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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From Taboo to Veneration: Marijuana, Canada, and the New Social Construct

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from 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. 

In January 1968 the Winnipeg Free Press reported that marijuana was “the biggest mass floating of the law since prohibition.”[1]  Back then the urban myth said Lebanese cannabis was the most potent, but Canada, like the U.S. market, was limited to Mexican cannabis; “Acapulco Gold” was the common preference among “local users.”[2]  This new generation of consumers was juxtaposed against the anti-marijuana initiatives on both sides of the border that had, by that point, constructed the idea among sectors of civil society and policy makers that the drug led to mental disorders, violence, degeneration, addiction, and that it served as a gateway to other more dangerous narcotics.  It was from the late 1960s onward that a pro-marijuana movement across both sides of the border was spearheaded by young rebellious Baby Boomers in order to clarify the facts and debunk the old myths. Fifty years later the construct of the “thin, sunken-eyed individual slowly starving himself to death” has been replaced by the image of the radiant millennial stoner.[3] Within that transformation of the constructs of marijuana, Canada’s Federal and Provincial governments were able to build a government-business partnership that positioned the nation and its private sector as the pioneers of a new global business that might even surpass the global market for coffee.  A half century ago possession in Canada could cost you seven years in prison; today it represents an entrepreneurial opportunity.

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Director, Louis J. Gosnier. “Tell Your Children,” 1936.

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From Calcutta in 1890 to Canada Today: Exercises in Cannabis Legalization

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Peter Hynd, a PhD candidate in history at McGill University in Quebec, based on the paper he presented at the Cannabis: Global Histories conference held at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, on April 19-20, 2018. In it, he explores how Calcutta legalized the sale of cannabis in the 19th century, and shows how the Indian government sought to implement legalization in the most effective (and profitable) way. Enjoy!

Imagine strolling up to a licensed cannabis shop and purchasing a few grams of the finest Government stamped and sealed ganja, no questions asked.

In your mind, where are you? Denver, Colorado in 2015? Montreal, Quebec, later this year?

How about Calcutta in 1890?

Although probably not the time or place you associate with government licensed cannabis shops, during the second half of the nineteenth century the colonial government of Bengal (modern day Bangladesh and West Bengal, India) regulated and taxed the sale of cannabis drugs in a manner that appears remarkably similar to many present day models and proposals.

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Peter Hynd presents his work at the Cannabis: Global Histories conference at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, on April 19, 2018. Photo by Morgan Scott, Breathe Images

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Canada and Cannabis: A More Complicated History

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Michael Couchman, a PhD candidate in history at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. It’s based off his presentation at the Cannabis: Global Histories conference held at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, from April 19-20, 2018. Enjoy!

At the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem in 2016, Canadian Health Minister Jane Philpott proclaimed that, “Our approach to drugs must be comprehensive, collaborative and compassionate. It must respect human rights while promoting shared responsibility. And it must have a firm scientific foundation. In Canada, we will apply these principles with regard to marijuana.” Although Canada’s upcoming decision to legalize cannabis presents considerable difficulties in the context of the many international drug control treaties to which it adheres, this challenge presents a unique opportunity to promote some much-needed reforms in the realm of multilateral drug laws. Being the first G7 country to tax and regulate cannabis at the national level, Canada has the potential to help redefine the global regulatory apparatus and its directives concerning cannabis and other illicit drugs.

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Michael Couchman presents his work at the Cannabis: Global Histories conference at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, on April 20, 2018. Photo by Morgan Scott, Breathe Images

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Video: Matthew DeCloedt at Cannabis: Global Histories

Editor’s Note: Did you hear? Yesterday, Canada’s Senate passed legislation legalizing recreational marijuana use for adults. Legalization will officially take place in October 17, 2018, in an effort to “take market share away from organized crime and protect the country’s youth,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. Do you think Canada passed the law because they read Matthew DeCloedt’s post, published on Tuesday, about human rights arguments that advanced the passage of Canadian medical marijuana laws years before? Probably! Here’s more from DeCloedt in a video taken at the Cannabis: Global Histories conference, so you can hear the man himself explain his research and work. Enjoy!

Matthew DeCloedt – Global Histories: Cannabis from Points ADHS on Vimeo.

Human Rights Claims and Medical Cannabis in Canada: A View from the Courts

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Matthew DeCloedt, a law student at Central European University and a participant in the Cannabis: Global Histories conference held from April 19-20, 2018, at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. DeCloedt brings a legal lens to the conversation surrounding medical marijuana in Canada, with a specific focus on human rights. Enjoy!

To understand how Canada went from limited access to cannabis for therapeutic purposes to the impending legalization of recreational pot, it is crucial to understand the impact of human rights discourse on the erosion of impediments to accessing medical cannabis.

From the early 2000s, Canadian courts were a crucial forum for taking issue with the federal government’s restrictive cannabis law and policy.

Section 7 of the Canada Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which gives “Everyone…the right to life, liberty and the security of person,” was the most important of the rights invoked by litigants.

The success and failure of human rights claims depended on Canadian litigants’ ability to convince the courts that the threat of criminal sanctions for possessing and cultivating cannabis for therapeutic purposes violated their right to life, liberty and security of person. In other words, they asked whether prohibition was a proportional response to the supposed harms of using cannabis?

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The Points Interview: Dan Malleck

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Dan Malleck

Dan Malleck is an Associate Professor of Health Sciences at Brock University in St. Catherines, Ontario. He is the author of Try to Control Yourself: The Regulation of Public Drinking in Post-Prohibition Ontario, 1927-1944 (University of British Colombia Press, 2012) and co-editor, with Cheryl Krasnick Warsh, of Consuming Modernity: Gendered Behaviour and Consumerism Before the Baby Boom (UBC Press, 2014). Try to Control Yourself won the Canadian Historical Association’s Clio Prize for Best Book in Ontario History in 2013, and Malleck’s writing has appeared in news outlets including the Globe and Mail and The National Post. He earned his PhD from Queen’s University in Kingston, ON. Malleck’s most recent book is When Good Drugs Go Bad: Opium, Medicine, and the Origins of Canada’s Drug Laws (UBC Press, 2015), which he discusses below.

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

This book examines the social and cultural forces that combined to encourage the creation of Canada’s drug laws.  It argues that we need to get past the simplistic statement that drug laws were racist reactions to foreigners in our country, and have complex roots.

What do you think a bunch of alcohol and drug historians might find particularly interesting about your book?

The book is not a political history, but it looks at how various cultural, economic, professional and social forces converged in the early 1900s to make it seem necessary to create federal laws restricting opiates and other mind altering drugs.  It takes long time-
line, following the threads of influence as they grew and expanded, gathering energy and cultural currency. I use the metaphor of streams converging into raging river.  

The main question driving the research was “why did we decide that addiction was a problem that needed federal intervention” and “when did it become okay for the government to severely restrict sales of certain substances that were previously generally unrestricted.”  I argue that Canada’s first drug laws were not laws against recreational use, but pharmacy laws that made it restricted certain substances determined to be dangerous. These laws, the results of political lobbying to deal with a social problem, made such restrictions acceptable.  From that point, the definition of “danger” expanded from the potential of death, to the potential for serious damage, to the potential for dependency.  The precedent for national drug regulation, then, was set in the pharmacy acts, which were a combination of professional pressure and social concern over access to poisonous substances.  

whengooddrugsI also challenge a dominant and reductionist narrative that the opium acts of the early 1900s were simply attacks on Chinese people in Canada.  This argument misses the power of the idea that drugs were a problem.  When William Lyon MacKenzie King argued, in his preamble to the 1908 report encouraging parliament to create the Opium Act, that opium’s “baneful influences” were “too well known to require comment” he was channeling that broader concern based upon the familiarity of most Canadians with the challenges of opium as a medicine and a habit-forming drug. He himself had experience of these baneful influences in his personal life, and most Canadians probably knew someone who had an opium habit. Most had probably consumed opium at some point.  To reduce this to an attack on the Chinese is simply a distortion of the past, often for current political reasons.  Moreover, the same session of parliament that passed the Opium Act also passed a Proprietary and Patent Medicines Act, dealing with another significant drug problem.  This book springs from that contention that reducing the drug laws to racist reactionism doesn’t do the story justice, nor does it help us understand the complexity of our drug laws in general, and the challenges of reforming them.

Now that the hard part is over, what is the thing YOU find most interesting about your book?

It’s the same page length as my first book even though it’s much longer, but took less time to write. Figure that out.

Every research project leaves some stones unturned. What stone are you most curious to see turned over soon?

One thing I was never able to do due to the sheer volume of material and time it would take was track the changes in prescribing patterns as different laws came into effect. I have a database of probably hundreds of thousands of prescriptions from pharmacy records that span various provincial and federal law changes, and I wonder if those laws, restricting access to substances like opium, affected the way doctors prescribed, or the way customers purchased (or pharmacists dispensed). I suspect it did, but without a massive team, grant, and hiccup in space/time, I won’t be able to do that.

BONUS QUESTION: In an audio version of this book, who should provide the narration?

Aaron Paul.