Blaming Black Vice

Editor’s Note: A week and a half ago, we noted that 40,000 Americans had died from COVID-19. Now that number is over 70,000. It’s a frightening time, but we’re trying to record history as it happens. Today contributing editor Dr. David A. Guba, Jr., of Bard Early College in Baltimore, discusses the long history of blaming alcohol and drug use–vice–on minority communities in times of crisis. 

During a White House coronavirus press conference on April 10th, the U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams urged black and brown Americans to quit drugs and alcohol and embrace family values to best avoid contracting coronavirus. 

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Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. And call your friends and family. Check in on your mother; she wants to hear from you right now. And speaking of mothers, we need you to do this, if not for yourself, then for your abuela. Do it for your granddaddy. Do it for your Big Mama. Do it for your Pop-Pop. We need you to understand — especially in communities of color, we need you to step up and help stop the spread so that we can protect those who are most vulnerable.

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How Evergreen, Vancouver’s First Legal Cannabis Store, is Coping with Coronavirus

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Dr. Jeremy Milloy, who teaches in the Canadian Studies Program at Mount Allison University. He discusses the impact coronavirus is having on Canada’s legal cannabis system. 

Vancouver is the epicentre of Canadian marijuana culture. It’s also the city where drug user activism is most visible, and where Canada’s first legal safe consumption site opened. Points checked in with Mike Babins, proprietor of Evergreen, Vancouver’s first legal cannabis store, to see how he, his staff, and his clients were handling this extraordinary situation. 

Tell me about your store. 

We’ve always been known as Vancouver’s “Mom N’ Pop Pot Shop”. We opened September 2015 as a medical dispensary. We were the only shop in the city that tested everything before it went on the shelf. When legalization came, we liquidated all our product and stayed open selling accessories as a way to keep paying our staff. We got our license on Christmas Eve 2018 and opened on January 4th, 2019, as Vancouver’s First Retail Cannabis Store.

When did you first start thinking that COVID-19 would impact what you do? 

We were watching the news daily, figuring out what we would do in all the possible scenarios. In the end we’ve been making it up as we go along, tweaking our system regularly. From the customer feedback and positive social media posts it seems like we’re doing a good job!

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Cannabis in the Time of Coronavirus

Editor’s Note: Today we’re continuing our investigation of drugs under quarantine. Contributing editor Bob Beach reports on the impact of the coronavirus on cannabis’s biggest holiday, 4/20, and the marijuana marketplace as a whole. 

We are more than a week removed from what was to be the greatest 4/20 party ever. It came and went and hardly anyone noticed. Of course, that’s because most of us were either stuck at home, subject to various lock-down orders and social distancing recommendations or working (as newly designated “essential” workers), all during a global pandemic. 

This was perhaps a result of the combined efforts of the pot industry, pot advocacy groups, and famous pot rebels like Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg advocating widespread compliance with lockdown orders and offering alternative celebrations via the suddenly-ubiquitous Zoom (check out the list on Billboard.com, and RollingStone.com). With a few exceptions, 4/20 celebrants largely remained at home.

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From California, With Love: Buying Marijuana Under Quarantine

Editor’s Note: COVID-19 has killed over 40,000 Americans, and is expected to kill tens of thousands more before this pandemic subsides. It has generated a nearly-nationwide lockdown, with many states and communities encouraging those who are able to stay home and avoid public spaces. This has caused delivery services for everything—from standard items like groceries, take-out and medications, to other, less-than-legal, substances—to thrive.

Over the next few weeks, Points is going to explore the effect of the quarantine on drugs and drug use in the United States and abroad. Today’s post was submitted by a guest blogger who chose to remain anonymous, given the illegal status of marijuana in their state, but who wanted to capture a sense of history in action, reporting on what buying cannabis was like during the lockdown.

If you’re interested in reporting on drug and alcohol use under quarantine where you are, get in touch. We believe it’s important to record history as it happens, especially as it involves substances and behaviors that rarely elicit front-page coverage. Email managing editor Emily Dufton at emily (dot) dufton (at) gmail (dot) com to suggest an article idea or for more information.

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I had almost forgotten that delivery was an option. Though the state I live in hasn’t legalized marijuana, I can go across the border into Washington, DC, and find a “CBD store” where, after they scare kids away by asking to check ID, customers can go past the CBD lotions and tinctures to a case in the back where THC products are for sale. It’s fun; because DC legalized in a backward way where cannabis possession is legal but sales are not, you have to talk in code, like at a speakeasy. The customer says, “I’ll take this $80 sticker, please,” and in return, they’ll get a sticker that just happens to come with two pot-infused chocolate bars. Other “stickers” include gifts of infused candy, loose flower, or pre-rolled joints. I always enjoyed shopping for my pot in Washington because the whole experience felt like a knowing charade, where everyone was in on the joke. A wink and a nod, and I had enough pot to last me a couple of months, purchased in an actual store where I was treated like a beloved customer. Still, if asked by a cop, I can honestly say I’ve technically never bought weed in DC. I do, however, have quite a few stickers.

But now I was stuck at home, my stockpile of weed was drying up, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. Riding the metro into the city seemed like a foolish way to potentially expose myself to the virus, and besides, I wasn’t sure if my CBD store was considered an “essential business.” Medical marijuana dispensaries and liquor stores had the mayor’s approval to stay open, but a place that sold “stickers” and CBD? Probably not.

So, in a moment of desperation, I texted a friend, who offered to put me in touch with their “guy.” “He’s reliable and nice,” my friend said. “I’ll tell him you’ll get in touch.” They did, and the following day, I had weed delivered to my front door, just like Amazon or groceries.

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Medical waste offers insights into South Africa’s use of pharmaceuticals

Editor’s Note: Today is the last piece in our six-part series of articles discussing drug use in Africa. These articles originally appeared on The Conversation, but we’re republishing them here as well. Today’s article comes from Rebecca Hodes, Director, AIDS and Society Research Unit, University of Cape Town. 

Much of what we know about human history comes from studying things that have been discarded. The archaeology of dumpsites and middens has long informed us about societies and their pasts. This has included how people survived and sustained themselves, what they gathered, made, amassed and discarded.

Histories of rubbish have also shown that beliefs about sanitation, and what makes for a clean environment, change. These changes are, in turn, influenced by developments in technology, forms of governance, and consumer norms.

I conducted a study on an archive of medical materials, collected over three years from public waste sites around South Africa’s Eastern Cape. What I refer to as ‘pharmatrash’ serves as a proxy for which medicines were provided or purchased, consumed, and then discarded. Pharmatrash in post-Apartheid South Africa shows the vast proliferation of medical waste, the result of increased access to healthcare products in both the public and private sectors – and on the formal and informal markets.

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The story of the pharma giant and the African yam

Editor’s Note: Over the next few weeks, we’re going to feature a series of articles discussing drug use in Africa. These articles originally appeared on The Conversation, but we’re republishing them here as well. Today’s article comes from William Beinart, professor at the University of Oxford. 

It was a drug produced in Nottingham in the United Kingdom that led us on a journey to South Africa to visit muthi markets, archives, herbariums and nature reserves.

We spoke with traders, healers, scholars and conservationists to learn more about Dioscorea sylvatica.

Dioscorea is a wild yam. Its name in different languages connects to its appearance – its rough skin resembles a tortoise shell. It’s known as ‘Elephant’s Foot’ in English, in isiZulu ‘ingwevu’, meaning grey/old or ‘ifudu’, meaning tortoise; in Sepedi the name is ‘Kgato’ – ‘to stamp’.

In the 1950s, the yam was heavily exploited by the British pharmaceutical firm Boots for the production of cortisone. But provincial conservation officials in South Africa fought back against the plundering of a wild plant that they recognised was in danger of being exploited to extinction.

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A history of how sedatives took hold in white South Africa

Editor’s Note: Over the next few weeks, we’re going to feature a series of articles discussing drug use in Africa. These articles originally appeared on The Conversation, but we’re republishing them here as well. Today’s article comes from Julie Parle, Honorary Professor in History, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

In the early 1960s, pharmacists and government authorities were of the view that South Africa had experienced key aspects of a ‘pharmaceutical revolution’ over the course of the previous 40 years.

These were fulcrum decades in South African medicines’ history in which newly invented medicines became critically important. Most of the new therapeutic substances in high demand were antibiotics. But the class of drugs comprising synthetic hypnotics, sedatives and tranquillisers were also important.

As early as the 1930s these substances – especially barbiturates – posed challenges to those who sought their control. Enmeshed in multiple issues of chemical, commercial, professional, and regulatory definition, timid controls were proposed in 1937. But even these failed to gain support, facilitating a permissive market for those who could afford the new drugs. These were, by and large, white South Africans.

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