Maybe Next Year: The Failure to Legalize Adult-Use Cannabis in New York

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach, our resident New Yorker who provides insights into the his state’s twisted path to potential cannabis legalization. Beach is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY.

On August 28, 2019, New York State officially decriminalized marijuana. Most saw decriminalization as an important step toward the even more equitable legalization measure that failed to pass the Democrat-led state legislature this year, but which seems inevitable given recent trends in legalizing (with the recent addition of Illinois this year). Particularly in light of the inevitable comparisons to Illinois, others are making connections to the “eerily similar” debates over decriminalization in New York in 1977 at the height of the state-level decriminalization wave that was then spreading throughout the country. During that year the New York State legislature passed, and then-Governor Hugh Carey signed, what was at the time the ninth state-level decriminalization measure in the country.

(Current New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and then-Governor Hugh Carey)

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Workshop Report: Drugs and the Politics of Consumption in Japan

Editor’s Note: This workshop report is from Dr. Miriam Kingsberg Kadia, an associate professor of history at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who recently traveled to Switzerland for the event.

A workshop entitled “Drugs and the Politics of Consumption in Japan” was held at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, from Aug. 22-24, 2019. It was organized by Dr. Judith Vitale with the help of Ulrich Brandenburg of the host institution. The workshop was impressively multinational, bringing together speakers representing universities from six countries and three continents. 

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CFP: Beyond the Medicines/Drugs Dichotomy: Historical Perspectives on Good and Evil in Pharmacy

Editor’s Note: You know you’ve always wanted to visit South Africa. Here’s your chance! Check out this CFP for an exciting conference at the University of Johannesburg this December.

Beyond the Medicines/Drugs Dichotomy: Historical Perspectives on Good and Evil in Pharmacy 

University of Johannesburg
5-7 December 2019

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The dichotomy between pharmacologically-active substances considered legitimate (and therefore worthy of regulation as medicines, and also provided as public goods) and those considered problematic (and therefore deserving of moral and legal opprobrium, prohibition and sanction) has informed global regulatory regimes for decades.  (Andy Gray, 2017)

Drug policies and ways of thinking and talking about substances and treatment approaches are changing fast, both at national and international levels. These changes reflect a growing acknowledgement of core contradictions within the legislative regimes Gray described above, crafted respectively for ‘drugs’ and ‘medicines’ from the nineteenth-century onwards. Subversions of this dichotomy have lately become more apparent in the public eye – for example, in widespread addiction to opioid painkillers; in the repurposing of pharmaceuticals for pleasure, sedation or sociability; in the scientific legitimation of previously restricted drug alkaloids for medical application. Increasing criticism of ‘war-on-drugs’ style governance, the liberalisation of cannabis laws, and the advocacy of harm reduction approaches to drug treatment are among the indications of shifting views even within governments themselves.

The organizers of this event argue that precise historical understandings of how this dichotomy has worked in practice, in multiple and very different contexts, are necessary in order to map possible alternatives and futures. To clearly identify who established and maintained classificatory boundaries, what interests lay behind their actions, how they have been challenged, and why it is only now that faith in them seems to be waning are important tasks for historians of health, medicines and modernities, and those working in related fields and disciplines.

This event at the University of Johannesburg aims to draw together those addressing the questions below in their research. We invite submissions from postgraduates, together with emerging and established scholars, and are keen to include studies from around the world, as well as those that look at international or transnational contexts.

Guiding questions:

  • What knowledge was generated to justify distinctions between medicines/drugs? By whom? How were decisions made about what evidence could be considered authoritative?
  • Which groups and/or disciplines were involved in establishing or challenging the emergence of this dichotomy and what determined their success or failure?
  • How have histories of various substances been created and deployed in justifying or disputing this dichotomy?
  • What values have driven pharmaceutical technologies and their regulation? How have ideas about ‘good’ and ‘evil’ framed scientific and political discussions?
  • How long has a shift towards a neuro-chemical society been happening and with what effects? Has it necessarily been a dehumanising process?
  • Have chronologies of commodification, lawmaking and enforcement followed similar routes in different countries or contexts?
  • How do historians recover neuro-chemical biographies, and what do these reveal about individual or collective experiences of the medicines/drugs dichotomy in practice?

The event is funded by the Wellcome Trust and is jointly organised by the Department of History at the University of Johannesburg and The Centre for the Social History of Health and Healthcare (CSHHH) Glasgow through the ‘Changing Minds: Psychoactive Substances in African and Asian History’ project.

The event will take place from 5 to 7 December 2019 at the University of Johannesburg.

Call for Papers
Please submit a title, an abstract of no more than 200 words which addresses some of the above questions, along with a narrative biography of 200 words, to Caroline Marley (caroline.marley@strath.ac.uk) and Thembisa Waetjen (twaetjen@uj.ac.za) by 20 September 2019.

Applicants will be informed of the committee’s decision by 4 October 2019.

Funding
This event is made possible by the generous support of the Wellcome Trust. Some funding for travel and accommodation is available, and will be prioritised for graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and early career researchers, particularly where they are located at institutions in the Global South.

Points Bookshelf: “Imperial Twilight” by Stephen R. Platt

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Dr. Miriam Kingsberg Kadia, an associate professor of history at the University of Colorado, Boulder. 

Screenshot 2019-09-05 at 8.18.45 AMWithin the field of Chinese history, the Opium War, fought in the southern port city of Canton (Guangzhou) and its environs from 1839-1842, is among the most exhaustively researched of topics. Scholars have long argued for the significance of this nineteenth-century clash between the British and Chinese empires, representing it as the beginning of the latter’s infamous “century of humiliation” at the hands of the great powers. Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of the China’s Last Golden Age (Knopf, 2018) does not dispute this view of the conflict as a watershed marking British ascendancy and Chinese decline. However, Stephen Platt’s highly readable and original book does overturn various longstanding assumptions about the events leading up to the war. In particular, he shows how small moments of frustration and miscommunication changed the course of history. 

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Call for Papers: Entangling Histories of International Trafficking

Editor’s Note: Today we bring you a special bonus post from Dr. Ned Richardson-Little. He’s putting together a conference at the University of Erfurt in July 2020, and the call for papers is below. Hope to see you in Germany!

At the beginning of the 21st century, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime oversaw a complex network of international conventions that aimed to combat narcotics smuggling and the illicit trade in arms, and human trafficking for purposes of exploitation. Today, law enforcement organizations argue that these three fields are fundamentally linked together by transnational organized crime to support their demands for global police cooperation. At the beginning of the century however, when activists and diplomats first created prohibition regimes aimed at addressing these issues, they understood them as distinctly separate problems, each requiring radically different solutions. In the early 20th century, international drug control initially stemmed from lobbying by missionaries concerned about widespread addiction in China due to legal traffic in opium. Controls on small arms were sparked by imperial fears that unrestricted trade could destabilize colonial rule. ‘White slavery’ was seen as a radically new problem, distinct from other forms of forced labour, in which individual pimps lured European girls and women abroad to exploiting their sexual labor for profit.

This conference aims to answer the question: How did the trafficking in humans, arms and narcotics become entangled over the long 20th century – in terms of actual illicit flows of people, guns and drugs, but also in terms of public perceptions and prohibition regimes?

The conference is looking for papers that will address themes including:

– When and how were networks of trafficking between these fields actually interconnected?

– How did global events such as the World Wars, Decolonization, or the collapse of State Socialism act as catalysts for the entangled proliferation of trafficking or prohibition across these fields? What were the local effects of these macro-events?

– How did regional and global legal systems linking these fields interact with local norms and practices of law enforcement and prohibition?

– Under what circumstances have these fields been linked together or separated by different actors and institutions including civil society activists and NGOS, the media, academics, bureaucrats, politicians, police, diplomats, clergy, medical authorities and global legal frameworks?

– How have moral panics in one area been used to legitimize prohibition campaigns against other types of cross border movement and traffic?

– How have demands for and opposition against state nationalization/regulation or for liberalization and decriminalization been interconnected between these fields?

– How have ideas about race, class and gender linked these fields together?

– What role has money laundering and other forms of illicit finance acted to link these fields together both by criminalized actors and control regimes?

– How did the interconnection of these illicit flows intersect with broader economic and political trends, including globalization, free trade and neoliberalism?

Proposals are strongly encouraged to explore the links between the fields rather than focus on just one of the fields. The focus of the conference is historical, but interdisciplinary work in encouraged. Contributions from all world regions are welcome; papers that can show interconnections between regions are encouraged. Joint and collaborative proposals with multiple authors will also be accepted.

This conference is the first in a series hosted by the VolkswagenStiftung funded research project “The Other Global Germany: International Crime and Deviant Globalization in the 20th Century,” and it will be held at the University of Erfurt located in central Germany.

Please send your abstract (250-500 words) and a short academic CV until the September 30, 2019. The conference organizers are able to cover accommodation for the conference, and there is a limited budget for travel costs (with priority for grad students, the precariously employed, and those coming from institutions with limited resources).

Contact:

Ned Richardson-Little

University of Erfurt

ned.richardson-little@uni-erfurt.de

URL: https://www.hsozkult.de/event/id/termine-40996

The Eastern Bloc, the Cold War and International Drug Trafficking

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is the final in the two-part series from Dr. Ned Richardson-Little on drug use in East Germany during the Communist period. Richardson-Little is a Freigeist Fellow at the University of Erfurt, Germany, where he is currently leading a major research project on the history of “deviant globalization” in modern Germany. Originally from Canada, he studied at McGill University and received his PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has previously worked at the University of Exeter (UK). If you’re interested in learning more about the sources in this post, contact Richardson-Little at ned.richardson-little@uni-erfurt.de.

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Dr. Ned Richardson-Little

One of the staples of Eastern Bloc propaganda was the notion that socialism produced a drug-free society. Under capitalism, young people were driven to narcotics due to the emptiness of consumerism and the despair of exploitation; under socialism there was no such need for escape. To some extent, this propaganda was actually based on reality. In contrast to the post-war West, there was no mass drug culture in Eastern Europe. Cannabis, cocaine, heroin and other restricted substances were also banned or strictly regulated in the East, but there were comparatively few arrests for possession or dealing. The black market could provide many imported products normally unavailable in state stores, but very rarely did that include trafficked narcotics. As one East German put it, hashish was as “hard to get your hands on as explosives.”

Was this, however, really an effect of the enlightened social policies of state socialism? Possibly for some, but the main driver was economics: Eastern Bloc citizens lacked the hard currency needed to purchase narcotics from traffickers. Few international criminal smuggling operations were interested in the socialist market, where – in the absence of Western money – they would need to barter for locally produced goods. As it turns out, not many people in the heroin business are willing to trade their product for a Trabant. And thus, the proliferation of international trafficking routes in the post-war era largely bypassed the Eastern Bloc. While China was once one of the great centres of opium addiction, its consumption dropped off almost completely after the Communist Revolution. Although Cuba was once a hotspot for organized crime, the mafia relocated after the Castro regime took control in 1959

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Reefer Madness Behind the Iron Curtain

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from guest writer Dr. Ned Richardson-Little, and it begins a two-week special series on drug use in East Germany during the Communist period. Richardson-Little is a Freigeist Fellow at the University of Erfurt, Germany, where he is currently leading a major research project on the history of “deviant globalization” in modern Germany. Originally from Canada, he studied at McGill University and received his PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has previously worked at the University of Exeter (UK). If you’re interested in learning more about the sources in this post, contact Richardson-Little at ned.richardson-little@uni-erfurt.de.

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Dr. Ned Richardson-Little

In Junky, William S. Burrough’s 1953 memoir of his experiences as a heroin user, he captures the paranoia of the early Cold War in America in a conversation about drugs:

“Tell me,” I said, “exactly what is the tie-up between narcotics and Communism?”

“You know the answer to that one a lot better than I do […] The same people are in both narcotics and Communism. Right now, they control most of America.”

The idea that communists were behind narcotics was hardly a fringe notion and it was often advanced publicly by the US Drug Czar Harry Anslinger and other state officials. Anslinger claimed that there was a global communist conspiracy to use drugs as a weapon against capitalism on the path to global domination. He warned of “Red China’s long range dope-and-dialectic assault on America” and claimed that Cuba’s Fidel Castro had “joined the hammer and sickle – and the narcotic needle,” by assisting the People’s Republic of China in trafficking drugs into the US. In 1948, he testified to Congress that “Marijuana leads to pacifism and Communist brainwashing.” In the early Cold War, drug warriors in the West saw the fight against narcotics and communism as a singular conflict.

On the other side of the Iron Curtain, however, Communists were equally concerned about the dangerous impact of narcotics and addiction, which they believed were the product of a diseased capitalist society. While many leftists in the West saw recreational drug consumption as part of an anti-capitalist counterculture, the state socialists of the Eastern Bloc were just as vehemently opposed to narcotics as capitalist anti-drug warriors.

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