This year, medical marijuana is on the ballot in my home state of Florida, and it’s likely to pass: the latest statewide poll shows 77 percent of Floridians support the proposed constitutional amendment.
But the remaining 33 percent aren’t taking this lying down. On Monday, some county sheriffs held a press conference ostensibly on Halloween safety. Instead, surrounded by costumed children for full effect, they warned citizens about the supposed risk of marijuana edibles being passed out to unsuspecting youth.
If you rolled your eyes, you’re not alone. Several news outlets immediately speculated that the press conference was an effort to rally anti-marijuana enthusiasm before election day. None of the law enforcement officials present could identify a prior case in the state, though they insisted the “threat” is real.
Florida parents likely have little to fear next Monday night, regardless of the imminent election results. Even in newly legal states, no one (well, no child) found a “Pot Tart” or “Zonka Bar” in their Halloween haul last year. (And, when you think about it, how many people were handing out chocolate liquor cordials before then?) Plus, the idea of adulterated candy is nothing new. Snopes identified variants of this trope, including poisoned, razor-containing, or intoxicating children’s confections, going back decades. Only a few spuriously related incidences have ever been documented, and those have little or no connection to the actual goings-on of the holiday.
But drug myths like laced Halloween candy can be read as classic examples of folklore, or what scholars call cultural sets of beliefs shared to rationalize complex, unknown, or unknowable phenomenon. And folklorists will tell you these kinds of urban legends aren’t just for debunking. In her book on rumor in African American culture, I Heard It Through the Grapevine, Black folklorist Patricia Turner related that these claims are often not representative of “typical” beliefs. Instead, they offer novel insights into “pattern[s] of thought” through “an under-studied folk tradition.”
Folklorists like Turner, Gary Alan Fine, and Jan Harold Brunvand have for decades implored us, not to question the “objective” “truth” of these ideas, but to analyze what anxieties they reveal within their constituencies. It doesn’t necessarily matter if, as some profess, the CIA introduced crack to American cities, or methadone causes cancer, or suburban stoners would divvy up their stash with neighborhood kids. But those repeated ideas, true or false, sincere or not, have real implications.
What anxieties can you identify in this case, and in our mythic drug discourse more broadly?
When polling stations closed last week, the response to Ohio’s rejection of Issue 3 came fast and furious in local and national news. “Ohioans did the right thing on Tuesday by overwhelmingly rejecting a deeply flawed marijuana legalization ballot initiative,” Vikas Bajaj wrote in TheNew York Times. “The proposal would have amended the state’s constitution to grant a monopoly on commercial cultivation of cannabis to a small group of investors, which is a terrible idea.” The editorial board of Cleveland.com agreed: “Issue 3 is the wrong way to legalize marijuana for recreational use,” they wrote, “if there is even a right way to do it.”
In the wake of the first major anti-legalization vote after three years of seemingly intractable progress, what Bajaj and many others decried was not the halted expansion of legal cannabis, but rather the specter of Big Marijuana: the threat that pot, if legalized, would become as fierce and monopolistic a vice as Big Tobacco, Big Alcohol or Big Gun. And Issue 3, which was originally proposed by a group calling itself ResponsibleOhio and backed by wealthy investors (including retired NBA player Oscar Robertson and former boy bander and Buckeye State native Nick Lachey), seemed to embody those fears by granting the sole right to cultivate legal weed to just ten farms, all of which were owned and operated by these same investors. As November 3 approached, the specter of a marijuana monopoly seemed increasingly real: even as legalization was being touted as a social justice issue (by reducing the number of arrests of non-white males), it couldn’t escape the fact that it also smacked of a system that was inherently unfair, a symbolic gesture toward social equality that, in truth, benefitted only the already-privileged few.
What’s particularly interesting for drug historians, however, is not that this was one of the first rejections of legal marijuana in the past three years, or that it could be a harbinger of marijuana’s difficulty making inroads in the Midwest, but rather that arguments against Big Marijuana are once again rearing their ugly heads. The specter of Big Marijuana invoked last week was only the most recent example in a debate that’s been going on for forty years. Newly-reinvigorated after Ohio’s rejection of Issue 3, whenever there are discussions of legalized or decriminalized marijuana, fears of corporate takeovers and monopolies are never far behind.
(Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by contributing editor Adam Rathge. Enjoy!)
As of last week the political group known as ResponsibleOhio successfully secured enough signatures to put their controversial marijuana legalization measure on the state’s November ballot. In the coming months voters in the state (like me) will surely be subjected to campaigning from both supporters and detractors. Regardless of position, almost everyone agrees that the proposed Ohio measure is different from those already passed in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. Supporters will argue that is a good thing. They suggest the ResponsibleOhio plan is better than the current prohibition regime, that it will raise millions in tax revenue, and that limiting production to ten highly controlled grow operations will allow them to amply supply the market while ensuring less marijuana leaks into black markets or across state lines. Detractors will continue to assert that ResponsibleOhio’s plan will enshrine a constitutional cartel (or monopoly) on marijuana that benefits only its group of wealthy supporters, while allowing them to restrict the market and price to their control with limited regard to public health and safety. What we are highly unlikely to see in this debate, however, is a look at historical cannabis regulations in the United States prior its federal prohibition in 1937. This is unfortunate, since there are perhaps some very interesting lessons to be learned from a period in which cannabis was generally legal but often restricted.
Editor’s note: Today guest blogger and medical anthropologist Kim Sue offers her observations on how changing marijuana laws have slowly begun to impact the world of the opiate-addicted patients she studies–and the wider society’s assumptions about drugs and the reasons people use them.
I have been closely following the campaign for and roll-out of medical marijuana in Massachusetts as I conduct ongoing ethnographic fieldwork on opiate use and incarceration. Given marijuana’s prominent place in the historical, political, and cultural framings of the War on Drugs, it is critical to consider evolving legal frameworks and cultural attitudes toward the drug.
Last fall, advocates for medical marijuana managed to get it enacted via referendum. Read More »
We’re pleased to bring Points readers this short historical piece from Froylan Enciso, journalist and doctoral candidate in the Department of History, SUNY-Stony Brook, where he is working on a dissertation that explores the history of drugs in Sinaloa. A native of Mazatlán, Sinaloa, Froy Enciso previously studied international relations at El Colegio de México (1998-2002). He’s also a dedicated blogger, publishing Fantastic Postcards through the grassroots webpage Nuestra Aparente Rendicion(Our Apparent Surrender). This short piece, built around an episode of drug legalization by the Mexican government in 1940, was originally published (in Spanish) in Fantastic Postcards; it was translated for Points byMichael Parker-Stainback. Born in the American South, Michael Parker-Stainback resides in Mexico City, following previous lives in Los Angeles and New York. Specializing in urban culture and its protagonists, he is the author of Style Map Mexico City and a contributor to the TimeOut Guide to Mexico City. His monthly column on gay life in Mexico, “Plumas Parker,” appears in the recently launched magazine Central.
When drugs were legalized in Mexico, Lola la Chata (“Snub-Nose Lola”) was furious. She’d been pushing in Mexico City since, well, forever, but “narcotics” sales on the part of the government, at market rates, messed up the whole racket. Two days after they opened the heroin dispensaries, the junkies stopping buying from her. There was little she could do, except offer loyal customers a pilón—a little extra for free. But it wasn’t enough. Then the prices fell. So maybe you had to let go of the margins. But business was in the toilet.
That’s when she began to threaten them. In desperation, she followed the junkies around, telling them she’d ordered hits—that she’d kill them if they didn’t buy from her. Nothing seemed to work.
After years of effort, scientific experiments, meetings with lawyers, cops and public-morals committees, a handful of doctors at the Ministry of Health had managed to convince the president that the best way to check the current toxicomanía—a so-called “drug craze”—was legalization. A state monopoly was to be set up for distributing drugs as well as treating addicts as patients, offering previously illegal substances—seen as a “necessary evil in our civilization”—to users at market prices. Thus on 17 February 1940, the Lázaro Cárdenas administration’s Ministry of Public Health enacted new federal regulations regarding drug addiction, which were duly published in the government’s official gazette. Their rationale was in fact quite eloquent.
Whereas experience has demonstrated that prosecution [of “drug addiction” (toxicomanía) and narcotics trafficking] only apprehends a small number of addicts or, in the short term, drug dealers, who, lacking financial resources, cannot buy impunity; and whereas,
The prosecution of drug addicts as called for in 1931 legislation contravenes conceptions of the justice that is denied those convicted, addiction should be understood more as an illness to be treated and cured, and less as a criminal act to be punished; and whereas
Due to a lack of state financial resources, it has to date been impossible to follow appropriate recovery protocols in the case of all addicts inasmuch as it has not been possible to establish an adequate number of hospitals for the treatment of such addicts; and whereas
The sole outcome from the enforcement of the 1931 statute has been an excessive rise in drug prices, which in turn affords enormous earnings to traffickers…
In real terms, the new laws placed a rather onerous burden on Health Ministry physicians. The Hospital for Addicts that was next door to the Castañeda Psychiatric Facility was closed due to its inefficiency as a rehabilitation center, and in any case, doctors knew addicts could carry on with their normal lives outside, acquiring their usual doses of heroin, morphine or cocaine at the dispensaries. All the facility’s addicts were sent home. They even let the ones facing criminal or police-related charges go free. When criminal charges were dropped, the rage went with them. At the same time, clinical dispensaries were opened to distribute daily doses. A registry of imprisoned users was established so that they, too, could get their fixes.
One of the most popular dispensaries was 33 Sevilla Street. The space was by no means luxurious: a small installation, attended by Dr. Martínez, an experienced, conscientious and diligent physician. He toiled up to twelve hours daily, with two assistants, Dr. Clotilde Oroci Bacien and young Dr. José Quevedo. Every kind of person would show up—an average of five hundred per day. Other dispensaries, such as one on Versalles Street, that was a little bit nicer, was favored (at least according to rumor) by attorneys and doctors. Thirty-three Sevilla, on the other hand, served mechanics, carpenters, construction workers, potters, bums and the odd petty thief.
Dr. Oroci was quick to grow impatient. It was a lot of hard work for so few people—there were never enough resources—but Dr. Martínez didn’t seem to want to hear about it. He wanted everything in order, every visit carried out by the book, everything in its place. He oscillated between patient visits and general reprimands. Suddenly a patient showed up, limping and completely disheveled. “Doctorcito, good morning.”
“Good morning, my boy. How are you feeling?”
“Not good…not good at all.”
The patient placed his crutches aside once the doctor had prepared a number-20 vial with ten millimeters of alkaloid. He asked the patient for his arm and jabbed the syringe into his grubby skin.
“Next!” And as the next patient appeared he barked another order. “Throw out everyone who’s already gotten his dose! And make sure to collect their tokens or they’ll try to come back for a second fix!” This was no place to be wasteful. Read More »