Points Roundtable, Part 2: Isaac Campos on Alex Berenson’s “Tell Your Children”

Editor’s Note: Today we bring you the second of four installments of our roundtable on Alex Berenson’s new book Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and ViolenceThis post comes from Isaac Campos, history professor at the University of Cincinnati and good friend of Points. He discusses Berenson’s use of his research, as well as issues Campos has with Berenson’s larger argument.

First, we’ll run an interview with Campos, followed by an unpublished working paper that Campos first presented at the Cannabis: Global Histories conference in Scotland last April. This paper, titled “Leopoldo Salazar Viniegra and Marijuana’s Great Historical Disjuncture,” elucidates on the ideas that Berenson used in Tell Your Children, but gives much greater historical context for Campos’s claims. 

screenshot 2019-01-21 14.01.00Points: First of all, did you know that Berenson was going to cite your work in Tell Your Children?

Isaac Campos: I had no idea. I’d never heard of him until a journalist wrote to me asking about his treatment of my research.

What was your reaction to the book?

I find it kind of depressing, actually. And I’m not talking about his argument. It’s the approach and the response that I find depressing. He looks at an exceedingly complex issue, finds a lot of conflicting evidence, only uses the evidence that supports his thesis, then writes a really sensationalistic account that get lots of attention in a media landscape that rewards sensationalism and shock value. A lot of very serious and ethical scholars have been carefully studying these questions for many years. There are significant disagreements about what’s going on, but serious scholars are looking at this stuff carefully and meticulously, all the while keeping in mind that real people are affected by what we publish, so we need to respect the data.  

And then you get this former journalist and fiction writer who comes in, writes a sensationalistic book without a single footnote, but he says that the research is at this point clear, that “everything you’re about to read is true,” and characterizes those who don’t agree with him as the “cannabis lobby.” And he’s rewarded with a bunch of media coverage and book sales. So, yeah, I find it a little depressing. It’s also frustrating because I do think it’s important to take the potential risks of cannabis very seriously, as the paper we’re posting here demonstrates. But those risks need to be assessed within the whole complex of issues related to drugs, drug policy, and harm. Historically, a lot more harm has been done by bad drug policy and the propaganda used to justify it than by the drugs themselves. This book is closer to propaganda than a useful contribution to the discourse.

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Points Roundtable, Part 1: Emily Dufton on Alex Berenson’s “Tell Your Children”

Editor’s Note: A new book about marijuana was released earlier this month. Alex Berenson’s Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence has been met with vocal critiques and admiration, and we here at Points wanted to respond. Over the next two weeks, we’re going to run a roundtable on Berenson’s book, starting with my response and then featuring Points writers and friends Isaac Campos, Brooks Hudson, and Bob Beach. Feel free to participate in our roundtable by commenting below or engaging with us on Twitter

screenshot 2019-01-21 14.01.00Emily Dufton: Ever since I had my first book published in December 2017, I’ve been interested in the path that books, especially non-fiction books, take as they journey from an idea in an author’s mind to a finished project available on the shelves. After all, as anyone who has gone through the publishing process knows, crafting a book requires two things: time (generally at least a year or two), and other people’s support. From agents to editors to copyeditors to designers to marketers to publishers, there are a lot of individuals involved in the creation of a book, and a lot of people who need to sign off along the way.

Which makes me wonder exactly what the publishers at Simon and Schuster were thinking when they purchased the rights to Alex Berenson’s Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence, which was released earlier this month, on January 8.

Tell Your Children is a relatively short book that ties the increased use of increasingly potent marijuana to a variety of negative conditions, including, as the title suggests, mental illness and violence. Berenson cites evidence, like a recent report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, that relates marijuana use to different forms of psychosis, including depression, social anxiety, and, at the extreme end of the spectrum, schizophrenia. He also shows connections between marijuana and violent crime, suggesting that heavy pot users are hardly the couch-surfing stoners we’ve come to believe. Instead, Berenson argues, heavy marijuana users engage in violent acts (including, among his many horrific stories, ax murders, child abuse and corpse mutilation) at higher-than-average rates — often while experiencing the psychotic episodes that the marijuana originally caused. This could easily become a mounting problem, Berenson warns, as more states legalize recreational and medical use, often without putting any limitations on the strength of the cannabis available. “The higher the use, the greater the risk,” he writes in his introduction. “Marijuana in the United States has become increasingly dangerous to mental health in the last fifteen years, as millions more people consume higher-potency cannabis more frequently.”

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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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From Hippies to High Yield Insights: The Evolution of an Industry

Mike Luce is not the first person to lament how increasingly banal marijuana becomes once the industry goes mainstream. Keith Stroup, who founded the nation’s oldest legalization lobbying firm, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), in 1970, told Rolling Stone in 1977 that the decade’s booming paraphernalia industry was developing just like anything else. “It’s a growth industry,” Stroup said, “that’s gonna be treated like tennis shoes must have been. I don’t say this out of any particular glee—I just think it’s a result of ‘the great free-enterprise system.’”

Screenshot 2018-11-28 14.47.09Luce, who founded High Yield Insights, one of the nation’s first cannabis marketing research firms, this past May, feels similarly as recreational legalization expands. “From a great distance,” Luce said, the “classic marketing research” High Yield does for its clients—which includes everything from crafting tailored patient and consumer insight reports, to consulting medical and recreational businesses on strategy, growth, planning and innovation—is “very similar” to work he did previously, when he spent over 15 years researching audiences for a packaged food company. The only difference now, however, is that while these practices are commonplace for companies that sell soda, soap or tires, they simply haven’t existed in the cannabis industry before.

That’s changing, Luce said, as legalization spreads and more companies are entering the cannabis space. For groups that want to produce everything from high-end edibles to designer labels, High Yield offers “a way to introduce basic business information to a new and expanding field,” Luce said. In short, programs like Luce’s are helping cannabis become a legitimate business again.

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Teaching Points: Teaching Marijuana Legalization in One Credit? An Educator’s (Incomplete) Guide

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, and adds to our “Teaching Points” series, which shows how scholars are bringing alcohol and drug history into the classroom. 

For the second time in as many semesters I accepted an offer to teach a course at Utica College this term. It is a five-week, one-credit course that is part of the college’s effort to round out students’ schedules, often for financial aid purposes. The course runs during the last five weeks of the 15-week semester.  When it was offered to me in the spring, I had never taught a one-credit course before, and hadn’t considered how I might approach it. My major challenge, as instructors of these kinds of courses can probably attest, is getting students invested in brand new material just as their “regular” semester is winding up for final exams. This requires walking a fine line between maintaining the appropriate academic vigor and being overburdensome.

Luckily I didn’t have to work from scratch. I’ve been fortunate have had the opportunity to create and teach three sections of a survey-level course on the history of drugs and alcohol in American history in my time at Utica, and as a TA at University at Albany, SUNY. I’ve also discussed the challenges of teaching that class on this forum.  As I saw it, the first major decision was generating interest (to get it filled in a week or so) and the second was whether to create a summarized version of the full course, or to offer a five-week snippet of the first course. I chose the approach and format hastily, but not without some longer-term considerations. I have always been keen to critically assess my course evaluations (weaknesses and problems with that approach notwithstanding) to find out what students want with their classes.

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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.

Screenshot 2018-11-01 08.49.34

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

Screenshot 2018-11-01 08.51.37

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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“Mapping the Muggleheads” – Digital History, GIS, and Marijuana Historiography

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Dr. Adam Rathge, director of enrollment strategies and part-time history professor at the University of Dayton, drug scholar, and longtime friend of Points. In it, he shows how using tools like digital mapping and geocoding can shed new light on historical accounts and reveal previously hidden or misunderstood narratives–particularly useful when trying to understand controversial issues like alcohol and drugs. Enjoy!

Nearly three years ago, on January 6, 2016, I attended a session at the American Historical Association’s annual meeting entitled “Digital Publishing Initiatives: Training Humanities Scholars.” The panel was sponsored by the AHA Graduate and Early Career Committee and featured four excellent papers, one of which ultimately led me on a digital publishing journey that will finally come to fruition later this week with the forthcoming publication of “Mapping the Muggleheads: New Orleans and the Marijuana Menace, 1920–1930.”

Before elaborating on that story, however, I’d be remiss not to mention the other papers I saw that day. Adam Mandelman and Spring Greeney from the University of Wisconsin-Madison discussed the work of Edge Effects, a digital magazine produced by graduate students at the Center for Culture, History, and Environment (CHE) at UW-Madison. Mark Sheaves from the University of Texas at Austin showed off the work of Not Even Past, a monthly publication designed “to bring great history writing to the public” (not unlike our beloved Points blog). Patrick R. Potyondy and Leticia Wiggins from the Ohio State University chronicled the monthly publications from Origins that “provided historical insight on current events that matter to the United States and to the world” (also not unlike our beloved Points blog).

While each of these online publications was impressive, my inspiration that day came from Meredith Doster of Emory University, who presented the work of Southern Spaces – a peer-reviewed, multimedia, open-access journal published by the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship. As Meredith showed, Southern Spaces was dedicated to publishing research “about real and imagined spaces and places in the US South and their global connections.” Almost immediately my mind was churning with excitement. At the time, I was in the throes of writing my dissertation (“Cannabis Cures: American Medicine, Mexican Marijuana, and the Origins of the War on Weed, 1840-1937”) and was in the process of formulating a chapter that drew heavily on early twentieth-century newspaper accounts of marijuana use in New Orleans. The city’s “marijuana menace” seemed like a perfect avenue for exploring real and imaged spaces.

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