The Complicated Birth of the Gateway Theory

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

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Richard Daley and Richard Nixon in 1971

In 1972 , spelling  out marijuana’s gateway potential to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, President Richard Nixon explained, “Once you cross that line, from the straight society to the drug society – marijuana, then speed, then it’s LSD, then it’s heroin, etc. then you’re done.” This stepping-stone rationale existed long before Nixon’s presidency, of course. Still, in the 1930s, years before the War on Drugs began under “Tricky Dick,” Harry Anslinger, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics director from 1931 to 1962, initially shied away from this causal relationship, preferring to target marijuana on its own.

But by 1951, Anslinger had embraced the gateway theory as well, finally acceding to the growing chorus that connected marijuana to eventual heroin addiction. Rather than credit (or blame) Anslinger and Nixon for this approach, the history of the gateway theory proves that the basic assumptions and mythologies surrounding marijuana were much larger than the drug itself, regardless of which drug it eventually connected to. Instead, the gateway theory represented the widespread concerns and sense of racism that shaped Americans’ association with drug use and addiction in the post-WWII era.

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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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World War II and Drug Prevention

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

Screenshot 2019-02-12 at 9.30.23 AMIn 1937, as the first director for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN), Harry J. Anslinger eliminated any possibility that cannabis, or “marihuana,” could be a gateway drug. When asked during Congressional hearings if “the marihuana addict graduates into a heroin, opium or cocaine user,” Anslinger responded, “I think it [marijuana] is a different class. The marihuana addict does not go in that direction.”  This definition of the “marijuana menace” denied pot’s stepping-stone relationship to “harder” drugs in the nascent debate over its prohibition. During War World II, however, Anslinger lost considerable ground in his effort to criminalize cannabis. Most influential in this set-back to his strategy, World War II created a détente in his incipient war on pot.

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A Book Proposal in Drug History: Considering Audience

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Seth Blumenthal, contributing editor and lecturer at Boston University. Today, he explores what academics — especially those of us writing about timely topics like alcohol and drugs — should consider when thinking about their audience(s). Public or academic? How do we reach readers? How can we make our work matter? Read on and find out how Dr. Blumenthal considers these questions when analyzing his newest book project.

As I have written on this blog about my brush with marijuana politics, the suburban contest over legalization has exposed fascinating generational and cultural differences within these communities.  What accounts for this wide range of opinions about this issue? I propose to look at the role of public school education in shaping the many mythologies surrounding cannabis. Considering this project’s scope, three audiences—academic, policy and education experts or students, and the wider audience interested in marijuana history– emerge as the target readership for my proposed project,  Just Say No: A History of Drug Education in American Public Schools. Recently, historians have reconsidered the wider appeal of their scholarship and sparked a robust conversation about reaching a broader audience.[1] To be sure, the specific approaches each of these audiences require are not always compatible, but the topic of drug education provides a unique opportunity to reconcile the differences.

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Legalization Report: NIMBY in Newton, Massachusetts

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Dr. Seth Blumenthal, contributing editor and lecturer at Boston University. He’s been tracking the roll out of recreational marijuana legalization in his home state of Massachusetts and provides this report. Enjoy!

As I sat behind the police chief while he spoke to the City Council in favor of a ban on marijuana dispensaries in my city–Newton, Massachusetts–I realized I was in trouble. Surrounding me in the public seating section, every other attendee held up a brightly colored “Opt Out” sign in silence. One nice woman even asked me if I wanted a sign, which I politely declined. After all, I was there to follow the chief and offer a rebuttal. As a historian with a focus on marijuana history, I had already been active as an academic endorser for Question 4 that legalized marijuana in 2016, and so I was asked to speak on behalf of a compromise that would limit dispensaries to no more than four, rather than the eight mandated in the commonwealth’s provisions.

Although 55% of Newton residents voted for legalizing recreational marijuana in 2016, a strong, vocal group organized to propose a ban on cannabis dispensaries within the city limits. Of the 351 municipalities in the state, more than 200 towns have imposed bans or temporary moratoriums on recreational pot operators.  (You can see an interactive map of the bans here: http://www.wbur.org/news/2018/06/28/marijuana-moratorium-map ).

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Where recreational marijuana in available in Massachusetts. Image courtesy of Cannacon.org

 

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Surveying Drug Prevention

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Seth Blumenthal. In it, he surveys how schools, parents, and Congress responded to increased drug use in the 20th century through anti-drug abuse education initiatives. 

In the opening scene of the 1936 cult classic Reefer Madness, Dr. Alfred Carrol speaks to a parents’ group about preventing the “marijuana menace” that threatened their children. Haranguing the terrified mothers and fathers during the meeting, Carrol explains that this “frightful assassin of youth” could be stamped out with “compulsory education on the subject of narcotics in general, but marijuana in particular.” Carrol argued that “enlightenment” was the path to eliminating this “scourge.” However, the focus on educating parents to “Tell your Children,” the title of Carrol’s talk and one of Reefer Madness’s other titles, proved more popular than mandated public school education.  In fact, it would be decades before Americans felt comfortable teaching young people about narcotics in the classroom. This revealing debate about drug prevention and the tactics to stop drug abuse became a pivotal concern in communities across America, especially after drug use increased after WWII.  This brief survey of congressional hearings and debates about anti-drug abuse education in the 1950s and 1960s shows that this topic became a lightning rod for larger arguments about the role of the state in local communities and the classroom, but also indicates the controversies and debates that can be fleshed out as I target sources and archives for this project on the history of public drug education programs in post-WWII America. [1]

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