Cannabis Legalization in New York: State of the State

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach. Beach is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY, and our resident New Yorker. Here he comments on the state of cannabis legalization in the Empire State.

Back in January of this year, legalization of adult-use cannabis seemed inevitable in my home state of New York. Last month, during a recent public talk at Utica College, which we celebrated the stoner-holiday of 4/20 (on 4/25), I commented on the possibility of next year’s talk occurring under a legal system.

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But maybe I spoke too soon. Yesterday, Governor Andrew Cuomo, the champion of equitable legalization in January, declared it all but dead. At least for this year.

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From Preventing “Experiments with Vice” to Bullhorns and Expulsion: Drug Education After the 1970s

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Seth Blumenthal, contributing editor and lecturer at Boston University. 

As late as 1955, a career Narcotics Bureau enforcement official, M.L. Harney, feared drug prevention’s unintended consequences, claiming, “Often the evil warned against is portrayed so attractively, seductively, and voluptuously that the inevitable result would be to attract people to experiment with the vice.” But drug use spread into the suburban areas surrounding urban centers during the 1960s and 1970s anyway, and convinced politicians to admit that prevention needed more support in public school education. Initially, the original investment under the Controlled Substance Act of 1970 split funds for prevention with money allocated for education and enforcement relatively evenly.

Above: Drugs Are Like That, an anti-drug education film from 1969, narrated by Anita Bryant

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Review: “Confessions of a Cocaine Cowboy”

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Dr. Elaine Carey, professor of history and Dean of the College of Humanities, Education, and Social Sciences at Purdue University Northwest, and a regular contributor to Points. Today she reviews a recent theatrical production that should be of interest to drug scholars. 

Screenshot 2019-05-07 at 8.13.59 AMFor this dope scholar, a recent trip to Miami would not have been complete without catching the play Confessions of a Cocaine Cowboy at the Colony Theatre in South Beach, which opened on March 7, 2019 and closed on April 7, 2019. Written by Billy Corben and Aurin Squire and directed by Michael Hausman, the play is based on the docudramas Cocaine Cowboys (2006) and Cocaine Cowboys II: Hustlin with the Godmother (2008), which chronicled the Miami Drug wars and the lives of Griselda Blanco and her assassin Jorge “Rivi” Ayala.  

The star of the play is Yancey Arias, who portrays Rivi and delves into the character showcasing aspects of Rivi not previously mentioned in the docudrama.  Arias has been in numerous shows, including Kingpin, Queen of the South, Thief, and a host of others. He is joined by an ensemble comprised of Stephen G. Anthony, Rubi Goblen, Andy Mendez, Zillah Mendoza, and Nicolas Richberg.  The actors play a host of characters that are familiar to fans of Cocaine Cowboys, Richard Smitten’s book The Godmother, and Max Mermelstein’s memoir The Man who Made it Snow.

The play, the theatre, and Miami now officially hail that the city recognizes itself as the capital of Latin America and the city that cocaine built.  The chronicling of that era in Confessions and Cocaine Cowboys by Corben and Squire have changed how Miami tells its own history.  

The play tackles heady subjects that define Miami, such as corruption, nepotism, race, drugs, and crime.  In exchanges between the sonorous Rivi and irritated Detective Vanegas, played by Mendez, the tensions between Cubans and other Latin American immigrants are displayed.  As Vanegas epically recounts how he came to the United States, he sees Rivi as an antagonist to the Cuban American heroic story. Colombians sullied the paradise that gave countless Cubans a new place to call home.  Rivi positions his life as a tale of opportunities as he pursued the American dream that shifted from Chicago to Miami, and from stealing cars to working as an assassin. He is a chameleon who readily understands power and manipulation, which is what fascinated the authors and the countless fans of Cocaine Cowboys.  

Mendoza’s roles as Kathy, Griselda Blanco and Gladys reflect the women in Rivi’s life. Kathy is Katherine Fernandez Rundle, who has been the state attorney for Miami-Dade County since 1993.  Her tenure is portrayed as rife with corruption, and Rivi and the other actors regale the audience with tales of her alleged misdeeds.  Blanco is Rivi’s boss and a woman who is far more famous today than she was in the early 1980s. Blanco recruited Rivi and he became one of her many assassins. Gladys is Rivi’s wife. Rivi sees only subtle differences between Fernandez Rundle and Blanco. Both women protected their families to ensure success. Like Fernandez Rundle, Blanco was one of few women in a male-dominated field during the 1970s and 1980s. As the highest-ranking woman in the Medellín cartel, she employed violence to ensure her success until Rivi became her nemesis to save himself from the death penalty.   

The play is a great romp through a not too distant past.  The playbill and opening comments contain the following warning: “gunfire, strobe lights, strong language, violence, blood, and other Florida fuc**ry will be experienced during the performance.” Indeed, it was.  Florida of the early 1980s and its drug wars appear almost quaint criminal stories of a distant past similar to Frank Sinatra’s Man with the Golden Arm. Miami Vice, Scarface, and Cocaine Cowboys regale us with the tales of men and a few women in a different era.  That era led to the crack epidemic and devastated cities and families. That era appears to pale to the present with access to burner phones, bitcoins, internet banking, militarized policing, and the dark web.  Significantly, Corben and Squire recognize that the drug violence of the late 1970s and 1980s led to the escalation of the Drug Wars. Those ongoing wars are directly connected to the loosening of gun laws that have contributed to massacres in Florida (and the rest of the US) and that the drug violence that has criminalized low level dealers and contributed to the mass incarceration of young African Americans and Latinos.

Since the release of the first docudramas in 2006, other films and attempts to tell the story of the Miami drug wars have been made.  Catherine Zeta Jones’s Lifetime rendition of Griselda Blanco was a horrible melodrama that remains the only full-length production.  Mermestein’s biopic has yet to make it to the big screen, and neither has Rivi’s. Lawsuits and production issues have undermined a cinematic telling of these tales, though there are always options and plans.  Like Corben discovered, the future may be in live action, in a small theater in a city that cocaine cowboys and cowgirls helped to erect and expand. Yet, Confessions challenges us to consider the bigger consequences of those events almost forty years ago.  

SHAD Interview: “Legalización o Represión”: How a Debate in Colombia Steered the Fate of the “War on Drugs” with Lina Britto

Editor’s Note: Today marks our last interview with the authors of the newest edition of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, which focuses on the intersection of drugs and US foreign relations. Today we’re talking to Dr. Lina Britto, an assistant professor of History at Northwestern University where she teaches on the history of the drug trade and the war on drugs in the Americas, among other subjects. You can read Britto’s article in its entirety for a bit longer here.

Screenshot 2019-04-15 at 12.53.06 PMTell readers a little bit about yourself

I’m Colombian, and recently became U.S. citizen as well. I began my career as a journalist, and I still write journalism when I manage to carve time between teaching and other responsibilities. I did a Masters in Anthropology, which made me to fall in love with History, so I decided to became a historian. My PhD in Latin American and Caribbean History is from New York University, and before coming to Northwestern University, where I work as an assistant professor in the Department of History, I was a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, Harvard University.

What got you interested in drugs (and their history)?

The reality of my country, which is still one of the main producers of cocaine in the world, and my own lived experience as a member of a generation who grew up in Pablo Escobar’s Medellín in the 1980s and early 1990s. But because I’ve always liked to swim against the tide, my interest was never really to understand the history of cocaine, which I found so pervading and asphyxiating. My curiosity was directed toward my father’s homeland, the Guajira, the northernmost section of Colombia’s map in the Caribbean coast, where the country’s first drug boom took place in the 1970s around marijuana, not cocaine. Trying to connect with that other side of my family and with my own roots, I began to explore that story almost 15 years ago. Now it’s a book.

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Dr. Lina Britto

Explain your journal article in a way that your bartender wouldn’t find boring

Before marijuana became mainstream and half of the states in this country legalized it completely, a group of young economists in Colombia, the country that supplied most of the weed that the hippies smoked in the United States at the time, proposed legalization. The idea was presented during a publicized conference in Bogotá that U.S. diplomats and scientists attended. The goal was to provide policymakers with an alternative solution other than the bloody war that Washington and Bogotá waged together against producers and traffickers in Colombia. But the time was not ripe yet. In 1979, such a bold idea only served to infuriate those who believed in the “war on drugs.” So, before consumers and their advocates got crushed here in the 1980s, during the Reagan administration, the forces that called for a less punitive solution to the drug problem got silenced in Colombia. Their political defeat during this month-long debate marked the end of the idea of marijuana legalization in both countries. Only in the last decade, this idea resurfaced again, this time under a completely different set of circumstances and results.

 Is this part of a larger project?  What else are you working on?

Yes, this is a small section in one of the chapters of my forthcoming book, entitled Marijuana Boom: The Rise and Fall of Colombia’s First Drug Paradise, which will be published by the University of California Press in 2020. Additionally, I’m in the phase of conceptualization and exploration of my second book project, which will examine the history of my hometown, Medellín, during its transition from an industrial pole of development to a cocaine dystopia, but from a counterintuitive perspective. Again, swimming against the current.

Based on your research and experience, what do you see as the frontier or future of the field?

I see colleagues doing all kinds of things, some of them quite creative. As a Latin Americanists, what I would love to see more of are twentieth-century regional and national histories of countries that are apparently peripheric for the transnational drug trade business in the Americas, however central in ways that we don’t understand yet, such as Ecuador, Argentina, and Chile.

What scholar, living or dead, would you most like to have dinner with?

First, I’d go out for brunch with Elena Poniatowska, one of the greatest Latin American thinkers of our times, a journalist, a novelist, a trailblazer, a true artist in the widest sense of the term. And then I’d have dinner with E.P. Thompson to pick his brain about my second book project. That’d be a good Sunday.

SHAD Interview: “The Philippines, the United States, and the Origins of Global Narcotics Prohibition” with Anne Foster

Editor’s Note: This is our last week of interviews with the authors of the newest edition of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, which focuses on the intersection of drugs and US foreign relations. Today we’re talking to Dr. Anne Foster, an associate professor of history at Indiana State University and co-editor of the journal Diplomatic HistoryYou can read Foster’s article in its entirety (until May 1!) here.

Screenshot 2019-04-15 at 12.53.06 PMTell readers a little bit about yourself

I teach a variety of courses in History at Indiana State University, where I have worked since 2003.  I also co-edit the journal Diplomatic History.  I’m interested in the varieties of ways that the United States has exerted power, with a particular focus on imperialism and Southeast Asia in the late 19th to mid-20th century.

What got you interested in drugs (and their history)?

I was in the archives in The Hague, researching for my dissertation, which had nothing to do with drugs, and in a box I pulled, saw a number of folders headed “opium.”  I had to read those! One document, from the 1910s, featured a Dutch official complaining that the US prohibition of opium in the Philippines was leading to increased smuggling of opium in the region, including into the Netherlands Indies, where opium was perfectly legal.  The Dutch official was irritated because this smuggling was undercutting Dutch profits from taxing opium. I thought that was interesting, and a different take on the effects of efforts to control or prohibit drugs. I have ever since been interested in the period of transition about opium in colonial Southeast Asia, from the 1880s, when opium was legal nearly everywhere and highly profitable to the colonial governments, to 1940, when opium was prohibited in some places and to some peoples, and highly regulated throughout colonial Southeast Asia.

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Dr. Anne Foster

Explain your journal article in a way that your bartender wouldn’t find boring.

Did you know that if you lived a bit more than 100 years ago, that opium was perfectly legal and widely consumed in most places?  Probably you did know that. Yes, lots of patent medicines in the United States contained opium, and yes, Coca-cola did contain cocaine.  I’m really interested in how opium went from being so widely accepted and consumed to prohibited within only a few short years. I mostly study how that happened in the colonial Southeast, where the U.S. colony of the Philippines was. Opium was consumed in Southeast Asia for both recreational and medicinal purposes in the late 19th and early 20th century, and provided from 15% to as much as 50% of government revenues for colonies there.  The United States worked to prohibit opium in the Philippines pretty soon after acquiring the colony, even before opium was prohibited in the United States itself. And then the United States tried to get the other colonial governments to prohibit opium too, which they mostly didn’t want to.  But for the U.S. officials, legal opium in the areas near the Philippines meant that people could easily smuggle opium into the Philippines. I argue that this means the U.S. “war on drugs” approach starts all the way back in the early 20th century.

Is this part of a larger project?  What else are you working on?

I am working on a book about the transition from legal, profitable opium in 1880s colonial Southeast Asia to highly regulated, often restricted or prohibited opium in that region in 1940, on the eve of World War II.  I am looking not only at the transimperial politics of opium regulation, but also at smuggling and the transimperial efforts to stop smuggling.

The book also explores the context for discussion of opium of changes in medical knowledge and practices, which is significant.  Finally, racial, ethnic and gendered components shaped the politics of opium consumption and regulation. The book is a little unwieldy at the moment, but I am hoping to finish the manuscript in the next year.

Based on your research and experience, what do you see as the frontier or future of the field?

I am excited to see how drug history is exploring the ways that drugs are linked to so many various aspects of life, from how drugs are related to broader histories of consumption, to how drugs and health and developments in medicine are interrelated, to the environmental implications of source control efforts against illicit drugs.  These histories don’t neglect the powerful political effects of the war on drugs, but demonstrate how drugs are integrated into our lives in ways we don’t (yet) fully understand.

What scholar, living or dead, would you most like to have dinner with?

This is a harder question than I thought it would be.  I am most tempted by the ability to resurrect scholar friends who have recently died, and have one last dinner.  But in what I take to be the spirit of the question, I will name someone I don’t know whose work I have always admired.  My choice is idiosyncratic: Jean Gelman Taylor, who wrote one of my favorite books: The Social World of Batavia: Europeans and Eurasians in Colonial Indonesia.

SHAD Interview: “Harry Anslinger Saves The World: National Security Imperatives and the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act” with William McAllister

Editor’s Note: This week we’ll continue our series of interviews with the authors of the newest edition of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, which focuses on the intersection of drugs and US foreign relations. Today we’re talking to William McAllister, the Chief of the Special Projects Division, Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State and also Adjunct Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He is the author of Drug Diplomacy in the Twentieth Century: An International History (Routledge, 2000), as well as many articles and chapters in edited volumes about the historical development of the international drug control regime and U.S. drug policy. You can read McAllister’s article in its entirety (until May 1!) here.

Screenshot 2019-04-15 at 12.53.06 PMTell readers a little bit about yourself

How I applied my research to real life: When my children reached double digits, I followed a consistent line whenever the topic of drug use came up. I told them the statistics indicated they would probably consume some controlled substance in an illicit manner at some point. Therefore, my goal was not to prevent entirely, but rather to delay onset of first use as long as possible. My reading of the literature indicated that was the best way to decrease the chances of significant problems over a lifetime.  For example, I was a single parent throughout those years, so they had to attend aftercare at the end of the school day. I explained that I wouldn’t allow them to go home unsupervised because that was “prime time” for kids to get into trouble. They didn’t much like it, but they appreciated the honesty. Although one never knows, at ages 23 and 26 they both seem to be doing OK, so I think it worked well enough.

What got you interested in drugs (and their history)?

In the mid-1980s I taught a juvenile crime and delinquency prevention program to 5th-6th graders in Tulsa-area schools. The students asked a lot of questions that more or less boiled down to rulemaking and gatekeepers, such as, “How did they decide that alcohol and tobacco were legal while marijuana and heroin aren’t.” I didn’t think the canned answers we supplied were sufficient, and I couldn’t find any books at the library that answered my growing list of questions, especially about who “they” might be. So, I decided to get a history Ph.D. and make this the subject of my dissertation research. I focused on the how the international treaty structure evolved over the 20th century on the premise that the global regime informed and governed national policies and local practices. Although that’s not the whole story, I’d argue it’s an essential one to account for in doing drug history/policy research.

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William McAllister

Explain your journal article in a way that your bartender wouldn’t find boring.

You may think the government prohibited marijuana way back in the 1930s because they were prejudiced against minorities and didn’t see any value in the plant, but you’re wrong! Washington actually wanted a lot of cannabis to be grown because they were going to need fiber for the coming global war, but that was a national security secret they couldn’t tell anybody.  At the same time, they didn’t want to facilitate trafficking in dangerous items. So, if my next drink is on the house, I’ll tell you how they pulled it off…

Is this part of a larger project?  What else are you working on?

This is something I discovered late in the process of producing my “Drug Diplomacy” book, published in 2000. I included reference to it in one paragraph, but there was not room to tell the whole story in depth. In subsequent years I got as far as I could with additional research and included that material in this article, but I’m still not done searching archives, so I created this site where I can explain the lacunae in the current historiography in great detail and add more material to support my argument as I discover it. It’ll take a while to build out, so be patient.

I’m next working on finding out more about Elizabeth Washburn Wright, a member of the U.S. delegation to the 1925 Geneva conference that produced the first international drug control treaty featuring substantive provisions. She was the first woman granted plenipotentiary powers by the U.S. government, but we know very little about her. Her family papers reside in Northwestern Maine, so I’m putting that trip off until winter is well past. I’m also investigating the extent to which it is possible to verify Harry Anslinger’s claims about his early career accomplishments before his appointment as FBN Commissioner in 1930; I’ve become skeptical regarding the story he tells about himself. For example, the first nine documents in Anslinger’s State Department personnel file are missing. This void includes the entire period during which he claimed intelligence and espionage exploits as a Consular officer in the Netherlands. I’ve never seen that magnitude of documentary omission in the many other files of this type I have researched at NARA. Kinda makes you wonder…

Based on your research and experience, what do you see as the frontier or future of the field?

It is my policy as a professional historian never to make predictions that could be proven wrong in my own lifetime. Assuming I live to age 100, everybody reading this will be retired by then anyway so it doesn’t really matter what I think. Just ask new questions with a dedicated eye to how you can make your findings relevant to multiple audiences (i.e., don’t just talk to fellow eggheads who read Points).

What scholar, living or dead, would you most like to have dinner with?

I’d love to observe Socrates and Oscar Wilde go at it. Problem is, if we are to be historically accurate, it wouldn’t be much of a conversation unless Wilde possessed some fluency in Ancient Greek (or perhaps Socrates could acquire modern English from some of Elysium’s recently-arrived residents).

SHAD Interview: “Mexico’s Dirty War on Drugs: Source Control and Dissidence in Drug Enforcement” with Aileen Teague

Editor’s Note: This week we’ll continue our series of interviews with the authors of the newest edition of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, which focuses on the intersection of drugs and US foreign relations. Today we’re excited to talk to Aileen Teague, currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. After her fellowship, she will begin her appointment as Assistant Professor of International Affairs at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service. She completed her Ph.D. at Vanderbilt University in 2018. Aileen specializes in the history of U.S.-Mexico (Latin America) Relations, Drug Control, and National Security. Her work has been supported by a number of fellowships and grants including Fulbright and the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations. She is currently revising her dissertation into a book manuscript. You can read Aileen’s article in its entirety (until May 1!) here.

Screenshot 2019-04-15 at 12.53.06 PMTell readers a little bit about yourself

I am a postdoctoral fellow at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs and will begin as Assistant Professor of International Affairs at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service next year. I was born in Colon, Panama, traveled the world as part of a military family, and served in the Marine Corps prior to my academic career.

What got you interested in drugs (and their history)?

As someone who has lived or worked on a number of overseas U.S. military bases (Panama Canal Zone, Guantanamo, Okinawa, the Philippines, etc.), my larger interest has always been U.S. interventionism. By the 1970s and 1980s questions of U.S. anti-drug interventionism become entangled in U.S. domestic policy issues in a singular way that drew me in, and I haven’t looked back!

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Aileen Teague

Explain your journal article in a way that your bartender wouldn’t find boring.

Many of us are familiar with Mexico’s more recent drug violence and powerful drug cartels. My work provides a historical explanation of how we got here. It points to the 1970s as a critical period in establishing U.S. and Mexican drug enforcement policies, strategies, and tactics, which have played a role in shaping current antidrug issues and the landscape of border security.  

Is this part of a larger project?  What else are you working on?

My article draws from my dissertation, which I am currently revising into a book manuscript.

Based on your research and experience, what do you see as the frontier or future of the field?

I think the future of the field, especially with respect to contemporary drug history in Mexico, will involve a lot more oral history gathering, engagement with journalistic narratives, and will thrive with the declassification of archival materials in the coming years.

What scholar, living or dead, would you most like to have dinner with?

Mark Twain; he was such a keen observer and commenter of society and culture during one of the most interesting periods in American history.