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.

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.

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/

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