The Other, Other Opioid Crisis: Tramadol in West Africa

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. David A. Guba, Jr., of Bard Early College in Baltimore. 

For the past twenty years, a steady rise in opioid addiction and overdose rates across the U.S. has led to a “public health emergency,” declared by Donald Trump in October of 2017.[1] In 2017 alone, over 70,000 Americans died as a result of drug overdose, and 47,600, or 68%, of those fatal overdoses involved illicit and prescription opioids.[2] This means that opioids, whether in the form of illegal heroin or prescription pills such as OxyContin, killed more people in 2017 than car accidents (40,100) and gun violence (39,773). According to data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 37,113 of the 47,600 opioid-related deaths that year, or 78%, were of “White, non-Hispanic” people.[3] Particularly hard hit by the epidemic were the Rust Belt of the Ohio River Valley and mostly-white suburbs of Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Michigan, and Massachusetts.

While the label “public health emergency” is apt given these statistics, the current media obsession with the “white prescription opioid cum heroin user”—epitomized in Chris Christies oft-repeated anecdote about his college buddy who was a “great looking guy, well-educated, great career, plenty of money, beautiful, loving wife, beautiful children, great house, and had everything” but then tragically succumbed to prescription opioid addiction after a back injury—is both unhealthy and unethical.[4] As Solomon Jones, a journalist with the Philadelphia Inquirer, recently argued, perceptions of drug addiction in America have become so “gentrified,” that what once “was primarily a black and brown problem” of morals “has been rebranded by whiter and richer” Americans as a public health crisis affecting good, white citizens deemed victims.[5]

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Hemp and Heritage in France

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. David A. Guba, Jr., of Bard Early College in Baltimore. 

Screenshot 2019-02-20 20.37.21On 5 February 2019, growers, manufacturers, and distributers of “chanvre industriel,” or hemp, from across the globe met in Paris for the “AllHemp – Congrès international du chanvre,” the first international conference of its kind held on French soil. Organized by the French hemp-growers union, InterChanvre, the conference assembled industry professionals and researchers in France, the current epicenter of European hemp cultivation, to “bring notoriety to the industry and to this virtuous plant in terms of the economy and eco-responsibility.” In 2016 just over 1,400 French farmers cultivated over half of the EU’s total hectarage of hemp, nearly 17,000 ha of 33,000 ha, which was three times the amount of hemp cultivated in the United States during the same year.[1] The French farmers and manufacturers of InterChanvre thus organized the conference both to highlight France’s domestic hemp farming and promote hemp-based products, such as building materials, plastics, textiles, cosmetics, oils, and dietary supplements, on the international market.[2]

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New Wine in Old Skins: Cannabis Branding and French Wine Appellations

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. David A. Guba, Jr., of Bard Early College in Baltimore. Today he explores the potential for an appellation system for “craft marijuana,” which hopes to protect and promote cannabis grown by local farmers in places like the Emerald Triangle in California. Could American pot recreate an appellation system like France has for its wines? Read on and see!

As cannabis legalization sweeps across the United States, producing $8.5 billion in sales in 2017 and a projected $40-50 billion by the end of 2019, growers and distributors in the nation’s 36 states and territories where cannabis is to some degree legal are clamoring for ways to position their products above the rest.[1] Because the vast majority of legal cannabis in the U.S. is grown in controlled, indoor environments, competition among cannabis producers and sellers for optimal “bag appeal” largely has centered on mass producing strains with high THC and CBD percentages and non-flower products, such as concentrates, edibles, and tablets, that mitigate the health hazards of consumption.

Screenshot 2018-12-04 at 8.29.39 AMThis push for mass-produced, potent, and innocuous cannabis products has both stimulated and shaped the burgeoning American market, allowing large corporations, such as Scotts Miracle-Gro Company (the nation’s leading supplier of hydroponic growing equipment) and Harvest Inc. (the second largest cannabis producer in the U.S., with over 200,000 square feet of indoor grow space), to claim the lion’s share of the nation’s legal cannabis sales. In addition to this tendency toward monopoly, the rise of “Big Marijuana” also has created a market replete with inaccurate labeling and products promoted with impossible-to-prove claims of genetic purity and potency.[2] As Amanda Chicago Lewis put it in a recent article in RollingStone, “it’s basically impossible to know for sure who is responsible for the stuff that’s getting you high…strains are often mislabeled, and the indica/sativa/hybrid distinctions are increasingly proving to be meaningless.”[3]

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First as Tragedy, Second as Farce: The Recent Rise and Fall of CBD Cafés in France

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. David A. Guba, Jr., of Bard Early College in Baltimore. There have been a lot of discussions about CBD – the non-psychoactive component of cannabis – lately. See, for example, this recent article in the New York Times. Guba points out that France’s short-lived experience with CBD cafes shows how history is continuously repeating itself, especially in terms of drug policy, and that a better understanding of how nations have dealt with intoxicants in the past could prevent the same mistakes from being made over and over again. 

In the early summer of 2018, nearly four dozen stores selling legal “cannabis light,” or products with cannabidiol (CBD), ranging from distillate cartridges and edibles to actual flower, opened across France. After the first of these stores, called Bestown, appeared in the city of Annœullin (Hauts-de-France) on 24 May, over 50 similar establishments opened their doors in Paris, Nantes, Grenoble, Marseilles, Caen, Reims, and Lyon. Pictures of lines queued around the block at the Parisian merchant “Cofyshop” made the rounds in the international press. Le Monde devoted nearly a dozen articles to its coverage of “cannabis fever” sweeping the hexagon.[1] Then on 11 June the government officially declared the stores illegal, and police swept in and barred their doors.

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A Bestown shop, which opened in Béthune, in northern France, in May 2018. From France 3.

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In August, the Bestown shop in Le Havre had to close. Transcription of note: “Following a change in legislation, we are forced to withdraw from sale our CBD products. We apologize for the inconvenience.” From ACTU France.

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Video: David Guba at Cannabis: Global Histories

Editor’s Note: Did you enjoy David Guba’s blog post on Tuesday? Here’s a video of him explaining more about his work, taken by Morgan Scott of Breathe Image at the Cannabis: Global Histories conference held April 19-20, 2018, at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. Enjoy!

La Droit de la Drogue: Hachichins, Orientalist Imaginings, and Fears of Foreign Drug Use in France’s Legal Code

Editor’s Note: After bringing Points readers a fantastic write-up of the event itself, Dr. David A. Guba Jr. (Bard Early College, Baltimore) now presents a blog post on the research he presented at the Cannabis: Global Histories conference, held from April 19-20, 2018, at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. In it, Guba explains how, in the wake of the 1968 social uprisings, Orientalist fears and a longing for isolationism worked their way into France’s new drug policy. Enjoy!

On 17 October 1968, the French National Assembly met to discuss the nation’s efforts to combat international drug trafficking and the urgent need to enact new laws within France to address a recent surge in drug-related arrests among university-age youths. Alarmed by the student rebellions of May and June, politicians across the ideological spectrum moved to strengthen the nation’s commitment to the U.N. Single Convention of 1961, and many believed that in such a time of crisis, the French government should go beyond the Convention’s protocols and harden its own legal system against the growing scourge of drug use among the nation’s rebellious youth. After a series of discussions lasting until December of 1970, the Assembly passed the Droit de la Drogue, then the most comprehensive legal measure taken in modern France against the traffic, sale, and use of illicit substances and the basis of French drug laws today.

During the debates leading up to the passing of the 1970 Drug Law, French politicians and consulting medical, public health, and legal professionals described the nation’s social unrest and drug problems as a single, foreign-born “plague,” spread to France by Arab drug traffickers and provocateurs set on undermining the health and moral constitution of the body politic. In his address to the Assembly at the first open debate in October 1969, Gaullist Pierre Mazeaud, a French jurist and professor of law, urged the French government to do all it could to catch and expel “undesirable foreigners” engaged in drug smuggling, including “hippies” and “persons who travel excessively to the Middle or Far Orient.”(1) Daniel Benoist, a socialist deputy in the Assembly, echoed Mazeud, arguing that the student rebellions and the rise in drug-related arrests both stemmed from “the introduction of foreign elements into our country that brought with them radical philosophies and at the same time drugs.”(2) These alien ideas and drugs, Benoist concluded, had duped France’s youth with promises of “artificial paradise” and thus caused the current state of crisis in French society.(3) Driving the point home, fellow socialist deputy René Chazelle reminded the Assembly that the word “assassin” shared an etymology with word “hashish,” both deriving from the name of an ancient cult of cannabis-smoking murderers in the Islamic world, the Hachichins. Pointing to the recent student rebellion and spike in drug-related arrests (and especially hashish-related arrests), Chazelle warned his audience: “This filiation of drugs and crime is not simply assonance, it is today a reality.”

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“Le Club des Hachichins de Paris,” from A Nous Paris

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Writing Global Histories of Cannabis: Conference Report from Glasgow, 19-20 April 2018

Editor’s Note: Over the next several weeks, Points will feature blog posts, videos, and recaps from the Cannabis: Global Histories conference, which was held in Glasgow, Scotland, from April 19-20, 2018. Today, Dr. David A. Guba, Jr., professor at Bard Early College in Baltimore, Md., offers a recap of the event. Enjoy!

On April 19th and 20th, the Centre for the Social History of Health and Healthcare (CSHHH) at the University of Strathclyde gathered scholars from around the world in unseasonably sunny Glasgow to attend the Cannabis: Global Histories conference and work toward the publication of an anthology on the “global histories of cannabis.” Masterfully organized by Dr. Lucas Richert, Dr. Jim Mills, and Ms. Caroline Marley, the conference provided one of the first opportunities for historians and scholars of cannabis to come together and discuss research that often flows into isolated disciplinary and regional channels. In addition to providing a more global view on cannabis’s modern history, the organizers also conceived of the conference as a means of facilitating conversation between scholars of cannabis and the general public. To help further this important outreach mission, the organizers have produced a series of blogs and vlogs from the conference, which will be featured over the next few weeks on Points.

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