In 1963, Los Angeles County distributed through the public school system 200,000 copies of a stylishly designed, wide-format brochure printed on heavy paper. It featured illustrations by a Walt Disney artist and a dire message: Your kid might be on drugs.
Targeted at parents of teen-agers, “Darkness on Your Doorstep” used thick margins, modern typefaces, and crisp copywriting to present key information about illegal drugs. Illustrations and photographic compositions mostly depicted a young male desperately trying to cope with or escape from drug addiction. While exonerating the youthful drug user on one hand, the text urged parents to suspect and report him on the other. “Taking dope is different from other bad behavior,” it read. “Once a person becomes an addict, he can’t control his habit. His habit controls him.”
Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Seth Blumenthal, contributing editor and lecturer at Boston University.
In 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.
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. 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.
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. 
* They then shift their focus to the inclusion, and subsequent exclusion, of an anti-vaccination documentary at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival and the role scientific skepticism plays in our day-to-day lives.
* Later, Kyle interviews Points contributing editor Aron Ackerman, whose PhD research at SUNY-Stony Brook investigates the transatlantic movement drugs in colonial Britain.
* Finally, Alex tells Kyle about 1990’s Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue and the continuing uphill battle educators and parents alike struggle with when trying to teach pre-teens about drug abuse.