Weed of Wonder | Review

Weed of Wonder is a stylish coffee table book released earlier this year by The Hash, Marijuana & Hemp Museum of Amsterdam and Barcelona. It was mostly written by Jules Marshall (Ken Tarant wrote chapter 13), with photography by Floris Leeuwenberg and input from Ben Dronkers, the museum founder, and Gerbrand Korevaar, the museum curator, who served as the book’s Editor-in-Chief.

‘Why use up the forests, which were centuries in the making, and the mines, which required ages to lay down, if we can get the equivalent of forest and mineral products in the annual growth of the hemp fields?’Henry Ford

The book kicks off with a foreword from Ben Dronkers, where he states that the role of his museum (which houses over 9,000 artifacts) is to safeguard the history of cannabis, and to be ‘a source of information, inspiration and wonder for generations to come.’ He summarises some of the changes that have come about since he opened the Amsterdam site in 1987, and how attitudes and knowledge about the plant have changed with the ebb and flow of time. One fascinating and likely surprising example of this is credited as being renowned activist Jack Herer‘s archival discovery; a 1938 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine, in which industrial hemp is touted to be the next big thing in America, beneath the headline: ‘New Billion Dollar Crop’. The second opening passage in Weed of Wonder comes courtesy of former Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Dries Van Agt, who says: ‘The demonstrable danger [of cannabis] to society is much smaller than those of alcohol and tobacco, which cause much more human suffering.‘ He proudly recalls the 1976 amendment to The Netherlands’ Opium Act, causing their revised approach to cannabis sales to become internationally known as ‘the Dutch toleration policy’.

The book’s introduction laments the beginning of the twentieth century, when ‘just as it seemed cannabis would be an equally useful crop in the era of internal combustion and petrochemicals, it was plunged quite deliberately into a veritable dark age.’ One remarkable discovery (among others) by Professor Raphael Michoulam and his team in Israel is highlighted by the book. Naturally occurring cannabinoids, and receptors for them, are produced inside the brains and bodies of all multicellular animals. Such receptors ‘boost or dampen processes that operate in nearly every part of the body’, regulating pain relief among other crucial functions. This is truly remarkable when you consider that cannabis itself is the only plant which produces cannabinoids. Because of this, cannabis is thought to be at least as old as the last common ancestor of all vertebrates and invertebrates, dating back over 500 million years ago. Aside from helping our bodies maintain homeostasis, the plant has countless industrial uses. Towards the end of the book, author Jules Marshall reminds us that hemp is ‘capable of producing paper, textiles, building materials, food, medicine, paint, detergent, varnish, oil, ink, plastics, and fuel‘.

Formal discoveries and classifications of the Indica, Sativa, and Ruderalis plant species are covered, alongside some general history and information in chapter one. The next chapter covers the early history of cannabis around the world, starting around 12,000 years ago with the first traces of domestication in what is now Mongolia and southern Siberia. This fascinating historical tour takes in Japan, Central Asia, India, Egypt, China, Greece and the Roman Empire. The Indian Sanskrit poem, Atharva Veda, lists cannabis as one of five sacred plants. A Hindu work called the Raja Valabba claims that the gods provided cannabis for the human race to ‘attain delight, lose all fear and have their sexual desires excited‘. China’s name for itself was once ‘the land of mulberry and hemp’. Cannabis and silk (produced in part by feeding silkworms mulberries) were both commonly traded on the famous Silk Road routes, stretching from China to the Mediterranean.

Exodus 30 of The Bible describes an anointing or sanctifying oil for people such as kings and priests, which includes the ingredient q’neh bosm. It’s believed this is probably derived from the word ‘cannabis’. The oil Jesus used to heal sick people is thought to have been based on the same mixture. Hashish was popular in the medieval Arab world, where the prophet Mohammed did not ban its use, despite alcohol being strictly forbidden. Arab Doctors of the time used cannabis (or kannab) as a medicine. Hemp fibre was vital for ship construction during The Age of Sail. Johannes Gutenberg‘s revolutionary printing press used hemp-based paper and ink. [If I keep listing early historical tidbits, you’ll start wondering whether this is a proper book review or an endless list of facts, so I’ll move on!]

Suffice it to say, the Western world took much longer to really begin understanding and embracing cannabis, which gained popularity thanks to the likes of visionary Limerick man, Doctor William Brooke O’Shaughnessy. By the late 1800s, Western cities such as New York, Paris and London, began to see the plant as exotic, stylish, intellectual and enlightening. The book goes on to detail connections being formed in the imaginations of influential racist Americans in the early 1900s, who started to associate weed with brown and black people from various ethnic groups. It was therefore to be feared and shunned, according to authority figures of that period. The strong link between cannabis and cultural movements like jazz music, beatnik ‘brotherhoods’ and ‘flower children’ hippies is described in fascinating detail. Sadly, by chapter seven of the book, we’re moving on to growing global prohibition efforts. ‘The Forbidden Plant’ mentions the horrendous injustice of sentencing African-American Roger Davis to 40 years in prison for the possession and sale of eight ounces of cannabis, in 1974. It’s accompanied by a haunting High Times magazine cover of Davis peering at the camera through prison bars.

‘I have been involved with cannabis all my life, and the plant keeps surprising me. People deserve to be educated. There are so many misconceptions, misleading and inaccurate stories, as well as blatant lies, spread by the media. Terrible propaganda against a plant.’ – Ben Dronkers

Perhaps most importantly for modern historians and drug reform activists, this chapter covers all of the key conventions, treaties and laws which made a life with cannabis, including medicinal use and the growing of hemp, increasingly stigmatised and forbidden. The medicinal value cannabis was understood to have was suddenly struck off the international record by a UN ruling in 1951. Generally, such monumental decisions made by politicians of the era were made out of an irrational sense of racist paranoia and fear, based upon no real evidence. It is also thought that they were made with the vested interests of certain industries that competed with cannabis in mind. Figures like Harry J. Anslinger are highlighted as key prohibitionist influencers. Some of their attitudes appear to have remained ingrained in the minds of certain people to this day, including Irish Minister and human barricade to progressive drug reform, Frank Feighan. The book guides us through different areas of pop culture that cannabis left its mark on over the years, before examining Dutch tolerance and its policy changes over the decades in finer detail.

We’re presented with some of Rotterdam and Amsterdam’s finest coffeeshops. Prominent coffeeshop pioneers are profiled; Henk de Vries, the late Kees Hoekert, and ‘The Hash Queen‘, Mila Jansen. Following this, we delve more into cannabis as a part of modern Western healthcare, where at its peak it had ‘at least 2,000 products from over 280 manufacturers’. This would decline immensely in the twentieth century, with the rise of synthetic drug production and less corporate interest in variable plant-derived medications. Chapter 13, by Ken Tarant, is a biography of Ben Dronkers and his life’s work, as seen through three branches; the museum, Sensi Seed Bank, and hemp cultivation and processing company, Hempflax. It also profiles Ben’s family and his most notable museum collaborators who contributed over the years, and in many cases, still do.

‘The Sensi Seed Bank is the most comprehensive cannabis genetics bank in the world… It is a little like preserving the rainforest because we know there are potential medicines there which must not be destroyed.’

– the late Dr. Lester Grinspoon, of Harvard Medical School

Overall, including introductions and credits, Weed of Wonder amounts to 288 pages. It’s packed with information across areas too numerous to cover in this review. It is a high-quality labour of love, formatted in an approachable way that invites readers to dip in and out of reading. It’s full of gorgeous, eye-catching photography and illustrations, and can be bought in either a green or purple hardback cover, with metallic silver or gold title lettering, respectively. It’s unlikely to alienate those with a more casual interest in things, as it avoids overly lengthy or complicated passages. Although ordering the book to Ireland raises its price from €34.50 to a steep €48.75 with mandatory tracked shipping, it is a pleasure from cover to cover and can be thought of as an eye-catching high end investment. Personally, I consider this book a treasure, as well as a testament to the continued passions of Ben Dronkers, his friends and family, and cannabis advocates everywhere by extension.

* The Green Lens would like to thank Gerbrand Korevaar for providing us with a review copy of this book.

Debating the Drug War: Race, Politics, and the Media | Review

Michael L. Rosino is the Assistant Professor of Sociology at Molloy College in New York State. In his book, Debating the Drug War: Race, Politics, and the Media, he explores the following areas of debate on the War on Drugs: ‘the history of the relationship between racism and drug policies, the role of the media as a place where people debate these policies, how the debate reflects popular ideas about race, crime, and politics and even commonly held ideals like justice, equality, and freedom, and how people construct and reinforce identities through their participation in these debates and what that means for society’.

In order to get a clear breakdown of the views held by people in this debate across the media, he ‘conducted a content analysis of over 30 years of US newspaper content that focuses on the War on Drugs, including 394 op-eds, letters to the editor, and news articles.’ He also examined ‘3,145 comments on the internet’, gathering them from the comments sections of relevant online news articles, published from 2009 to 2014. Including the Introduction and Conclusion, there are six chapters, which include questions for academics to discuss, as well as additional notes. To emphasise the ongoing legacy of systemic racism in the United States, Rosino begins the Introduction by detailing the fatal police shooting of unarmed eighteen-year-old African-American, Ramarley Graham, in 2012. He mentions that this was only one of three killings of black men that week by the New York Police Department.

A plain clothes NYPD Officer shot Graham in the bathroom of his home, which he shared with his grandmother and six-year-old brother, after the cops involved broke down both the back door and the bathroom door. Graham was trying to flush a small amount of newly-bought cannabis down the toilet. The officers involved had seen his purchase through street cameras and had decided to follow him home, entering without a warrant. Before the young man’s home was breached, Officer Richard Haste announced that Graham had a firearm, ‘perhaps misrecognising the young man adjusting the waistband of his pants’. A gun was never found at the site. This gives readers a sample of the racist police violence that is so prevalent across the US. Rosino covers the racist origins of American drug prohibition, which relied on the creation of moral panics, exaggeratedly defining activities, events or people as ‘a threat to societal values and interests’.

The powerful would manufacture such hysteria, linking minority ethnic groups to the supply of drugs and the corruption of the innocence of white moral values. The author begins by outlining the suppression of Chinese opium dens in the 1870s, eventually leading to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the first law excluding an entire ethnic group from entering the United States. Anti-Catholic sentiment and growing antisemitism against Jewish immigrants in the alcohol trade, by groups like the Ku Klux Klan, led to a demand for alcohol prohibition in the 1920s. Popular and influential media depicted European migrants who identified with these religions as threatening to the dominance of white Protestants in America. Mexicans, blacks and Native Americans were all presented by the Temperance movements as engaging in criminal and immoral activities, particularly when using alcohol. Rosino provides examples of how historical prohibition has had a lasting effect on racial discrimination in policing and the legal and criminal justice systems.

One study from 2006 stated that, ‘although a majority of drug transactions involving the five serious drugs under consideration here involve a white drug dealer, 64 percent of those arrested for drug delivery in Seattle from January 1999 to April 2001 were black.’ A 2016 study said: ‘Overall, in comparison to blacks, whites receive shorter prison sentences for the same drug crimes in the United States.’ A 2007 study into the effects of felony convictions on employment, found that white applicants who had felony convictions received more callbacks than blacks who had no criminal record at all. A groundbreaking sociological study of crime carried out by W.E.B Du Bois in 1889 gets a mention too, where he showed that ‘racial differences in crime rates were a product of residential segregation, disproportionate policing and surveillance, the impact of slavery, racial discrimination, lack of economic opportunities, and lack of government investment in black communities.’

Rosino mentions two response tiers which began to emerge for problem opiate drug use in America during the 2010s. One of harm reduction, treatment and empathy, and one of surveillance, punishment and incarceration. Statistically, the former tends to be the approach for white people with drug issues, while the latter is how black people with the same issues are dealt with. Although the Obama government began moving away from severely punitive drug laws, former Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III of the Trump administration re-introduced regressive drug laws and narratives, positing that cannabis use is linked to violence and that it is addictive and dangerous. Rosino discusses media agenda-setting, via frames, which present coherent narratives of a complicated War on Drugs. By examining digital copies of local, regional, and national newspapers containing the term ‘War on Drugs’, from the ’80s onwards, the author was able to break down exactly how arguments have been framed in the media over the years.

He presented four primary frames: Fiscal, Freedom and Justice, Functionalism and Racial Unfairness, each of which was further broken down into sub-frames. They were given percentages based on the frequency they appeared. The frame of Racial Unfairness was the least common to appear, at almost 9%. Additional frames were included in the author’s breakdown of internet comments, such as Racialized Victim Blaming, which had sub-frames like Denial of racism. Racial Unfairness was acknowledged nearly 12% of the time by commenters. According to Psychologist and Sociologist, William J. Ryan, victim blaming involves ‘justifying inequality by finding defects in the victims of inequality.’ Racialized Victim Blaming took place when commenters ‘interpreted racial disparities in arrest or mass incarceration as a natural or legitimate outcome of inherent differences in traits between whites and blacks.’ Such comment authors ‘saw clear evidence of systemic oppression as instead serving as evidence of moral inferiority or social deviance.’

For me, chapters four and five were the most eye-opening sections of the book, as they covered important terms like racial silence, coded language and identity construction. Racial silence involves the implicit silence of whites (including white-dominated media) regarding the ongoing legacy of systemic racism, which is a central issue of the discriminatory War on Drugs. Because whites are dominant in positions of power and influence, their perceptions of themselves, other ethnic groups, and so-called cultural norms in behaviour and thought are imposed on society, promoting their interests as being legitimate, natural, or common sense. Coded language is explained by the author as ‘enabling claim makers to construct racialized subject-positions while maintaining surface-level racial silence.’ Code words for ethnic minorities range from crack babies and welfare recipients to terrorists, cartels and thugs. Words such as these are used to ‘conjure racial imagery, yet avoid the direct evocation of racial categories.’

In this way, age-old myths about an intrinsic superiority of whites compared to other ethnic groups who are threatening, dysfunctional, and morally-inferior are reinforced to some degree in the public psyche. Rosino states that identity construction and reinforcement are an integral part of responding to, understanding and debating a given issue, such as the War on Drugs. People are inclined to identify themselves as being part of a particular group, while excluding others via symbolic boundaries. The categorising of racial groups, dominant traits associated with them, and differences between them, are just some symbolic boundaries. Such notions are highly influenced by those with the most power and influence in society. Michael L. Rosino’sDebating the Drug War..‘ is more informative and enlightening than this review can truly communicate. It’s packed with sociological and racial concepts and data which underline the urgency for drastic racial justice and drug reform in America (and by extension, the Western world and beyond).

Many uncomfortable truths of systemic racism are laid bare in this book. Often, those truths are ignored, undermined or denied in the media and in public discourse. It seems that a significant amount of white Americans prefer to imagine that their society is fundamentally fair and equal and that those complaining about social inequities have simply failed in life through poor personal choices, or were born into an inherently inferior culture with lesser moral values. The reality is that this is nonsense. No ethnic groups are less morally sound or more naturally prone to dysfunction, violence and crime.

* The Green Lens would like to thank Michael L. Rosino for providing us with a review copy of this book.

Fake History: Ten Great Lies and How They Shaped the World | Review


Otto English is the pen name for Andrew Scott, a journalist that covers history and contemporary politics. His book Fake History: Ten Great Lies and How They Shaped the World takes a look at the numerous fictions of history and how and why they have become known to be historical facts.


In the wake of social media, fake news has become an epidemic in itself. And while it is nothing new, people are more aware than ever of the probability of lies and misinformation within the media. As the world rapidly changes with economic depression, rise in right-wing views, political corruption and lobbying, the war against misinformation has never been more palpable. With Otto English’s Fake History: Ten Great Lies and How They Shaped the World, Otto reminds us that fake news has been with us since history was first recorded and no different than today, it is utilised to control the collective mindset of countries all over the world.


What we are taught in schools comprises what we know of history, but do we know the full picture? Otto English delves into the mistruths constantly expelled into the modern consciousness of Britons in the form of Winston Churchill. One of the most notable figures in British history, Churchill’s image is still idolised to this day due to a litany of stories told about him to shape his legend. Many of the stories, sayings or quotes said to have come from the man were fabrications or plagiarisms in order to define him as someone extraordinary to look up to. With every decade comes a new quote usually plucked from a movie to further institutionalise the man as a god among men. In death, the man has almost been elevated to something of a mythical figure, but this couldn’t have come to fruition if not for Churchill’s innate ability to market himself above the man he was. His six-volume series of books, The Second World War, solidified his legend long before he passed, and biographers and admirers have happily played along since.


As is the case of many successful men in history, the influence of the women in his life were brushed to the side. His story is that of one man who overcame the odds on his own, so the role of Clementine Churchill had to be downplayed to coincide with the narrative Churchill’s admirers continue to push in the eyes of the public. As far as they’re concerned, there was no partnership, just Winston against the evil of the world. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests mid-2020, hundreds of millions all over the world were treated to practical history lessons of key figures tied to slavery as their statues were either pulled down or had their removal called for. The protests surged a retrospective look at these figures and Churchill was no different. Many came aware of the man’s views on suffrage, constantly flip-flopping on his stance of women’s rights, his views on Indians, his views on Africa and of course, closer to home, his part in unleashing the black and tans in Ireland.


Otto also touches upon one of the most bafflingly out of reach theories to rear its head within the conspiracy movement, Flat Earth. Again, the idea to impose order on things we don’t understand, to limit the fear of the unknown is the foundation for most conspiracy theorists and exaggerated ancient history has only fostered it. Such as the narrative of Christopher Columbus, a man who is known to have sailed the earth to prove it was spherical. This is a complete lie as we already knew the earth was round but that didn’t stop those from forcing the narrative we know of today. Otto reveals Columbus wasn’t the great navigator many proclaimed him to be, instead, he was an unhinged capitalist motivated solely by wealth. A far cry from the image we see of him today, one that was repurposed to fit the image of a new world, America. While his voyage was courageous, Columbus did in fact not discover America, much to the disagreement of nationalists.


Otto follows onto nationalism and how it continues to shape countries all for the worst. War has always been a major aspect of British exceptionalism, and this has bled over into football which serves to quench the bloodthirst of many nationalists before the next world war kicks off. But only when they’re on the upside of advantage, as Otto recounts England’s loss to Germany in the 1996 European Championship. Britain, still to this day is obsessed with Germany and their history and this was all to accumulate in a clash of football some 51 years after the end of WW2.


“The idea that people born in a geographical region have some common spirit and a common destiny is nonsense, but it’s compelling nonsense.”


British nationalism has gone through numerous revisions to protect the public from the concept of British failure. As seen in war films and the BBC’s Dad’s Army, British exceptionalism is akin to cultism due to the fixation of World War 2. From there Otto sheds light on the lineage of the royal family, a glaring record many British people would prefer to ignore. As Germany has been made to be the arch-nemesis of Britain, the reality of how the royal family have German blood is not only rejected by nationalists but also utilised as an attack against the family by their detractors. Otto goes on to describe the belief of blue bloods, “the idea that some families are ‘older’ than others is patently ridiculous.” The act of delegitimising the royals for having German blood mirrors the Birther movement in America which saw to have then-president Barack Obama removed from the White House over the false notion that he wasn’t an American citizen. It would serve nationalists well to believe in the existence of “royal DNA” but nevertheless it is a lie required to believe in the existence of ‘blue bloods’.


Otto continues, as Britain has become an amalgamation of different cultures and backgrounds, with it has come various culinary delights. Culture is shaped by language and has an effect on our relationship with food. What consisted of the British diet before was frozen fish, beans, oven chips, and dining out was no different. Otto focuses on how from the 1960s onwards, migrants from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were suddenly introducing new recipes never experienced by the palate of Britons. One of the exotic dishes now available to the British public had unfortunately got lost in translation due to the ignorance of Indian cuisine. Such is the case for the “Birmingham Balti”, a base mix of onions, garlic, ginger, turmeric, slat and garam masala cooked in a traditional metal bowl called a “Balti”. Unbeknownst to many, including myself, Otto reveals a Balti is the Bengali and Hindustani term for a bucket used to wash, flush the toilet, or clean your backside. Ignorance holds no bounds.


One of the biggest untruths in history is the belief that all men are created equal as Otto moves onto the miscarriage of justice produced by the illustrated Ladybird books of the late 20th century. Primarily used in schools to teach children to read, these books established the “standard for what Englishness was meant to be.” Only the history of the empire mattered and even then, little light was shed on the brutality that led to its formation. At no point did the illustrations of Britain reflect what citizens experienced in the 70s and 80s, often leaning more towards a fictitious utopian world. This mentality of ‘only our history matters’ has increased tenfold since Brexit. The new world was said to be inhabited by feral savages, later to have their vicious ways unlearnt by the all benevolent white man, who saw the history of slavery repurposed “as voluntary community service.” Otto then delves into the narrative of Abraham Lincoln freeing the slaves which wasn’t as simple as it’s written in history books. While he did lead the North into the war to liberate slaves, his views on black people shifted with the times along with his political needs. He was a politician, not the Jesus like figure many books, films and television shows portray him to be. The history of black men and women during the civil war was subtly left out of history books as it did not have a place in how white people wanted to recollect the events.


“Human beings need heroes. So, ordinary politicians become outsized gods, brave women escaping slavery become wonder women, and blemishes and human failings of ‘great people’ and the complexity of their stories get ironed out as their deeds get blown out of all proportion.”


No different than the tall tale of a cleaning lady finding the war plans for Churchill, Adolf Hitler created an urban myth onto himself as Otto moves into the catalogue of films, books, and expertise on the man to which he became a brand of evil to sell on history channels.


Otto states that the man is a figure that represents a marketable horror, occupying the same space as Hannibal Lecter. Many find it uncomfortable to explore discussion on Hitler as Otto puts it, to “understand the man risks legitimizing him”, preventing those from realizing Mein Kampf isn’t the bible of evil it’s feared to be. In reality, it serves as the biggest exposure to the insecurity that Hitler manifested within himself after his failure to become an artist came to a head. Mein Kampf is strife with insecurity as Adolf wasn’t as educated as he portrayed himself to be nor as intelligent as his supporters like to assert. He hated modern art, simply because he didn’t understand it and banned art criticism to seclude himself from disapproval. This bled over into the architecture of Nazi Germany which was ugly in nature as it became the case of bringing everything down to Hitler’s level to further his ego.


Otto continues to shed light on the reality Adolf wasn’t as charismatic as many proclaim him to be, with many of his contemporaries at the time looking down on him. He was a bad military leader due to his embracement of confirmation bias leading to the death of many of his men. All that mattered was being in charge. By keeping Mein Kampf hidden makes it scarier rather than an uncovering of the facade that was Adolf Hitler. This is no different than in China today, as Otto segues to President Xi Jinping, a man that influenced a similar effect in Chinese nationalism. The belief there is that Chinas history is older than others and therefore better. The similarities of these men can also be seen in Donald Trump. No different than Mein Kampf, Trump’s book, The Art of the Deal was a complete fabrication to sell a fugazi brand of success. Otto explains, just like Hitler lied that he was a great painter, Trump lied about being a great businessman though Trump, unsurprisingly went a step further and had someone else write it for him.


The myths of Hitler and Churchill persist and guarantee their place in history books forever, even with the truth opposing their legends such as the case for Napoleon where Otto compares the paintings and medallions of the era to Instagram, the music of the time to YouTube and the papers were Napoleon’s Twitter and Facebook. All possible due to powerful men’s need to weaken and divide enemies which was Josef Stalin’s prerogative.


Otto sheds light on the term ‘disinformation’ and how it was first coined in 1923 when Josef Stalin set up the special disinformation office in Moscow. This was for the sole purpose of destabilizing other countries to stir discontent abroad as to diminish his enemies and when the time came, to rewrite the past. Such is the case for countries that are on the upside of advantage, in order to define their identity, they must find their enemy. Otto talks about the impact of 9/11 and how it has shaped the America we see today. Since September 11th, 2001, America has had a renewed purpose and sense of unity.


The quest to find an enemy and utilize them to define an image was exemplified in WW2 when the Japanese were needed to test out how powerful America was with the dropping of Little Boy and Fat Boy on Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively. The latter of which could have been avoided due to Japan’s preparation of surrender. This was simply a means of sending a message to the USSR. Americans have come to justify a lot of atrocities since then due to yellow peril, an intolerance of China and Japan. Otto points out this has only increased in the wake of the coronavirus, as Trumps Administration had cultivated a new enemy in foreigners. A lot of the failings of the pandemic was blamed on China who became a scapegoat for all of Trump’s blunders in tackling the virus.


A willingness to buy into a man’s lies is what leads us to a cult of personalities like Hitler and Trump. None of these men live up to the stories and so must be preserved by their supporter’s lies throughout history. We’re currently living in the most peaceful period in history, though fake news threatens the stability of every country it’s disseminated in. Unlike generations before us, we now have the means to acknowledge the truth from fiction as we learn more in the information age. While this has given way to new methods of spreading untruths, we have the ability to document it in a way unlike ever before. To not do so is to allow future generations to fall into the trenches of deliberately disseminated falsehoods designed to undermine history in favour of self-serving goals to maintain and control the power of people. What Otto English covers in this book may already be known to some but the compilation of some of the worlds most notorious lies covered all in one medium provides a bigger picture of how unequipped we were and still are in defending the truth. All we can do to fight this is no better put than Otto himself:


“Human beings can do astonishing things when we rid ourselves of the menace of illusory superiority and embrace knowledge instead.”

You can buy Fake History here:

https://www.waterstones.com/book/fake-history/otto-english/9781787396395

https://www.allenandunwin.com/browse/books/general-books/history/Fake-History-Otto-English-9781787396401

Undoing Drugs: The Untold Story of Harm Reduction and the Future of Addiction | Review

Maia Szalavitz is an author and journalist focused on neuroscience, addiction and drug policy. She has written for the likes of High Times, VICE, The New York Times and The Guardian. Her newest book, Undoing Drugs, provides a comprehensive history of North American harm reduction movements, which arose as a response to the frightening AIDS epidemic of the ’80s. It details the harm reduction movement’s evolution from the late ’70s onwards. Groups like ADAPT (The Association for Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment) and ACT UP (The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and later, organisations like the DPA (Drug Policy Alliance) and the NHRC (National Harm Reduction Coalition) are explored. Undoing Drugs covers a range of topics across drug policy; the devastation of AIDS, the fight for supervised injection facilities, overdose prevention via Naloxone, compassionate changes to addiction and pain treatment and the emergence of national drug reform organisations.

The book is a tribute to ‘The Goddess of Harm Reduction’, Edith Springer, who is credited with introducing the harm reduction concept to America, thanks to a meeting with Allan Parry. Parry ran a successful harm reduction programme with Doctor John Marks in Liverpool, England. At one time, they were legally prescribing unadulterated, safe doses of heroin and cocaine to drug users. They also ran a needle exchange programme where they’d provide sterile needles in exchange for used ones, which they would safely dispose of. Clean needle programmes weren’t something that had been successfully organised yet in the States. Initially, they focused on educating injecting drug users on how to clean needles out with bleach and water, before re-using or sharing them. The book credits an exhaustive list of players in the harm reduction movement, from those mentioned above, to people like Yolanda Serrano, Jon Parker, Michelle Alexander, Dan Bigg, Stephanie Comer and Dave Purchase. All made valuable contributions to harm reduction in different periods, but tragically, not all of the groundbreaking and inspiring figures in this movement would survive to now, due to overdoses or illnesses.

Szalavitz experienced a major shock in 1990, when she first learned of the link between shared needles and HIV. She describes the ‘utter hell’ of waiting on HIV test results for two long weeks, before receiving the welcomed news that she hadn’t contracted it. It was at this point in her life that she decided that educating people about harm reduction and helping to introduce public harm reduction measures was precisely what she would devote herself to doing. Like Doctor Carl Hart, Szalavitz examines the racist origins of the war on drugs. She tells that even alcohol prohibition in the US had racist reasoning behind it: ‘..many white Protestants felt their power was threatened by rising numbers of immigrants from Germany, Ireland, and Italy, as well as Eastern European Jews. Prohibition was seen as a way to take back control.‘ She touches on the precedent set by The Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914 and explains how in 1930, Harry Anslinger, as the first Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, fought for a strict federal ban on cannabis on the premise that weed ‘would seduce white women and lead to widespread insanity among previously pure white youth‘.

He ignored 29 of the 30 Doctors he interviewed about cannabis, who said that it wasn’t harmful enough to ban. This reckless anti-drug attitude would continue later, most notably with Presidents Nixon and Reagan. Szalavitz outlines the public mindset, from the ’60s onwards, as follows: ‘..illegal drugs had been firmly linked in the American mind with poor, Black, and brown criminals — and the stereotype of the “addict” as a lazy, devious, and violent sociopath mapped perfectly on to the racist stereotypes many whites held about those groups. With a compliant media, it was easy to blame violence and poverty on drugs — and not the socioeconomic circumstances that actually do lead people to problematic relationships with substances. It was also easy to spike fear that the evil drugs used by poor Black and brown people would soon be coming for innocent white babes.‘ Elsewhere, she quotes a lawyer, who said the following about crack cocaine in a New York Times op-ed in 1986: ‘If we blame crime on crack, our politicians are off the hook. Forgotten are the failed schools, the malign welfare programs, the desolate neighborhoods, the wasted years.

It’s apparent from these descriptions of the anti-drugs rhetoric of US authorities that the narrative on drugs has long been manipulated by those in power, to avoid taking responsibility for the neglect of various social issues and as a means of scapegoating ethnic minorities, particularly African Americans. The narratives of traditional and dominant twelve-step recovery programmes are challenged, such as those found at Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, where their only measure of success for an addict is total abstinence from intoxicating substances. Addiction is viewed as a ‘progressive disease’, such that if someone changed from buying crack every weekend to smoking a joint once or twice in a month, that person would be labelled ‘still using’ and ‘not in recovery’. This is because ‘progression of the disease’ is seen as inevitable, meaning that in their view, such an instance of seemingly controlled cannabis use ‘will ultimately spiral back to chaotic crack addiction’.

Szalavitz also covers the Housing Works organisation, which was founded to combat homelessness and addiction through the provision of free housing. The organisation was based on the ‘Housing First’ premise that it’s ‘highly unlikely that someone living in an unstable setting or entirely without shelter will be able to quit alcohol or other drugs while still on the street.‘ Along with the likes of Stand Up Harlem, they were shown to have tremendous success in reducing chronic homelessness and by extension, addiction rates. They stood in stark contrast with housing provision programmes that demanded the near-impossible from drug users – that they be entirely ‘clean of drugs’ before granting them accommodation. Root causes for many people who end up in damaging life scenarios are mentioned by the author, where she states: ‘Virtually everyone who ends up homeless, addicted, mentally ill, and HIV positive has a long history of childhood trauma, typically compounded by the experience of racism and the extreme distress and social rejection that comes with living on the street or being incarcerated.

Although Undoing Drugs is often heartbreakingly tragic, it is a vitally important book that highlights the success of applied harm reduction and the contrasting failure of continued ignorance and stonewalling. It considers the countless people who take drugs who are routinely stigmatised, marginalised, and de-humanised due to conservative, hardline drug policies. The key message throughout is an urgent need for the powers that be to adopt a more humane and effective approach for drug policy. Emphasis is placed on the importance of protecting human lives above all else. Maia Szalavitz‘ book is full of data that proves the success of initiatives which treat drug users with respect and dignity, helping them to stabilise themselves and restructure their lives enough to feel ready to quit the drugs that they were disrupting their lives with in the first place. Perhaps by now, world leaders should be sitting up and listening keenly to the likes of Ms. Szalavitz, instead of ‘being tough on drugs’.

* The Green Lens would like to thank Hachette Books for providing us with a review copy of this book.

Seán McCabe at ‘Cannabis: A New Green Deal’ by Uplift

1Seán McCabe is the Executive Manager of 2TASC, the Think Tank for Action on Social Change. In this excerpt, he is introducing a TASC report which was commissioned by 3Uplift, as a guest panelist on their online discussion, Cannabis: A New Green Deal. This discussion was streamed on April 20th of this year. The following extract has been adapted from the live stream for the purposes of clarity and brevity.

Shae Flanagan of Uplift: The team at TASC have worked for months on this comprehensive and balanced report. So without further ado, I’ll hand us over to Seán McCabe from TASC to talk us through the report. Welcome Seán. 

Seán McCabe: Thanks Shae. Like Shae says, I guess this is an overdue report. We’ve been working on it for quite some time at TASC. When Shae initially approached us, the idea was to look at what decriminalisation and de-regulation of cannabis in Ireland would look like. Specifically looking at the social, economic and environmental opportunities that that would bring. So, just before diving into those points, this is really just a whistle-stop tour and as Shae says, there’s quite a bit in the report. I suppose for me it was a journey as well, because I guess I went into it with my own ideas. And when you start peeling down through the substantial amount of evidence that’s out there, it’s quite an interesting journey. The history of cannabis and hemp in Ireland is pretty fascinating. At one point, it was illegal NOT to grow hemp, back as far as 1563. If you had over 60 acres, you had to grow hemp or face a £5 fine.

And then in 1756, it was viewed as a foundation of separate profitable industries, hemp and flax being large exports for Ireland. And then the story of criminalisation in Ireland finds its roots in one man. Bishop Charles Henry Brent’s opposition to opium use in the Philippines during the American military government in the Philippines in the late 1800s, and his passionate dedication to eliminating opium, brought him to chair the first International Opium Commission, a 13-State conference communed by the United States, in 1909. The first (International) Opium Convention then brought about the first international drug control 4treaty in 1912. And it wasn’t until the second Opium Convention, again still being driven by the same Bishop, that we had Egypt push for the addition of hashish to the Convention, as a controlled substance. There was a back and forth, tit for tat, between Egypt and India, where hashish was obviously used as a sacred plant in ceremonies.

So eventually, the Egyptian argument prevailed. It’s interesting to go back and read Dáil conversations in the Irish Free State, relating to the international convention and their ratifying of it. It was very much a question of: “Well, we don’t seem to have any drug issues in Ireland. But we should probably do this to stay in the good books of the global community.” So it wasn’t until 1968 that we saw the first reference to cannabis in Dáil Éireann. And it was around that time we brought a substitute teacher from California over to explain to a Dáil committee the dangers of cannabis as a gateway drug. Of course, (it’s) an allegation which doesn’t really hold up to any 5scrutiny. And in 1977, cannabis was placed in a separate legal category from other narcotics. We’ve had other Acts that pertain to cannabis in the meantime. But the most significant (Act) since (then) has been the Medicinal Cannabis Access Programme (MCAP).

The current view beyond the Act, which has been quietly welcomed (except there’s been a desire to see it expanded obviously), is that cannabis and its derivatives are currently still Schedule 1 drugs and considered to have no medicinal and scientific value and thus are considered illegal. So, if we look quickly at the political landscape as well, I think it’s quite interesting. Because taking a look at the manifestos of the political parties, both in government and in opposition currently; the Green Party had probably the most progressive manifesto, in terms of cannabis. They were looking for rescheduling and decriminalisation for small quantities of products or plants, and a compassionate approach to drug use in general. Fianna Fáil, who are silent on cannabis… the language in their manifesto was very akin to maybe what you would see in the ‘60s or ‘70s in Ireland, in terms of a law and order approach to drugs.

And Fine Gael were silent on cannabis in their manifesto. The Labour Party were silent on cannabis, Sinn Féin were silent on cannabis. People Before Profit did highlight the Party’s record of pushing legislation on access and Social Democrats stated their support for medicinal cannabis. Significantly I think, in January 2019, The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs voted to recognise the medicinal use of cannabis for the first time, and removed it from their list of dangerous drugs. So that was a very significant global moment. Just to run (through the rest of my agenda) then, I’m gonna look at social, environmental and economic considerations very quickly. And then there’s many more people who have valuable things to say about this, so I’ll get off the stage. First of all, in terms of public health. Looking at health impacts, I suppose many people here would be aware that cannabis has a significantly lesser impact than some legal drugs in Ireland – looking at tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption specifically.

But then, furthermore, we were aware of the benefits. So what we tried to do as part of the research was look at where there was strong evidence linking cannabis to positive health outcomes. So there is conclusive evidence out there for use in chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and patient-reported Multiple Sclerosis spasticity. Then there’s moderate benefits in terms of sleep outcomes, and limited benefits on a number of health conditions, including anxiety and stress and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD]. In terms of health concerns, I think it’s important not to brush over these. There is significant evidence for a doubling of Schizophrenia risk with daily use of cannabis. And also, daily use gives way to a large risk in terms of dependence. That and bronchitis, I guess, are the key issues that stand out in terms of the peer-reviewed studies on health risks. And the social cost; I guess everyone here would be acutely aware of the current criminalisation of cannabis, perpetuating existing socioeconomic disadvantage, marginalising users.

And there are plenty of examples of criminal records leading to lives which jump from unemployment to poverty and then homelessness, particularly in a situation where we have a housing crisis like we do. And then there’s the issue that people who have formally used drugs are really not regularly consulted in the design or implementation of policies. I think this is pretty significant in terms of the amount of arrests due to seizures related to personal use, and what that means in terms of policing resources in this country, but then also the potential risks of criminal records. We could obviously go into that in more detail in the conversations. I just wanted to look at environmental considerations really quickly. There’s a significant sequestration potential from growing hemp. I presume again, most people on this call would be aware of that. 6Fifteen tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year, that’s quite remarkable really.

It’s significantly more than agri-forest models, which are being promoted as a potential land use solution to the climate crisis. There is however, a pretty pervasive myth that we could grow a load of hemp on our peatlands. That may not be the case, although further research will be required. It’s not necessarily going to yield healthy plants, growing hemp on peat. Studies in Russia have seemed to indicate that through supplemental application of inputs, you can grow healthy hemp plants, but it’s debatable if the use of those inputs would lead us to a situation where we would be having an environmentally-positive impact. Again, further work would be required to understand that. Then there’s a number of barriers. We spoke to a number of interviewees as part of this process, who are much closer to hemp farming than I would be.

And two points that really stood out in all of the conversations were just the lack of infrastructure, particularly (the lack of) a decortication plant and then the lack of consistency in the THC limits that we use in terms of our laws. An Garda Síochána obviously have the limit of 0%. We’ve seen the impact of that recently on businesses. And The Department of Agriculture has the limit of 0.2% that goes along with the EU, so there’s clearly a need for harmonisation there, urgently. Quickly on the economic considerations, ‘cause I’ve been talking for quite a while now, there is quite significant potential from cannabis tax, although I think we haven’t seen the full picture to this yet. There are estimations for where the cannabis market will go globally, varying wildly I would say, from about 50 billion up to 166 billion, over the course of the next decade.

7Prohibition Partners estimate that the Irish cannabis sector could be worth 1 billion. That would make the market similar to what we’ve seen develop in Colorado, a State of a similar size to Ireland, where cannabis has been legal since 2014. What’s interesting about Colorado is their tax is significantly lower than our VAT and substantially lower than how we tax tobacco currently, for example. So, the potential revenue income for Ireland could be greater than the 135 million that Colorado took in in 2015, off their 1 billion worth of sales. And obviously cannabis tax could be used for other things, preventing harmful behaviour and correcting markets similarly. There is a word of warning with this however, in that if you were to pin your entire motivation for decriminalisation on the potential economic benefits, it might be a red herring. Because it’s hard sometimes to derive a large profit from something that anyone can grow. And so we’ve seen the markets soar in Canada and then subsequently drop to being a fraction of what they initially were.

There are a lot of moving pieces here, with the market finding a level, the impact of the pandemic, and a potential excessive initial evaluation – it would need to be watched to see where things go in the aftermath of the pandemic. And finally, the report poses the question of how we roll out a cannabis sector in Ireland, if we were to embrace it. And this is my own hobby horse, which is the idea that it could be used as a catalyst, or as an element of community-led, local wealth-building. Particularly looking at cooperatively owned farms or cooperatively owned dispensaries, or the likes. So there would be opportunities there that would be worth exploring. As Shae said, this is not a finished project. We still have a little bit of work to do, but it’s been a pleasure working with Uplift on this and I’m happy to take any questions. But I know there are other panelists, and it would be important to hand it over to them now. So, thanks for your time and it was a pleasure talking to you.

References

1 Seán McCabe’s details can be found on this page – https://www.tasc.ie/about/staff.html/ 

2 The TASC website can be accessed here – https://www.tasc.ie/

3 The Uplift website can be accessed here – https://www.uplift.ie/

4 More about this treaty can be read here –

https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/frontpage/the-1912-hague-international-opium-convention.html 

5 Check out Nicholas’ article, Cannabis & The Gateway Drug Narrative

https://greenlensblog.com/2020/10/07/cannabis-the-gateway-drug-narrative/ 

6 See the following Agriland article for more on this –

https://www.agriland.ie/farming-news/hemp-can-sequester-15t-of-carbon-per-hectare/

 7 This market value estimate is mentioned in the following Irish Times article –

https://www.irishtimes.com/business/health-pharma/irish-led-legal-cannabis-firm-looks-to-ipo-to-establish-clinic-network-1.3819569

* The full recording of this Uplift panel discussion, Cannabis: A New Green Deal, can be seen here – https://bit.ly/3fMje97 

Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear | Review

Doctor Carl Hart is a Professor of Psychology, specialising in Neuroscience at Columbia University in New York. He is well-known for his research on drug abuse and addiction, which has been his passion for over 25 years. He opens his latest book, 1Drug Use for Grown-Ups, with the lines:

“I am an unapologetic drug user. I take drugs as part of my pursuit of happiness, and they work. I am a happier and a better person because of them.”

As a means of better educating drug users and thereby facilitating their health and happiness, he suggests that people focus on four areas – Dose, Route of Administration, Set [individual user characteristics], and Setting [environment in which drug use occurs]. These four areas can greatly influence the user’s experience – whether it will veer more towards a beneficial or a negative one.

Early in the book, he highlights the complete failure the war on drugs has been by quoting the United States drug control budget of approximately $35 billion a year in taxpayer money; in 1981, the amount stood at $1.5 billion. This is a gargantuan budget increase, but traditionally-popular illegal drugs are as commonplace now, if not more so, than they were back then. Dr. Hart believes that one unstated aim of the drug war is to prop up the budgets of law enforcement and prison authorities, along with drug treatment centres and urine drug testers. Those in law enforcement receive the bulk of drug-war money according to the Professor, and more drug arrests mean more overtime, bigger budgets and stronger job security for those in law enforcement, while more prisoners keep prison authorities content. It’s worth noting that the U.S. has got the biggest prison population on the planet, at an astonishing 22.12 million inmates. This system includes 3130 private prisons. It’s clear from the statistics that prison authorities are among those who benefit enormously from the war on drugs.

The Professor believes the term Harm Reduction is dated and should be gotten rid of, or replaced with a more nuanced term, because: “The language we use shapes how we think and behave”. Elaborating on this, he says: “We need to cut the bullshit and stop pretending drugs inevitably – and only – lead to undesired outcomes”. He doesn’t believe there should be a specific term for harm reduction, mentioning other existing phrases which could be used, such as: “common sense, prevention, education, and the like”. Dr. Hart emphatically states that “Drug abuse and addiction are a minority of the many effects produced by drugs…” Of his years spent researching drug use, he says: “More and more, I came to realise that drug-abuse scientists, especially government-funded ones, focus almost exclusively on the detrimental effects of drugs…” He says that addiction “represents a minority of drug effects, but it receives almost all the attention, certainly the media attention”, before asking: “Have you ever read a newspaper article or seen a film about heroin that didn’t focus on addiction?”

Other universally-accepted lifestyle choices involving calculated risk are listed, including flying and driving – two potentially dangerous activities, which statistically involve few injuries or deaths when engaged in correctly. The information that’s typically found about heroin is compared with a driving analogy: “Imagine if you were interested in learning more about cars or driving and could only find information about car crashes or information about how to repair a car after a crash”. Regarding the small fraction of users who suffer with addiction, he says there are a substantial proportion of addictions involving “co-occurring psychiatric disorders – such as excessive anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia – and socioeconomic factors – such as resource-deprived communities and under-employment”. The Professor stresses that there are no inherently “evil”, wholly-negative drugs, despite what we are told growing up. Regarding the age-old gateway drug myth about cannabis, he states that it “grossly overstates the evidence by confusing correlation with causation…the vast majority of pot smokers never go on to use so-called harder drugs.”

He discusses the alarmism of typical cannabis-focused headlines which often blame it for psychosis. The studies such claims are based on generally make bogus interpretations of their data. This is because weed-centred studies often highlight when volunteers have marked if they have ever experienced certain psychotic symptoms (something many people do at some point in their lives) on a questionnaire. Such studies then decide that those volunteers qualify for psychotic disorders, when in reality, determining if someone suffers with a psychotic disorder requires rigorous consulting with psychologists and psychiatrists. It is not simply a box-ticking exercise. Of similar note, the inaccurate reporting of the results of toxicology reports by authorities and the media is looked at. These results generally involve many complex factors and according to Dr. Hart, “one of the most important limitations of many recent analyses and reports on drug overdose deaths is that the co-occurrence of alcohol is ignored completely”. 

Brain imaging data is another area the Professor breaks down into basics – structural scans look at the size of brain structures, without telling you how they’re functioning. Functional scans provide brain activity information (i.e. specific neurotransmitter activity), but not brain structure information. According to Dr. Hart, these scans only capture a moment in time. This means it’s nearly impossible to determine if drug use caused any difference to the brain, or if that difference was there before the scan occurred. Multiple scans are needed at different times to gain a true understanding of whether drugs have affected the brain or not, so the result of what is a highly nuanced procedure often ends up becoming an alarmist ‘finding’ about brain deterioration. The ignoring of tobacco and alcohol’s effects on the brain are also common oversights. Toxicology reports and brain scans, so often misinterpreted and misrepresented by prohibitionists and the media, often make the aforementioned mistake of confusing correlation with causation.

Dr. Hart says that complicated socio-economic issues are often reduced to being the result of “drug problems” by the powers that be. This means that more resources end up being given to law enforcement, instead of community organisations who urgently require education programmes, employment and life-saving drug services. The Professor outlines the deep-rooted, historical racism which has been such an intrinsic part of the war on drugs, stemming mostly from the U.S and spreading throughout the world thereafter. Opium developed a negative reputation because of media fear mongering in relation to the opium dens of Chinese immigrants. Dr. Hart cites an 1882 report, which said that young, respectable white people were “being induced to visit the dens, where they were ruined morally and otherwise”. The marijuana term entered common use in English because American authorities and media co-opted it from the Mexican term marihuana, to give it an association with Mexican immigrants, who traditionally used the plant and in some cases brought it to the States.

Common use of this term helped to exploit the existing hatred or distrust many Americans had for Mexicans, giving weed a negative connotation via perceived association. Media stories emerged in the ‘30s claiming that cannabis use by blacks led to violent crimes. Then there were ridiculous stories about cocaine use causing black men to become unpredictable, dangerous, and even bulletproof, in certain cases! The Professor notes that all modern reports referring to zombies and users with superhuman strength are descendents of those old media falsehoods, existing as a sensationalist, dehumanising means of justifying discrimination and brutality. During weed regulation hearings in Congress in 1937, Harry J. Anslinger is quoted as having said: “Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind”. But interestingly, Dr. Hart states that there has been public data proving the safety of cannabis since it was first banned. New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia commissioned a study about its use and effects and the results ran contrary to Anslinger’s hysterical statement.

Report findings from 1944 concluded that concerns about catastrophic effects from smoking weed were unfounded. It said that those “who have been smoking marijuana for a period of years showed no mental or physical deterioration which may be attributed to the drug.” Further highlighting systemic racism, Dr. Hart quotes data from The U.S. Sentencing Commission in 2017, which states that over 80% of those convicted of heroin-dealing were black and latino, despite the fact that most dealers were white. He also mentions the fact that black men make up 40% of U.S. prisoners, despite only representing 6% of the country’s population. The horrendous police killings of many African Americans, such as Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Laquan McDonald and Tamir Rice (who was shot at the age of twelve) are discussed in the book, as are the distortions of what occurred in subsequent reports released surrounding their deaths. These police killings and others place a glaring emphasis on the very serious issue of systemic racism in America and how the war on drugs continues to enable it.

The way the media shapes our perceptions of the effects of drugs and who is using them where, is a crucial subject area of the book. The media frenzies sensationalising the crack cocaine crisis and in more recent years opioid use in the U.S. are covered by Dr. Hart in considerable detail. The common portrayal of crack mainly being used in poor black communities, when in fact it has been used primarily by white people, will likely be a revelation to many readers of the book. The author also discusses the mythology surrounding ‘crack babies’ and writes about troubling incidents in which pregnant women who were found to have cannabis in their system then had custody over their newborn babies removed.

Drug Use for Grown-Ups is a must-read book in a time where the war on drugs is increasingly put into question across the world. I would highly recommend this book to anybody with an interest in cannabis, drug policy, health, misinformation, corruption or racism. Dr. Carl Hart expertly argues the case for every adult’s right to the pursuit of happiness, as espoused in The U.S. Constitution. He believes that safe, informed drug use should be permitted as a part of that equation. He argues this while dismantling virtually all of the arguments that are found in favour of prohibition, with an expertise developed over years of hard graft. From being a young man fully invested in the war on drugs narrative to one who sees it for what it really is – an authoritative narrative built from racism, paranoia and notions of morality, rather than one based on logic and scientific data.

* The Green Lens would like to thank Doctor Carl Hart for providing us with a review copy of this book.

References

1 Drug Use for Grown-Ups can be purchased via The Book Depository here –

https://bit.ly/3f01fMc 

2 This figure is taken from the following page, which details global prison populations –

https://www.statista.com/statistics/262961/countries-with-the-most-prisoners/

3 For more information on U.S private prisons, see this link –

https://infotracer.com/resources/us-private-prisons-facts-statistics/

Dr. Órfhlaith Campbell at ‘The Case For Ending Cannabis Prohibition in Ireland’ | 01.02.2021

Doctor Órfhlaith Campbell was a guest speaker at 1TD Gino Kenny’s online talk on Monday, ‘The Case For Ending Cannabis Prohibition in Ireland’. The following text has been adapted from the 2People Before Profit live stream for the purpose of clarity. This text is far from all that was said by Dr. Campbell at the talk. She was accompanied (virtually) by the host Mr. Kenny, MEP Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, Dr. Garrett McGovern, Gerard Roe and 3Natalie O’Regan.

My name is 4Dr. Órfhlaith Campbell. I am a historian of Irish prohibition. I am currently a wellbeing worker for young people with the 5Simon Community in Belfast and I am a drug reform activist. But aside from all of my academic and professional links to drug reform at the minute, I also lived in Vancouver, where they changed from the prohibition of cannabis to legalisation. I support the medicinal use of cannabis and the recreational use. And it was a bit of a culture shock coming back to Ireland and realising how intense the stigma still is. So I’m delighted and I hope this is the first of many conversations going out there to normalise the conversation.

I think we need to stop or get over the fear of saying that we support legalisation of all drugs. At this point prohibition has to go, prohibition is the problem. Decriminalisation is good because it helps stop criminalising people but it’s only getting us halfway there, the black market still exists, it has to go for full legalisation. So I would say yes, there is a case for ending prohibition and it’s not only cannabis prohibition. Although it is cannabis prohibition that we need to start now in Ireland. But in order to be able to do this successfully, we have to understand what prohibition is.

The war on drugs that we have now is a symptom of the prohibitionist ideology that a drug-free world is attainable. The original temperance and prohibition movement of the 19th century is the cause of that symptom. None of it is based on any medical or scientific research whatsoever and it is nothing but a classist and racist system that is designed to oppress. It simply has to go. Prohibition created a temperance movement which began in America in 1826 and that rapidly transitioned to right here in Belfast in 1829. The Reverend John Edgar poured his family stash of whiskey out on the street and the campaign for the destruction of the drink trade is started here in Ireland.

By the time the UK and Ireland enact cannabis and other drug prohibition later in the 20th century we’re completely displaced from our prohibition history and we came to believe at that point that prohibition was only something that happened in America in the ‘20s and it caused flapper skirts and speak-easys, but that was it. Essentially we had, and for the most part still have forgotten that we asked the prohib question in Ireland. Doctor Shane Butler, when talking about 20th century drug policies in Ireland in 1991, said: “It would not be accurate to say that alternative perspectives were rejected by Irish policy makers. There is no evidence to support that it was ever discussed at any level.

Policy makers have been largely unaware of it and believed that the American ideas of the need for an all-out war on drugs were taken as sub evident and sufficient.” That’s not good enough. The American war on drugs is a racist system that was used to control, criminalise and oppress. America used its global power throughout the 20th century to force member States of the UN into submission and we should not have prohibition. Prohibition was contested here for almost a century. There was much pushback against the idea that there was something morally wrong with the recreational drink. And there was opposition from big business and trade unionists, who opposed the destruction of the trade. 

Irish temperance and prohibition is also the context in which 6James Connolly grew up. Socialists like Connolly were fundamentally opposed to prohibition, as it scapegoated alcohol for all the horrors coming from the developing system of capitalism. And it’s important to remember that Connolly himself was a total abstainer, but he did not believe that he had the right to force others to live how he chose. Essentially prohibition had its roots in attempting to control the working class, so they’d build a more sober and reliable workforce to build the capitalist system. And the toll that that system took in the bodies and minds, in terms of long working hours, dangerous working conditions, poor living conditions and lack of nutrition, would’ve caused an unprecedented level of trauma that could’ve led to problematic substance use. 

But instead of seeing the toll that the system was taking on the working class, the working class was gaslit into believing that all social issues would disappear if they could just control their inherent weakness for alcohol. So, it wasn’t the system doing it to them, it was them doing it to themselves. So when you look back and you think of James Connolly sitting in a pub with his soft drink, talking to his working class comrades with their substance of choice, really that was an intentional two fingers up at temperance and prohibitionists, who for the most part he thought were deluded. Prohibition was a classist system based on a Victorian ideology obsessed with self-control. But people continued to consume alcohol throughout the 19th and 20th century, tormenting total abstainers who thought that everyone could be convinced to stop drinking.

Prohibition came about as a way to force those who did not listen into submission and there was a desire to control those who could not be convinced to live by prohibitionists’ standards and codes of behaviour. This was never denied, nor was the attempt to enforce a middle class code of behaviour onto the working class, who they viewed as morally and intellectually weaker. The difference between the original prohibition movement and the war on drugs is that the original prohibition movement focused on easing reasons for demand. So this is where we get coffee houses from, in Ireland. They were started here as an alternative to the pub.

But the supply-focused war on drugs has cut out all of that research and it’s cut out the provision of alternatives. And therefore it’s cut out effective methods of prevention and recovery, as it’s developed supply reduction and total abstinence as the only and ultimate goals. This is even more problematic now, as supply-reduction has for the most part just moved into crime-reduction. And we have the Guards and the PSNI. We are showboating seizures, despite the scientific evidence that shows that this does nothing but ignite turf war, increase violence, increase price, and put our most vulnerable community members at increased risk of exploitation.

So, we have this wealth of historical research here in Ireland. And I believe that it’s vital that we look back and take that all into consideration. That will enable us to meet our needs better. As opposed to supporting a system that was built on bias and discrimination against working class immigrant societies and communities of colour, as developed by America in the 20th century. And which continues to be the lynchpin which enables police brutality, like we’ve seen in the Black Lives Matter movements, both in America and in Ireland recently. So now at this point, 167 years after prohibition was first mentioned on this island, we can safely say that it has been tried every which way possible. It does not work.

It’s sending the market underground, it’s keeping it in the hands of organised crime gangs and it is leading to contaminated supply overlooking market regulation. Prohibition is leading to the criminalisation and stigmatisation of young men and women on this island. It’s blocking them from homes, houses, families, treatment services, travel opportunities, to name a few. But it is not simply that it doesn’t work. Prohibition is an unjust and unbiased law that is placing restrictions on our recreational, medicinal freedoms. And it’s therefore placing restrictions on our civil rights.

Cannabis use is a reality, drug use is a reality and the current prohibition system that denies that reality is not fit for purpose. It never was, it never will be and it has to be reformed now.

References:

1 TD Gino Kenny’s Who Is My TD information page can be accessed here:

https://www.whoismytd.com/person/gino-kenny 

2 The People Before Profit information page on Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People_Before_Profit 

3 Natalie O’Regan‘s Green Lens interview can be read here:

https://greenlensblog.com/2020/11/16/natalie-oregan-3pm-cork-ireland-01-11-2020/

4 Last year’s Green Lens interview with Dr. Órfhlaith Campbell can be read here: https://bit.ly/3zCS0Kn

5 The Simon Community NI website can be found here: https://www.simoncommunity.org/ 

6 More information on the influential Irish republican and socialist, James Connolly:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Connolly 

Dr. Órfhlaith Campbell | Belfast, Northern Ireland | 12.11.2020

Doctor Órfhlaith Campbell is a Belfast-based historian, wellbeing practitioner and drug reform activist with a PhD on the The Irish Temperance League of 1858-1914, which campaigned during a time of major political upheaval across the island. She has a background in community work, having worked in a range of positions in Vancouver, Canada, supporting adults with mental health and substance use issues. Since returning home in January 2020, Órfhlaith has worked with young people in inner city Belfast who are struggling with the same issues. / Twitter: @DrOrfh

When did you first take an interest in weed and in drug reform? Well, those are two very different questions. Órfhlaith laughs I first took interest in weed at 15 and smoked it on and off until I went to Canada. And then obviously it was very different over there. But my interest in drug reform would’ve been when I started doing my PhD and I started looking at the prohibition of alcohol. And alcohol is a drug. But, I probably at the time didn’t even realise the significance of what I was studying and it wasn’t until I went to Canada and lived there, through the debates on prohibition and the legalisation of cannabis at the time when I really started to understand the significance of what I had studied and how that then played into contemporary conversations on drug reform. And it wasn’t just that I had studied the fact that there were some people in Ireland back in the 1800s that decided we should all not drink here. So yeah, that’s when I would’ve got involved.

How has your community work over the years informed your opinions on drug and rehabilitation policies across the British Isles? Have your experiences changed your views on drugs and the people who use them? So for me, the question is probably “What drugs does that person use?” I think we have to change our definition of drugs. We have to stop looking at it from that war on drugs-focused lens, where alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceuticals are good, and cannabis, cocaine, heroin are bad. They’re all drugs, and they all do a range of things and can be used for a range of different reasons. So, when you ask that question then, “What drugs does that person use?”, then your next question always has to be “Why?” and then once you’ve asked “Why?”, then you can start to understand and see the impact that the system has had on people for centuries now, at this point. For me, I obviously enjoy academic stuff, but if I don’t understand what’s happening on the ground or am not listening to a more person-centered approach, I have to put the two together. So in my everyday work you can actually see the pain that some people are living in and how that’s driving substance use. And you can see on a daily basis that substance use issues is a symptom of a much deeper cause.

Considering your historical research on Irish temperance, how do you feel about Ireland’s relationship with alcohol today? Do you think it’s changed much overall since that time? I think the thing about the temperance movement is they weren’t all wrong, although we’ve got to a place where the prohibition movement is now.. the more extreme elements of that took over. When temperance and prohibition started coming about in the mid 1800s, something needed to be done about alcohol. And I would say that something probably does need to be done about it again. Temperance reformers probably weren’t wrong that the drink business would step in and start using marketing campaigns. And that is taking advantage of what I think is cultural experience here where we enjoy the craic, we enjoy going wild. 

But because we’re told this substance is okay and this is the only one we can use, it’s overused. Alcohol and drugs are taken as two separate things. So, if you took the statistics for the medical and mental health issues that come from alcohol and put them in the drug one, you would see that alcohol is the most dangerous drug. But yet because the American government needed tax after the Great Depression and legalised it, that put the nail in the coffin for alcohol prohibition. Harry Anslinger, who was the head of The Federal Bureau of Narcotics, had been the head of the Department of Prohibition directly before that, so you know… He was experienced in that area! Absolutely. He doesn’t even change a thing, he was literally just like: “Right okay, so we were doing all that with alcohol. We’ll just scrape alcohol out and then we’ll put cannabis in here for now and we’ll just add all these other drugs as we go”.

1Sir William Brooke O’Shaughnessy was a Limerick-born physician who is said to have introduced the therapeutic use of cannabis to Western medicine and popularised it in England in the 1830s and ‘40s. Are there any other noteworthy historical advocates of cannabis from Ireland and the UK who you’ve become aware of? I liked that question, it did make me think of a couple. So, obviously there’s Doctor George Sigerson. I never know if I’m saying his name right. Sigerson – that’s an interesting name for sure! He was a Doctor, a poet, a playwright, a political activist. In 1866, he writes a pamphlet called 2Cannabiculture in Ireland; its Profit & Possibility. A cannabis activist today could take this and reprint it, and he was literally screaming it back in 1866! It mentioned the benefits of it for agriculture and what hemp could do here, it’s crazy… That’s incredible. So he was a fantastic activist.

(W.B) 3Yeats as well, has written of his experiences with the plant. He was said to have been introduced to it in France in 1890. But my favourite one was, not long after O’Shaughnessy started talking about the medical benefits of cannabis, I came across an 1845 Doctor. I think it might have been in The Belfast Newsletter. And there’s this young woman he’s helping and she’s suffering from menstrual cramps. Yeah. And he prescribes some THC drugs to her, but he over-prescribes it. Clearly he gives her too much and she has a whitey. Richard laughs And when you’re having a whitey, you know what’s happening. Everybody around her was like: “Oh my God, is she possessed? She’s convulsing!” And reading it back now, you’re like: “Oh my God, she’s just whitey-ing! I get what’s happening!” If that was in 1845 and they were even thinking of “How could this be used for women, for their monthly cycle?”, that was so pioneering back then! So when you asked that question, he came into my head straight away. ‘Cause we’re only starting to have those conversations now. With all the medical benefits, including women’s health, he’s probably my favourite. That’s amazing.

Have you discovered any historical information about drug use and prohibition in Ireland and the UK that has especially stood out to you? Yeah. What really stood out to me during my PhD was… I think when you think of temperance and the anti-drink movement in Ireland, you think of the pioneers and taking your pledge at confirmation and all that sort of thing. Yeah. But really, it was a whole range of experiences on this island that really shaped the temperance and prohibition movements across the British Isles. So we’re literally pioneers in what we came to prohibition movement now although that’s not what they intended at the time because the extreme elements won out. And everyday it continues to shock me that there are examples of best practice that we are choosing to ignore. 

The ITL, which was The Irish Temperance League, was the organisation I studied in my PhD. They still work in Belfast today. Yeah. The organisation still functions. And part of that is because they have a great board of activists that are still passionate about helping people in recovery. But they had their legislative prohibition section and they had this other section that was called moral suasion. And that was to persuade people to give up drink. It’s an odd little term, but that department of the movement then had two sections to it. One was their business section and they had fancy soirées and they were trying to bring in all the money from the middle and upper classes. But they have an outreach section as well. It’s basically this section that’s focusing on their reasons for demand. So it focuses on prevention, it focuses on recovery and it focuses on alternative recreation. That’s where we get cafés from.

So you didn’t just have to go to a pub where there was alcohol being served. You could go to the café and just have a coffee with your friends. It’s also where Thomas Cook comes from! He used to send people away on drink-free holidays so you could have a great time with your family and you didn’t have to go to the pub or whatever… Oh, I didn’t know that. Yeah, isn’t that crazy? Yeah. Wasn’t it this year that that company went bust? Mm-hmm. So when things like that happen, my little temperance brain’s going: “Nobody else understands… Remember where we came from!” Richard laughs That’s why he was set up, so… when you think of it that way, it was about giving the working class alternative recreations. So that was perfect, but now we just have this system where it says, “Focus on taking away supply”. We don’t even concern ourselves with the reasons for demand anymore, we’ve completely cut that out of the equation. And that’s the problem, ‘cause you’re not listening. When American prohibition failed in 1929, that’s the end of the movement. It’s a century old at that stage. So we have this whole century’s worth of things there that worked and things there that didn’t work and things there that we shouldn’t do. So since this is a working class issue, I think we need to reclaim our right to own our recreational and medical freedoms and have a safe and clean supply of drugs that there is a demand for and that people want to have.

It’s here. Why are we making a black market and then punishing people for things that have been sold? 4Theresa May’s husband has massive shares in GW Pharmaceuticals in the UK. It blows my mind! So you’re selling weed into Cali and then it’s coming back here and then you’re arresting people and putting them in prison for maybe fourteen years… And the UK is the world’s biggest exporter of cannabis as well, apparently. Yeah! The hypocrisy is absolutely mind-blowing. When you understand the roots of where this came from and you see that those extreme elements didn’t have to win out, there were other alternatives to what we have now ended up with, you can’t accept the system. Sorry, that was a bit of a rant! No it was brilliant though, I love rants. Keep going with those. Órfhlaith laughs

How strong is cannabis and drug reform activism in Northern Ireland at the moment, in your opinion? It’s pretty good at the minute, there’s a lot of great work being done up here. The 5Belfast Cannabis Group, the 6NI Canna Guy, 7Charlotte Caldwell. There’s the Save the Future campaign that’s been happening recently, they’ve helped some people out. They’re doing fantastic stuff. It’s really interesting I think, because I think you can track the conversation happening here both from a community level, like the Belfast Cannabis Group, who are building a community, to more family conversations, right up to more political-level conversations. So, I know we have an all-Party committee that’s been established recently to look at all substance use issues here which is positive.

I think the conversation’s going to take a long time, it’s going to be baby steps, and no conversation is going to be more important than the other. Even you, sitting in your living room, talking with your parents about this stuff, because… I think the generation above us are terrified. It goes against absolutely everything that they taught us. And we’re kind of like, “No, you’re wrong”. And sometimes I wonder if we’re arguing back with them and it’s almost like, “Oh, you’ve done this bad thing”, when they were almost doing it out of love. They were trying to keep us safe. So, these are hard conversations to have. Coming back to the North was a little bit of a culture shock for me ‘cause I lived in Vancouver. So, obviously the drug reform and drug culture over there is so progressive and lightyears ahead of here. So it did take me a little bit of time to settle in. I’m home a year now and as this year has gone on the cannabis movement and the whole drug reform movement up here in the North is just growing daily. So it’s absolutely fantastic. That’s fantastic to hear.

Medical cannabis was legalised in the UK for those with an “exceptional clinical need” in 2018, largely due to the media exposure of two severely epileptic children who used it – Billy Caldwell and 9Alfie Dingley. Peter Carroll of the 10End Our Pain campaign recently reported that at least twenty families have had to pay for costly private medical cannabis prescriptions for their children, after the NHS [National Health Executive]  repeatedly refused to fund it for them. Do you think that policymakers are listening to and engaging with End Our Pain and other advocacy groups across the UK and Northern Ireland? I think that they think they are. I think they’re like: “Okay yeah, we know there’s these potential medical problems that cannabis might help with. But we still think that we’re right and our fears are justified and all the research that cannabis is bad is still right. So we’re going to find this way of that one loophole that’ll make it okay for you”. But they’re not actually listening to the whole body of research that’s out there, that they’re claiming isn’t out there.

And that’s what probably does frustrate me the most about the drug conversation here and actually it did start to happen a little over in Vancouver as well. The argument that the research doesn’t exist… No it does, you’re just choosing to ignore it. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel here. Or we don’t have to say: “We’ll need to do this research” or “We’ll need to see if that will work”, when you’re just turning a blind eye to the thing over there that’s screaming at you, like Portugal, saying: “This works, this works!”

Portugal is the biggest one of all for me, in terms of what could be done. Absolutely. I think they’re refusing to listen. And that really, really stood out for me when I went to a seminar in Vancouver and it was 11Dr. Evan Lewis. And he was from the Toronto Centre for Neurology, I think. He’s a well-established Doctor in Canada and he was giving all the research that literally was the same, word-for-word, that Billy (Caldwell) needed. And I remember I was like, “How possibly can I get them in connection with each other. Billy’s mom at the time was on This Morning saying: “The Doctors are saying this research doesn’t exist, it would take years for them to do it, it’s too dangerous”. And then I had this professional standing there saying, “No, no. I’ve years worth of research. Here’s this great number of kids I’ve helped.” And it was almost like I was being gaslit, because I was thinking, “They’re choosing to ignore it.”

It’s in reach, but it’s just not being looked at. Yeah, I think they think they’re listening, but it’s that moral fear of intoxication. They don’t want to allow too much medical use, because then they think that’s normalising recreational use and people are still terrified of recreational use. Because again, we don’t have a true understanding of what drugs are, what substances are, why we use them for recreation. And that was one of the main problems with the legalisation process in Canada, they rushed it through, for a number of reasons. They didn’t deal with those underlying fears that were driving it and it set up more avenues for it to be criminalised. And the big business could then step in and take over and that money wasn’t being filtered back into the communities. 

Sorry, did you say they opened up more avenues to be criminalised after they legalised it? I think you can still get a conviction if you’re caught in possession within so many metres of a school. And some other things too. So it wasn’t just accepted on the same terms as alcohol, with the understanding that we need to look at our whole relationship with all substances. It wasn’t like: “Cannabis is legal, away we go!” It was: “Here’s some regulations”, there’s still a stigma towards it. “We’re gonna legalise it without normalising it”, I think was their entire slogan. “We’re gonna legalise it so we can make the most of this market that’s clearly here, but we really don’t want anyone else smoking.” So 12Jodie Emery and 13Dana Larson and a lot of the biggest cannabis activists in Vancouver would call this Prohibition 2.0. I would say at this stage we’re probably on Prohibition 4.0.

Until your return home earlier this year you worked in Vancouver for a few years, where cannabis has been fully legal since October 2018. How can Ireland’s governments on both sides of the border learn from Canada’s cannabis policies, and what should they avoid doing? The cannabis legalisation in Canada should almost be taken at this stage as a “What not to do”. Because big business stepped in way too quickly, It was shocking. It was businessmen who saw an opportunity and didn’t have a notion what they were talking about, who were trying to make money. And because there were still all of these avenues for criminalisation and stigmas and legalising without normalising, the cannabis community was still feeling the effects of that. We need to make sure that it’s focused on social justice, because it will be legalised at some point. 

We’re gonna enter a conversation, we need the tax money. So we need to make sure we fight and make them make that money go back into social justice, back into the communities who are most affected by the war on drugs. The working classes, who were criminalised and had criminal records for possession of a joint, who were stigmatised to the point where they had paranoia. We need to recognise the harms that drug prohibition has caused as well as making room to minimise the harms that come from drugs. We can’t let big business step in and take that money for profit. When legalisation comes in, it can’t be a capitalist system, it has to be for social justice.

A similar situation arose over in California with Proposition 64, when they legalised cannabis. From what I’ve been told, a lot of big business interests swooped in and a lot of people who would’ve made a living off of it for years, who would’ve cultivated it and known a lot about it… They didn’t have that same access to the new legal market. Absolutely. When I moved out there (Canada) in 2016, cannabis wasn’t legal but it was medicinally and socially acceptable. So you had these little stores everywhere that had communities built up around them. You could interact with the plants in them, you could go in and smell them. You knew who your budtender was. It was a one-on-one interactive experience. And then because they didn’t deal with that fear and because they wanted it for votes and they saw this real business opportunity, it didn’t work out the way they needed it to.

Do you see the Dublin and Stormont governments taking meaningful steps towards cannabis reform in the short term future, given the tidal wave of support for legalisation that’s evident across the United States and the near-majority support for legalising weed in the recent New Zealand referendum? I think it’s gonna be a lot of conversations here for a long time. I think particularly in the North, and it links in to our post-conflict status, people are absolutely terrified of this conversation. So I think understanding hurdles and a willingness to overcome hurdles and even to start this conversation has to be looked at. Those are the short term steps that we’re going to take. But in the North here, drug legislation isn’t a devolved issue, so it comes from Westminster. I think the global culture of cannabis at the minute is going to force that tidal wave of making Westminster change it. They can’t hold out to that hypocrisy any more. So I do think it’s gonna come in that way. I do think that it’ll be within the next 5-10 years. I think It’ll be difficult and it’ll be baby steps and there’ll be a lot of arguments, but I do think the more global context of cannabis at the minute and places like Portugal and all the drug reforms that just got through with the (U.S) election…

I think that that’s gonna force it, maybe more than we are politically and socially ready for. But I think that makes it more important for activists like us to just keep having these conversations. Even if people think we’re going on about it a wee bit too much. It impacts so many parts of people’s life. Especially now, as mental health issues do increase and lockdown is happening. If cannabis was legalised in the morning, the issues of the lockdown would just go. We’d be happy enough to all stay in our houses and watch Netflix!  And up here in Belfast when the students were up at uni here, we suffered with some issues in The Holylands. That’s the area in Belfast where all the students live. It’s a lot of alcohol-fuelled stuff, it’s over-consumption.

So if you legalised cannabis over there, the worst they’re gonna get is a little bit of the munchies! The benefit it would have for agriculture here, if people were growing hemp and cannabis. And medicinally, with a range of stuff! And considering all of the trauma that remains in Northern Ireland since 14The Troubles.. 100%. We have very high levels of substance use and of suicide up here and extremely high levels of PTSD. There’s evidence to show that cannabis is a great treatment for PTSD and trauma. I think that plays into the bigger conversation of how we heal up here in the North, from our conflict. Our generation is the 15Ceasefire Baby generation. We’ve all experienced pain and we all want to understand more, but maybe let’s change that conversation to being about how we heal and allowing more time for downtime and recreation and creativity and seeing what can come from that. 

Can we find a more creative way out of that? We all use substances, we all use drugs. Let’s offer a few alternatives and see what happens. Surely drug reform is something that all communities can get together on. 100%, and that is one of the things the cannabis community up here is absolutely fantastic at. It’s one thing that we all want to unite on. We can still have our differences and different points of view, but we want to focus on our healing now. That’s a really big part of the message of the cannabis community in the North.

We really appreciate you devoting some time to this Órfhlaith, thank you so much. Have a nice evening! You too, all the best. Thanks a million!

References:

1 The Dublin Hemp Museum’s article on Sir William Brooke O’Shaughnessy:

https://medium.com/@dubhempmuseum/sir-william-brooke-oshaughnessy-medical-cannabis-pioneer-c94798fd7722 

2 Doctor George Sigerson’s Cannabiculture in Ireland; its Profit & Possibility, via Google Books:

https://books.google.ie/books?id=jBjDmgEACAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

3 Here’s an article on W.B Yeats and cannabis by The Dublin Hemp Museum:

https://medium.com/@dubhempmuseum/william-butler-yeats-and-cannabis-fa8335789c37 

4 (Former UK Prime Minister) Theresa May’s husband, Philip May, has the largest amount of shares in

GW Pharmaceuticals, as detailed here by Researching Reform:

https://researchingreform.net/2019/09/27/company-majority-owned-by-former-pm-gets-uk-licence-for-cannabis-medication/ 

5 More information about Belfast Cannabis Group can be found here:

https://www.facebook.com/belfastcannagroup/

6 NI Canna Guy interview in Weed World Magazine:

https://www.weedworldmagazine.org/2019/08/02/a-friend-in-need-alan-robinson-aka-ni-canna-guy-by-psy23/ 

7 The Story of Billy’s Medicine, by Charlotte Caldwell on Volteface: https://www.volteface.me/14474-2/   

8 Here’s an article about Alfie Dingley and others in the UK who urgently require government action:

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/uk-medical-cannabis-epilepsy-children-nhs-deadlock-a9578971.html 

9 More information about the End Our Pain organisation: https://endourpain.org/ 

10 A profile of Dr. Evan Lewis: https://neurologycentretoronto.com/team/dr-evan-cole-lewis/ 

11 Jodie Emery’s Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jodie_Emery  

12 Dana Larson’s official website: http://danalarsen.com/ 

13 The outbreak of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, as outlined by The Irish Times:

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/how-the-troubles-began-a-timeline-1.3987076 

14 An obituary for Lyra McKee, who wrote about what she dubbed the Ceasefire Babies generation:

https://bit.ly/3iKwJb8 

Taming Cannabis: Drugs and Empire in Nineteenth-Century France | Review

Nicholas reviews educator and historian David A. Guba Jr’s book, Taming Cannabis.

One of the most prevalent fears promoted against marijuana use comes from the categorisation of its users and the subsequent stereotyping and fearmongering of the effects it has on these individuals.  This is shrouded in racist and xenophobic narratives perpetrated by a government to ensure control of its citizens.  The categorisation of marijuana as an exotic foreign-made drug heavily abused by the foreigners that introduced it had led France down a path for many prejudices against its legislation.  How weed became a tool of discrimination and stereotyping of a certain people is found in the history of every Western country, but there is a more intrinsic side of this repression and it is found in France.

In the wake of America’s legislative reform and the subsequent benefits that have followed in taxes and a decline in criminality, other countries have begun to look introspectively at their histories with the drug to test the waters with decriminalisation and eventually full legalisation.  Most countries find similar historical threads with marijuana prohibition, namely the perception of addictiveness, the gateway drug myth and the counterculture that has been attached to it. 

But the most predominant issue in its proscription is the racial profiling of ethnic minority users and the stigmatic agenda to associate the drug with crime and how it influences it.

David A. Guba Jr., an educator and cannabis historian, delves into this subject in his book Taming Cannabis: Drugs and Empire in Nineteenth-Century France.  From 18th century colonial laws to the brief musings of Emmanuel Macron’s drug reform, Guba sheds light on the systematic racism interwoven within France’s colonial past that still ripples into the 21st century.  The foundation of France’s drug laws today exist out of procrastination, deferring acknowledgement of two centuries of misinformation fuelled by racist notions and control.

The rise and fall of France’s history of cannabis consumption is explored from the initial French discovery of hashish during Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, to France becoming the epicentre of hashish medicalisation, to the criminalisation of hashish in French Algeria.  The book investigates how French colonial proscriptions focused on the argument that the consumption of hashish produced threats to the social order of France.  Muslim North Africans were specifically labelled with this state-sponsored stigma.  The book continues into the 1830s and 1840s where French pharmacists and physicians began “taming” the drug to implement it within the homoeopathic treatment of epidemic diseases and mental illnesses.

As Guba writes, the main fear from the French government was what recreational opioid use could do to society, and thus began their efforts to prohibit drugs.  French colonisation generated a multicultural society in which hash was predominately consumed by those the state was most biased against.  The quest for social order continued with the assimilation of Arab and Asian minorities, forcing them to abandon their indigenous cultures in favour of French values, with antagonism for any whose cultural ways infringed upon such values.  Minorities’ use of hashish resulted in the drug being metamorphosed into an “oriental monster” in the minds of the French people.  Like today, hashish was portrayed as a gateway to violent behaviour.  Depictions of non-Westerns were seen as a race apart, often associating fanatical violence with Muslims, who were seen to turn people into murderers.

Guba examines the comparison of a new drug culture with foreign invasion, and how student rebellion followed.  The connection of drug abuse and anti-state violence became a talking point for French colonialists, stereotyping hashish users as Arab assassins.  Arab-Muslim communities became systematically targeted by authorities, leading to the mass incarceration of ethnic and religious minorities, who are often stopped and searched as part of France’s nationalistic prohibition measures.

At the turn of the 21st century, marijuana legislation reform began to gain momentum.  Various states in the U.S legalised cannabis with E.U reform in various jurisdictions all brought about due to tax revenues and prevailing attitudes from newly discovered data correcting the misconceptions of its use.  For countries that still criminalise cannabis, proscription had been loosened to stimulate medical research with mass studies on THC.  As Guba concludes, France continues to push against the progress the Western world has made by hosting some of the strictest anti-drug laws and harshest penalties in Europe.  While there is some level of intention to reform such archaic laws, the French government are dragging their heels due to two centuries of drug-related demagoguery and a reluctance from modern conservatives.

Guba outlines how France has the highest rates of cannabis consumption in Europe, yet they enforce the most repressive anti-drug laws.  At one point, France served as the epicentre of a global movement to medicalise hashish in the treatment of a litany of diseases.  Unfortunately, misdiagnosis, prescribing errors and inconsistent dosages fuelled the argument against its efficacy.

French physicians, most notably Emile-Louis Bertherand, a medical expert in Algeria’s criminal court, provided publications which became key pieces of evidence in debates in the 20th century that led to the prohibition laws France operates under today.  All of this stemmed from 19th century authoritative fearmongering, where Muslim North Africans were targeted as the proprietors of anti-social behaviour due to consumption of hashish.  Pharmacists continued to butt heads in medical journals on cannabis opinion while lies about hashish induced insanity spread in North African publications. The association of violent behaviour with hashish was to become a foundation for “taming” its use by French physicians and pharmacists throughout the 1830s and 1840s. 

By the 1850s, its usage in combating insanity, cholera and the plague was deemed ineffective and medical academics began to distance themselves from the drug.  However, the parable of hashish instilling violent tendencies in people was carried on to the forefront of the discussion, paving the way in the 1860s for authorities to frame mental illness, violence, and anti-state resistance as commodities of hashish use.  This became systemised within French colonial medicine, further becoming law by the end of the decade.  Today, France looks to reform these archaic laws to reflect the modern Western world’s view of the drug as many are moving towards legalisation or at the very least, decriminalisation.  These new attitudes along with the rise of drug-related incarceration have led the country to finally address their history with the drug. 

David Guba’s Taming Cannabis explores every facet of colonial France’s authoritative dominance and xenophobic policies to drive a narrative of social obedience and control.  More than ever, the untold history of cannabis legislation in France is needed to understand how cannabis in the Western world has been vilified to profile ethnic and religious minorities.  A major step in marijuana legislation comes from our understanding of the historical narratives that totalitarian regimes restrained cannabis with.  The history of governments hellbent on restricting anything deemed to offset the natural values and traditions of their respective countries is more accessible than ever as more and more people discover for themselves the history of cannabis in the western world. 

While most cannabis users familiarise themselves with their own country’s narrative of the drug, we must continue to educate ourselves on how the western world discovered marijuana and its eventual development in medical and recreational circles.  To only examine our history with cannabis is to approach the topic from a keyhole of perspective.  With Taming History, Guba presents a fascinatingly detailed look into France’s colonial past from the first anti-cannabis laws, to the treatment of mental illness to the fall of medicalised hashish driven by the racialised taboos currently enforcing Frances’ anti-drug policies.  Taming Cannabis is one of the most prolific pieces on the history of cannabis, the largely untold story of France’s marijuana prohibition.  I heavily recommend it to everyone interested in learning the history of cannabis as well as those interested in the history of autocratic control and the effects that stem from it.

Author’s Website: https://www.djguba.com/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Taming-Cannabis-Nineteenth-Century-Intoxicating-Histories/dp/022800120X

Booktopia: https://www.booktopia.com.au/taming-cannabis-david-a-guba-jr/book/9780228001201.html

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/taming-cannabis-david-a-guba/1134504152