Starting Points

Points (n.) 1. marks of punctuation. 2. something that has position but not extension, as the intersection of two lines. 3. salient features of a story, epigram, joke, etc.:  he hit the high points. 4. (slang; U.S.) needles for intravenous drug use.

The Points Interview: Kerwin Kaye

Editor’s Note: Today we’re excited to feature a Points Interview with Dr. Kerwin Kaye, an Associate Professor of Sociology, American Studies, and Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies at Wesleyan University. Dr. Kaye’s new book, Enforcing Freedom: Drug Courts, Therapeutic Communities, and the Intimacies of the State, was released this month by Columbia University Press. He also writes about issues pertaining to male sex work. He currently lives in New York City. 

Screenshot 2019-12-12 08.49.32Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

In Enforcing Freedom I take a close look at drug courts – courts that offer court-supervised drug treatment as an alternative to incarceration for drug-related crimes – and the nature of the treatment programs they rely upon. Drug courts have often been touted as an alternative to racialized mass incarceration, and certainly the idea of treatment instead of incarceration has a lot of appeal to many people.

My research shows that they have a more problematic impact than is at first apparent. The good is that anyone who completes treatment as part of drug court will have the charge removed from their record – that’s a good deal. The bad is that only about 50% succeed at drug court while the other half fails. Even worse, most courts require participants to plead guilty prior to participating in the court, meaning that the half that fails has no opportunity to strike a plea bargain – they plead guilty to the most serious charges that can be leveled at them. So after failing at treatment – how does one fail at treatment? does not treatment fail you? – this half gets sentenced to incarceration times that are significantly longer than they would have received if they had been able to strike a plea bargain.

In other words, drug courts actually intensify the war on drugs for half of the population, even as they mitigate it for the half that succeeds. And unsurprisingly, the half that fails is disproportionately black and disproportionately impoverished. So rather than entirely mitigating racialized mass incarceration, drug courts act as a sorting mechanism, escalating and aggravating social exclusions for precisely those populations that most need relief.

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Marijuana: From “Acceptable” to a Protected Commodity

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and the Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canandian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School. 

The Canadian The Lethbridge Herald published the article “Marijuana Smoking will Become Acceptable” on December 3, 1970, as a means to lay down the foundations for the future legalization of marijuana.[1]  Forty-nine years later, the federal legalization of marijuana, for both medical and recreational purposes, is a reality in countries such as Canada and Uruguay. 

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The policy in the South American country was designed to deal with criminal organizations, but the policy in Canada was designed to build a lucrative global capitalist market. Canada’s highly regulated and government-driven sale of cannabis showed that federal and provincial governments envisioned legalization as a lucrative means of taxation, building protectionist measures around the commodity in order to secure the inflow of corporate and personal taxes.  In comparison, the 1970s’ vision of legalization did not include a fiscal agenda, and much less a protectionist agenda.

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Enhanced Confections: Then and Now

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach. Beach is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY.

I recently had occasion to think about an interesting diversion in my very early dissertation research. I was reading Martin Booth’s history of cannabis, and he mentioned “The Arabian Gunje of Enchantment,” produced by the Gunjah Wallah Company of New York. While the focus of my dissertation has slowly moved the research out of the 19th century, my deep personal interest in candy, coupled with a recent trip to a Massachusetts dispensary, gave me reason to revisit this mysterious “hasheesh candy.”

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Stories of Synanon, Part One

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Jordan Mylet. Mylet is a doctoral candidate in history at the University of California, San Diego. This is the first of a series of oral histories Mylet is working on with former members of Synanon. More will run on Points in the future. 

When Synanon is remembered at all today, it is as a “vindictive” and “violent cult,” whose methods still lie at the heart of destructive “tough love” programs for recovering drug addicts and problem teens. These exposés detail how Charles (“Chuck”) Dederich, who founded the group for alcoholics and addicts in 1958, forced his followers to shave their heads, switch romantic partners, and verbally abuse one another in a form of attack therapy called the “Synanon Game”—all of which, depending on your perspective, is one hundred percent true.

Nonetheless, supporters of Synanon throughout the 1950s and 1960s—among them senators and congressmen, famous movie stars and authors, renowned criminologists and psychologists, corporate leaders, and civil rights groups—would have been shocked by the way Synanon has been both forgotten and vilified. By the early 1970s, the organization had expanded to tens of thousands of members (including “dope fiends” and non-using “squares,” in Synanon lingo), partnered with state governments to manage semi-autonomous Synanon prison wings, produced a jazz LP, and donated truckloads of food and supplies to the United Farm Workers and Black Panthers. 

This summer, I interviewed one of the organization’s earliest members as part of an ongoing oral history project to capture the complexity of the Synanon story. Lena Lindsay moved into Synanon House in December 1959, when the group was operating out of an abandoned National Guard armory on the beach in Los Angeles. Much attention had been paid to drug addiction in California during the years before Lindsay joined Synanon. State lawmakers, responding to public outcry, introduced hundreds of narcotics bills, many of which recommended the first mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. In the mid-1950s, Camarillo State Hospital began publicizing its facilities to addicts, while the state’s Department of Corrections initiated plans to build facilities specifically for narcotics violators. Community resources for people struggling with drug addiction were basically nonexistent. 

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Synanon House, circa 1962

In this interview, Lindsay describes her experiences in and out of California institutions in the 1950s and her life in Synanon until she left in 1974, disillusioned and frustrated by the changes that Dederich was making in the organization. 

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Call for Papers: “A New Social History of Pharmacy & Pharmaceuticals”

Symposium and Special issues of Pharmacy in HistoryThe Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, and Canadian Bulletin of Medical History

The aim of this Call for Papers and ensuing special issues is to generate a discussion related to the underexplored social history of pharmacy and pharmaceuticals. This 2-day interdisciplinary symposium will stimulate/connect new scholarship as well as place a spotlight on emerging trends in the studies of pharmaceuticals, drugs, and alcohol more broadly.

Pharmacies are important social, political, and economic spaces. And many of the products sold within pharmacies (or apothecaries) exist at the intersection of legitimacy and illegitimacy, domestic and international markets, and medicine and recreation. Candy and cannabis, alcohol and cigarettes, in addition to multiple lifestyle products, are sold in pharmacies in the U.S. as well as abroad. Of course, these goods are in addition to other prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs.

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The Upjohn Pharmacy in Disneyland

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Stephen Hall, curator of the History of Pharmacy Museum at the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy. In it, Hall tells the fascinating history of a special exhibit at the original Disneyland. 

In the summer of 1955, Disneyland opened its doors to the public for the first time. As tens of thousands of wide-eyed visitors entered the Magic Kingdom on opening day, one of the first sights they saw was a small, unassuming apothecary shop at the corner of Main and Center Streets. This was the Upjohn Pharmacy, a company-sponsored store that told the tale of the drug industry then and now.

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The Upjohn Pharmacy came to be through a string of fortuitous circumstances. Jack Gauntlett, The Upjohn Company’s advertising manager, recognized Disneyland’s unprecedented potential for brand promotion, and he approached the director of the company, Donald Gilmore, with the idea for the store. Unbeknownst to Gauntlett, Gilmore was close friends and part-time neighbors with Walt Disney (both men owned homes at the Smoke Tree Ranch in Palm Springs, California). Disney had been seeking corporate sponsorship as a means to help him fund his theme park, and with an existing connection to the head of The Upjohn Company, the groundwork for the Upjohn Pharmacy was laid.

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Points Bookshelf: “Dignity,” by Chris Arnade

Editor’s Note:  Today’s post comes from contributing editor Brooks Hudson, a PhD student in history at Southern Illinois University. As part of our Points Bookshelf series, he reviews Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America (Sentinel, 2019). 

Screenshot 2019-11-14 at 8.36.59 AMChris Arnade was an unlikely candidate to write Dignity, an intimate portrait of the ignored communities dotting America’s landscape. His professional adulthood has leapfrogged from elite institution to elite institution: first, getting a Ph.D. in physics from John Hopkins University, then planting himself in Wall Street, at the nexus of wealth and power, working as an early “quant” (a trader)—popularized on-screen in films like The Big Short—for the next several decades.

Tired of staring at screens, reducing complexity down to data points, he expanded his routine walks around safe New York neighborhoods into those considered dangerous, beginning with Hunts Point in the Bronx. Arnade assumed he would find, as numerous colleagues suggested, violence, crime, and prostitution. What he did not expect was to be welcomed. A curiosity at first, Arnade, a white guy carrying a camera, lessened concerns when asked what he was doing there by saying that he was hanging out and taking photos. People wanted him to snap their picture, while others wanted a chance to tell their life stories. Surprised, he discovered self-sustaining tight-knit communities which produced vibrant street art, as well as places filled with fascinating people, like the man he met who worked with pigeons. 

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