Points Bookshelf: “The African Roots of Marijuana” by Chris Duvall

Editor’s Note: Today’s book review comes from Nick Johnson. Johnson holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Southern Illinois University and a master’s degree in American history from Colorado State University. A former freelance journalist in his home state of Illinois, Johnson now lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, and works as associate editor of the online Colorado Encyclopedia. He is the author of Grass Roots: A History of Cannabis in the American West.

Screenshot 2019-07-02 at 8.52.56 AMDespite a vast and ever-growing scholarly literature on cannabis, the African experience with the plant is too often glossed over or entirely neglected. One gets a sense of this reading some of Chris Duvall’s earlier work, including the global history Cannabis (2015). But in his most recent book, The African Roots of Marijuana (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019), the geographer hammers this point home with an infallible rigor that should convince other cannabis scholars to more closely examine the biases reflected in their own work.

Duvall’s most pervasive and important argument in the book is that Europeans’ historic preference for hemp over drug cannabis was rooted in racist interpretations of cultural ecologies, and those interpretations became the foundation for much of what is known (or assumed) about the plant today. In Europe, where ecological conditions favored hemp, cannabis was known as the fiber-yielding plant of productive industrialists; in South Asia and Africa, where ecological conditions favored drug-producing cannabis, “the plant was valued principally to supply psychoactive drugs” (103). When nineteenth-century Europeans began traveling Africa under the oppressive shadow of colonialism, they saw the use of cannabis drugs as an unnatural corruption of the plant itself as well as an indicator of Africans’ supposed backwardness and inferiority (10-11). This perspective then became embedded in Western understandings of cannabis and remains lodged there today, despite a robust academic literature on the role of racism and colonialism in the development of scientific thought.

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Reefer Madness in France: Part II

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

One of the earliest cases of “arab aliené: folie hasishique” I’ve found thus far in my research is from Algiers in the summer of 1857. On August 22 of that year, a twenty-year-old Muslim man called Soliman-ben-Mohammed attacked a crowd of Jewish Algerians gathered in the city’s central market for the Sabbath, wounding seven and killing one. Eyewitnesses described the killer as being “crazed by a fury” and “prey to unspeakable exasperations” as he wildly clubbed the fleeing crowd of men, women, and children. It was only when a group of nearby Frenchmen, “hearing the cries of the victims, seized the madman and disarmed him,” bringing the violent scene to a close.[1]

Screenshot 2019-06-27 09.13.57The most comprehensive record of the event and trial is found in a series of articles published in the Medical Gazette of Algeria in September of 1857 by Dr.’s Alphonse Bertherand and Noël-Eugène Latour, both with the French army and Civil Hospital in Algiers.[2] During his interrogation Soliman stated that he neither remembered the attack nor recognized his victims. He recalled leaving work earlier that day, smoking kif and drinking wine and anisette for several hours at a café in Algiers. He even recalled getting into a small altercation with several Jewish patrons at that café.  But, “visibly regretful and shedding tears,” Soliman again and again claimed he never intended to kill anyone and remembered nothing of the fatal attack.[3] 

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Marijuana History: A Bibliography

It’s been a big month for cannabis legalization news.

On May 31, Illinois became the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana use, and did so via state legislature (making it only the second state, after Vermont, to do so in this manner). But earlier this week, a movement to legalize in New York fell flat. Meanwhile, the federal government continues to debate whether the Justice Department should be allowed to interfere with state and territorial legalization laws.

Like I said, a big month, with, many predict, more news to come.

As drug and alcohol historians, our question is always, “How did we get here?” It turns out that the folks at MarijuanaDoctors.com were asking the same question. They put together a bibliography that covers the culture, politics, history, horticulture and science of cannabis (as well as a section on the “Best Reads While High,” which might be slightly more subjective), and it could be a useful starting place for those hoping to understand our strange new cannabis world. You can check out the full list here, and what follows are some highlights.

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Fiction Points: Red Dirt Marijuana by Terry Southern

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.

As the globetrotting mass of drug historians have been preparing to make their way to Shanghai for the bi-annual conference over the last few days, I (who am, unfortunately, not attending) had a chance to sit down and read some fiction. I don’t often get a chance to read much fiction. I have a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five on a shelf on my desk, and the bookmark has been on page 50 since the day I purchased the book for the trip to Dwight, IL, for the ADHS conference there in 2016.

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The original hardcover edition

But this latest literary indulgence was more directly research-related. Terry Southern’s collection of short stories entitled Red Dirt Marijuana and other Tastes has been on my list following a very productive archive trip to New York City two summers ago. I spent a few days (not nearly enough) in the Henry W and Albert A Berg Collection of English and American Literature at the New York Public Library, checking out the collected papers of a number of Beat writers like Jack Kerouac, William S Burroughs and others.

My dissertation research is formulating an argument about a marijuana culture in the United States beyond the Beats, with which it is commonly associated in the period prior to the 1960s. My initial reasoning was simply because this cultural movement has received plenty of coverage by literary figures and historians of the period. But I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to look at the Beat archives during my time at the New York Public Library. Southern’s papers contained drafts of a couple of the stories (including the title work) as well as some correspondence between Southern and other literary and showbiz figures from the fifties through the nineties. (Southern died in 1995.)

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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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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: “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).