The NJWEEDMAN Saga Part 2: The bittersweet triumphs of Ed Forchion, Activist

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

In my last post, I covered the 1997 arrest and subsequent conviction and imprisonment of Robert Ed Forchion, also known as NJWeedman. As I write, we remain in the midst of sustained nationwide protests and an emerging public discussion about policing in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. Watching a police officer callously assault and eventually kill a man while being filmed has led to a sea change (though still severely limited) in public acknowledgement and critique of poor police behavior. But watching the subsequent coverage of the police response to this critique (which has been to double down on their brutality) keeps bringing me back to Ed Forchion, whose post-release story (though not as tragic as George Floyd’s) highlights the depths of the systemic problems of modern policing.

Continue reading

The NJWEEDMAN Saga Part 1: The Making of an Activist

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. 

On January 27, a 20-year old Spencer Alan Boston walked into a Wilson County, Tennessee General Sessions court, to discuss sentencing on a simple marijuana possession charge. Tennessee law penalizes possession of less than a half-ounce of marijuana as a misdemeanor, subject to as much as a year sentence. But instead of discussing his case, Boston started to make an argument in favor of legalizing marijuana in the state as he reached into his pocket, pulled out a joint, and lit it up.

Screenshot 2020-06-15 at 7.23.03 PM

Spencer Alan Boston lights it up

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Teaching Points: A New Survey Course – The History of Drugs and Alcohol in American History

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. He contributes to our Teaching Points series, which investigates the role of alcohol and drug history in the classroom. 

The history department at Utica College, acutely aware of falling enrollments in history courses throughout the US, has decided to re-cast the 100-level “survey courses” in more thematic terms that we thought might appeal more to student interests, and possibly add some new majors in the process. I teach American history at Utica, and debuted my HIS 128: Drugs in American History this term.

Screenshot 2020-02-13 at 7.42.50 AM

The Great Recession wasn’t kind to history

Continue reading

No Elephant in the Room? The ADHS at AHA in NYC, and the end(!)(?) of the War on Drugs

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

The Alcohol and Drugs History Society was represented last week at the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association in a set of five fascinating panels, headlined by a wonderful discussion after lunch on Saturday on Capitalism and Addiction, but overall covering topics from pop culture to tea/coffee houses, from songs to theater to art, from India and Pakistan to Paris to New York, the very city in which we gathered.

Screenshot 2020-01-08 at 9.45.05 PM

Continue reading

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.”

Screenshot 2019-12-05 at 8.44.39 AM

Continue reading

Drugs, History, and Comedy: A Podcast?

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach. Beach is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY, and, if this post is any indication, a lot of other pretty cool things as well. If you’re interested in working with Bob on any of his upcoming projects, his contact info is below.

An historian, a comedian, and a podcaster walk into a bar. The bartender looks up and says, “Just you today Bob?”

Screenshot 2019-10-24 at 9.10.31 AM

Uptown Theater for Creative Arts, in Utica, NY

That’s right, this Points contributor is going to get into podcasting. And if you didn’t know, this Points contributor is also a (very amateur) stand-up comedian and improv stage actor. Along with doing live comedy, I’ve also had a chance to participate as a semi-regular guest on the Fish Guy Media Network, a podcast network run by two brothers. We met while performing live comedy at the Uptown Theater for Creative Arts in Utica, New York. I’ve been given a platform on the network to start my own podcast blending history (not limited to my nascent expertise in marijuana/drug history), comedy, and current events. The podcast is currently in the planning stages.

In the words of George Costanza, my worlds are colliding.

Continue reading

The NFL’s Pain Management Problem

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.

The National Football League (NFL) has a pain management problem. It also has a marijuana problem. The league currently regulates marijuana use among its players as part of its Policy and Program on Substances of Abuse. Revised in 2018, the program tests players for marijuana (and other “substances of abuse”) once every year during a set time (during the offseason). 

The threshold to trigger a positive test is a relatively small 35 nanograms of THC per milliliter. To get a sense of how much that is relative to common testing thresholds, one source suggests that, “following a single marijuana use, THC is unlikely to be detected in the urine beyond 3 days at the 50 ng/ml cut-off level and beyond 7 days for the 20 ng/mL cutoff level.” If a player fails a test, they face fines, suspensions, and more frequent and random testing. 

Often touted more as an “intelligence test” than a drug test, at least for marijuana (are players smart enough to stop smoking weed prior to the testing window?), the program still ensnares new players every season, including David Irving, who recently quit football live on Instagram while smoking weed, following a failed drug test which triggered an indefinite suspension by the league.

Continue reading

Maybe Next Year: The Failure to Legalize Adult-Use Cannabis in New York

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach, our resident New Yorker who provides insights into the his state’s twisted path to potential cannabis legalization. Beach is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY.

On August 28, 2019, New York State officially decriminalized marijuana. Most saw decriminalization as an important step toward the even more equitable legalization measure that failed to pass the Democrat-led state legislature this year, but which seems inevitable given recent trends in legalizing (with the recent addition of Illinois this year). Particularly in light of the inevitable comparisons to Illinois, others are making connections to the “eerily similar” debates over decriminalization in New York in 1977 at the height of the state-level decriminalization wave that was then spreading throughout the country. During that year the New York State legislature passed, and then-Governor Hugh Carey signed, what was at the time the ninth state-level decriminalization measure in the country.

(Current New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and then-Governor Hugh Carey)

Continue reading

Fiction Points: Red Dirt Marijuana by Terry Southern

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.

As the globetrotting mass of drug historians have been preparing to make their way to Shanghai for the bi-annual conference over the last few days, I (who am, unfortunately, not attending) had a chance to sit down and read some fiction. I don’t often get a chance to read much fiction. I have a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five on a shelf on my desk, and the bookmark has been on page 50 since the day I purchased the book for the trip to Dwight, IL, for the ADHS conference there in 2016.

Screenshot 2019-06-06 at 8.14.32 AM

The original hardcover edition

But this latest literary indulgence was more directly research-related. Terry Southern’s collection of short stories entitled Red Dirt Marijuana and other Tastes has been on my list following a very productive archive trip to New York City two summers ago. I spent a few days (not nearly enough) in the Henry W and Albert A Berg Collection of English and American Literature at the New York Public Library, checking out the collected papers of a number of Beat writers like Jack Kerouac, William S Burroughs and others.

My dissertation research is formulating an argument about a marijuana culture in the United States beyond the Beats, with which it is commonly associated in the period prior to the 1960s. My initial reasoning was simply because this cultural movement has received plenty of coverage by literary figures and historians of the period. But I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to look at the Beat archives during my time at the New York Public Library. Southern’s papers contained drafts of a couple of the stories (including the title work) as well as some correspondence between Southern and other literary and showbiz figures from the fifties through the nineties. (Southern died in 1995.)

Continue reading