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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Teaching Points: Using Drugs as a Gateway to Historical Methods

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. Rathge is also a drug scholar and a longtime friend of Points. He continues our Teaching Points series here, explaining how drug and alcohol history can be brought into the classroom and can be a vehicle for understanding historical methods. Enjoy!

During the coming Spring semester at the University of Dayton, I’ll be teaching HST 299 – Historical Background to Contemporary Issues. This will be my second time teaching the course. It is offered once a year by the History Department and open to students of all majors, with rotating topics driven primarily by faculty expertise and current “headline news” issues. In my case, this means teaching about drugs by focusing on current trends in marijuana legalization and the opioid crisis. From the department’s perspective, the topics are somewhat secondary to the true purpose of the course, which is designed to “focus on the methodology of history as a discipline and on the utility of historical analysis for understanding contemporary political, social and economic issues.” As such, in my version of the course, drugs become the gateway to teaching historical methods.

Over the fifteen-week semester, I divide the course into three, roughly five-week blocks. The first block covers recent developments with marijuana legalization. The second block explores the ongoing opioid crisis. The third and final block provides time for scaffolding the research process on a headline news topic of each student’s choosing. In essence, the first two blocks are designated topics on contemporary issues that allow the class to work through a guided model of historical methodology together, while the third allows them to put those skills into practice for themselves on a topic of interest. Each five-week block, therefore, introduces not only the topic at hand but also skills relevant to reading, writing, and thinking like a historian.

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Visible Problems with “Invisible Pot Addicts”

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Brooks Hudson, a PhD candidate in history at Southern Illinois University. 

The Atlantic, as one critic remarked, “perfectly captures…the puzzled dining club member’s approach to civic and political organizing, and the all-around obtuseness of elite discourse”; it is an “ideological compromised organ of beltway consensus.” Matt Christman, of Chapo Trap House fame, quipped in one episode that The Atlantic is “neoliberal Dabiq,” a death-cult of discredited ideas concealed in a glossy facade. Jeffrey Goldberg, the Atlantic‘s editor-in-chief, was an early and enthusiastic promoter of the Iraq War, injecting into the bloodstream such fantasies as the collaboration between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. His journalistic style, as one watchdog organization put it, was “complete with cherry-picked evidence, dubious inferences, rejection of contradictory evidence and ideological blinders.”

Don’t get me wrong, The Atlantic isn’t total garbage, but, like a kitchen after Thanksgiving, garbage is involved.

By that I mean that the Atlantic has a tendency to generate two kinds of content: the inane and the disingenuous. An example of the former: attributing “bigotry on the right,” to the left. Another example: solving New York’s subway system à la hoverboards.

But Annie Lowrey’s recent article, “America’s Invisible Pot Addicts,” isn’t inane, just disingenuous.

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New Wine in Old Skins: Cannabis Branding and French Wine Appellations

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. David A. Guba, Jr., of Bard Early College in Baltimore. Today he explores the potential for an appellation system for “craft marijuana,” which hopes to protect and promote cannabis grown by local farmers in places like the Emerald Triangle in California. Could American pot recreate an appellation system like France has for its wines? Read on and see!

As cannabis legalization sweeps across the United States, producing $8.5 billion in sales in 2017 and a projected $40-50 billion by the end of 2019, growers and distributors in the nation’s 36 states and territories where cannabis is to some degree legal are clamoring for ways to position their products above the rest.[1] Because the vast majority of legal cannabis in the U.S. is grown in controlled, indoor environments, competition among cannabis producers and sellers for optimal “bag appeal” largely has centered on mass producing strains with high THC and CBD percentages and non-flower products, such as concentrates, edibles, and tablets, that mitigate the health hazards of consumption.

Screenshot 2018-12-04 at 8.29.39 AMThis push for mass-produced, potent, and innocuous cannabis products has both stimulated and shaped the burgeoning American market, allowing large corporations, such as Scotts Miracle-Gro Company (the nation’s leading supplier of hydroponic growing equipment) and Harvest Inc. (the second largest cannabis producer in the U.S., with over 200,000 square feet of indoor grow space), to claim the lion’s share of the nation’s legal cannabis sales. In addition to this tendency toward monopoly, the rise of “Big Marijuana” also has created a market replete with inaccurate labeling and products promoted with impossible-to-prove claims of genetic purity and potency.[2] As Amanda Chicago Lewis put it in a recent article in RollingStone, “it’s basically impossible to know for sure who is responsible for the stuff that’s getting you high…strains are often mislabeled, and the indica/sativa/hybrid distinctions are increasingly proving to be meaningless.”[3]

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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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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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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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