a Farce

Actually, he said: “Hegel remark somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce,” but as with Hegel, sometimes a paraphrase works better.

Actually, he said: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce,” but as with Hegel, sometimes a paraphrase works better.

Karl Marx is credited with observing that, “history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” It is hard not to remember this insight when reading the brilliant Addicts Who Survived two decades after its initial publication. After all, the year the book was published, 1989, was the same year Bush Sr. announced that the $2400 bag of crack he had in his hand was purchased (gasp!) directly across from the White House. Of course, the dealer – a high school student – had been lured to that spot by DEA agents in order to produce the theatrical prop. In the years preceding this stunt, crack had entered the public consciousness as it burned through poor inner city communities. The government had responded by setting mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses and creating a legal disparity between crack and cocaine that led to imprisonment of the most vulnerable and stigmatized drug users. Meanwhile, HIV/AIDS rates were ballooning exponentially, and injection drug use was increasingly the mode of transmission. The most popular response to the problems associated with drug use and addiction was Nancy Reagan’s 1984 campaign to “Just Say No.” Her husband remained silent on the subject of AIDS until 1985, when he expressed skepticism about allowing HIV-positive children to attend school. Although early forms of harm reduction were emerging in the UK and junkies were unionizing in the Netherlands, the movement did not take significant form in the US until the mid- to late-1980s.

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The War on Drugs: The Farcical Years. When asked to go to the White House to sell his crack, the dealer said, “Where the fuck is the White House?”

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The War on Drugs; the farcical years. Just Say NO: right-O.

So when I bring Marx’s quote to mind, it is with the painful recognition that every farce is still a tragedy. Continue reading →

Reflections on “Addicts Who Survived”: Amund Tallaksen

Editor’s note: Our commentary to accompany yesterday’s excerpt from Addicts Who Survived comes from Amund Tallaksen (NB: if you’ve missed any of the series, please check out the series introduction, the first excerpt, and Eric Schneider’s commentary).  Amund is a doctoral candidate in history at Carnegie Mellon University, presently working on a dissertation examining drugs and drug control on post-World War Two New Orleans.  He has graciously taken some time away from the archives in Louisiana to offer these reflections on Willis Butler’s oral history. 

Shreveport, Louisiana, is a city most Americans know very little about. Close to the Texas and Arkansas borders, Shreveport is the largest urban area in northern Louisiana, the majority-Protestant and more culturally “southern” part of the state (as opposed to the majority-Catholic, geographically southern half). Americans with an interest in drug history, however, have an almost intimate knowledge of what happened in Shreveport in the early 1920s. This is largely because of one man, Willis P. Butler, who ran the narcotic dispensary in the city from 1919 to 1923, providing legal access to morphine for addicts in need. The Shreveport clinic was the longest functioning of all the narcotic clinics in the country (most of which were located in the Northeast) and when Willis P. Butler was forced to shut his operation down in 1923 it unequivocally marked the end of the clinic era.

Willis Butler, at the age of remembering

Willis Butler, at the age of remembering

The clinics were largely forgotten by mid-century, yet when methadone became increasingly available to American opiate addicts in the late 1960s, it created a renewed interest in the clinic system of the 1920s. Willis P. Butler was essentially “rediscovered” in the fall of 1971. One academic managed to get in touch with Butler in early October 1971, and the word quickly spread – the late Yale historian David F. Musto, for example, was among the earliest to get in touch with Butler, only a few weeks later. When interviewed by David Courtwright in 1978, Butler was over ninety years old and among the very few alive to tell the story of the clinics from personal experience. Butler was born in 1888, and graduated from Vanderbilt Medical School in 1911. After finishing his degree, Butler moved to Shreveport and was elected to the role of parish (county) physician and coroner of Caddo parish, a role which included tending to the needs of addicts.

Shreveport, 1919

Shreveport, 1919

Continue reading →