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Hello, podcast listeners, my name is Laura Krantz, I'm the host of Wild Things Space Invaders about the search for extraterrestrial life, where we're looking, what we're looking for and why we hope we're not alone. Subscribe to Wild Thing right now on Apple podcast, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. And stay tuned to the end of this episode to hear the trailer.
Hello, syndicate listeners, we've got a jam packed bonus episode for you today in Episode five, I interviewed Emily Duffed and I am a drug historian and writer based in Washington, D.C. She helped put the syndicate entries bid to go legal in the context of Pott's history in the United States that included covering the government's moves to outlaw marijuana in the 1930s.
The hysteria of Reefer Madness and Nixon's five schedules of drugs.
Well, you won't be surprised to know there's a lot more often had to say that we didn't have time to get to. For instance, you heard that the push for medical marijuana began in the late 80s. But why then what sparked it? We also skipped over a decade long decriminalization movement in the 1970s that found surprising traction, then fell apart just as quickly. That's why Duffed entitled her book Grass Roots The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America.
As the drug historian explains two distinct movements to change laws in favor of pot.
One that began in the 70s and one in the 80s turned out very differently during my interview, duffed and shared her reasons for that. Introduce some colorful protagonists in marijuana law and threw in a few little known anecdotes from Weeds roller coaster history. It all provides a better understanding of pots, long road to legalization and why organizations like the syndicate came to exist.
So let's light this up, shall we? We'll pick up my interview with Deafen right after she tells me that in the eighteen hundreds cannabis used to be available at most corner pharmacies in America.
So you could pretty much go to a corner pharmacy in any populated area and get something for have a toothache. I have cramps in my eye. I'm feeling nauseous, whatever. And you could get a tincture that generally had at least some cannabis in it, along with all sorts of other fun ingredients. But it was used for a variety of purposes and was considered something that really did have numerous and myriad health benefits. And it wasn't just cannabis.
Right? There was also you could get small amounts of cocaine. There were there are other things that were used for medical treatments. Am I right on that?
Oh, heck, yeah. You can you could get it all. Rather fascinating stuff. And this was, of course, just the stuff that was labeled. But after 1898, you could get small tinctures of heroin. Cocaine was available, morphine, you name it. It was pretty much available at the corner pharmacy, really without any kind of prescription or oversight. And then, of course, whatever you buying from traveling salesmen, Lord knows what was in snake oil, but you're getting all kinds of all kinds of fun drugs.
So, of course, we were somewhat criticized, the FDA right now, but it really was kind of the wild west of medicine, both in the west and the east prior to the passage of of a lot of these government regulations, allowing us to know what exactly we were putting into our bodies when we were taking medicine.
And when did some of these substances start getting outlawed or at least regulated and why?
That was in the early nineteen hundreds, the early 20th century through the progressive movement, which was becoming more concerned with the availability of a lot of these substances, because there was a growing acknowledgment that particularly in terms of morphine and heroin, that that they were becoming problematically addictive.
Got it. And then at the same time, you also had some social currents in the United States, especially some social currents against people of color. How much did that play into what would soon happen with the outlying of cannabis?
Yes, this is the sort of parallel history to the progressive movement, like, hey, maybe we should sell heroin to kids.
It's also like the process of recreational use of marijuana. Coming to the United States is a slow migration from the south and Southwest as Mexican citizens who are fleeing the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz started crossing the border and coming into places like Texas and New Mexico and Arizona. And they introduced the idea of smoking cannabis recreationally for the intoxicating effects to the American public that started making people wait.
Citizens, for the most part, freaked out, and that was when state based laws started being passed that targeted individuals caught with this drug, which were primarily, of course, non-white citizens, and they were starting to target it very excessively. And, you know, that continued on then. It had reverberations throughout the rest of the twentieth century.
Right. And then what was this concept of Reefer Madness? It was almost like if you smoked cannabis, then you would become violent and unruly. What were some of the tropes going around at the time?
Yes, violence, unruly behavior. And one of the bigger fears was miscegenation, which was sexual relations between the races. Right. But these ideas were being put forth in the 1930s, was very famously in a in a film called Reefer Madness. And of course, this is also tied up into larger stories about the end of prohibition. Right.
So what's really important to remember when we talk about Reefer Madness and the rise of Harry Anslinger at the Treasury Department, the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, is that when the United States no longer had alcohol to focus on persecuting and targeting, it needed a new drug.
The government needed a new drug and government officials needed a new drug.
So as Harry Anslinger comes onto the job toward the end of federal prohibition, he needs a new substance to target. And, well, there's cannabis.
So one year after Reefer Madness in nineteen thirty seven, Anslinger is instrumental in passing the Marijuana Tax Act. What did that mean for cannabis in the United States?
Well, it essentially meant that it was being taxed.
It was not a federal law against it, but it was the first federal law specifically targeting cannabis because it required growers and sellers to file essentially with the federal government and say, yes, I'm doing this, and then they have to pay a tax.
So the federal government knew who all the growers and suppliers were.
Sure, it sounds like an act of federal surveillance.
And I can imagine if you're a grower, you're kind of looking sideways at these states that are outlawing cannabis outright. And it's and it's like, well, if that happens in my state and I've registered as a taxpaying grower, I am suddenly in the crosshairs or someone that's going to receive immediate scrutiny.
Precisely. This is not going to this is not going to end well for me. So I'm going to back out now and go back to growing corn or whatever.
So in the 1950s, then, you have cannabis really popularizes kind of this underground culture drug that's used by a lot of jazz musicians, beat writers. What was its stature at that time?
Yeah, precisely correct. It was this underground. Very cool, very hip, very avant garde substance.
But there is this idea that that drugs could open the human mind to other realms of cognition and creativity and, you know, consciousness. Right.
It was very exciting, but very much so known as something used in non-traditional circles.
Right. And I'm guessing using traditional not in, you know, sort of outside of the white cultural mainstream. Yeah, definitely.
Right. But then the 1960s, that totally changed. Why was that? Oh, yeah. It totally flipped on its head. You know, the the baby boom resulted in one of the largest population explosions in American history. And suddenly by the mid to late nineteen sixties, these individuals were going to college.
So these kids are free on college campuses. They're being exposed to all sorts of new ideas. They no longer have their parents hovering over them. And cannabis migrates away just from those urban centers, but on to college campuses across the United States.
And it is one of the fuels for countercultural ideals, which, of course, you know, takes sort of an overwhelming influence over politics and art and culture and music and just about everything else.
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As a young senator, Ted Kennedy mysteriously drove his car off the road into a lake, he survived the crash, though his passenger did not, fearing his presidential bid would be tarnished. Ted waited 10 hours to report the fatal incident. As the investigation progressed, his story about the events leading up to the crash started to fall apart. And word of the deadly accident spread quickly. Soon, he faced accusations that not even the Kennedys could overcome.
Since 1993, thousands of women have been murdered or disappeared along the border in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. My name is Lydia Cacho and I am here to tell you the true story of the femicide. Sing Juarez. Listen and subscribe to the red note right now on Apple Podcast's or wherever you get your podcasts, you can also listen in Spanish. Just search for LANATA rocka in the same podcast app you are listening in now. I did want to just touch upon Nixon's comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention Control Act and the Controlled Substances Act, because that's where we get the schedule.
Yes. So when they're determining the CSA, the Controlled Substances Act, and they're determining the five schedules in which they're going to place drugs in Schedule one, drugs are considered to have a high potential for abuse and no medical value. And all the way down to Schedule five, where drugs are considered to have high medical value and a limited potential for abuse.
And Nixon and Mitchell lobbied very, very hard to have marijuana added to schedule one because, again, it was seen as an element and kind of a very clear token of the counterculture. Right. So how can you target the counterculture, which is like, you know, all of these protesters are in Washington, D.C. on Nixon's front lawn all the time complaining about his policies? Well, how can you target them? And you can't arrest them for protesting, right?
That's the First Amendment.
You can't you can't do that. But if you outlaw on the federal level the drug that they're using very commonly. Well, that's a great way to kind of stick a nail into the counterculture coffin.
And my understanding, too, is that cannabis was only temporarily supposed to be in schedule one.
Precisely. That's how Nixon kind of got his way. He said, well, how about we do this for a process of two years or a period of two years?
And I will get together a panel, a commission, a national commission of 13 people who will study the depth and breadth of cannabis use in the United States.
And they will be able to say for sure whether or not it deserves its Schedule one placement. So the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse is formed in 1970. It's also known as the Shafer Commission because its leader is chairman, was named Raymond Schaffer.
And what the Shafer Commission says is that people who use cannabis are fundamentally really no different from people who don't they're not more violent, they're not more lazy, they're, you know, functioning individuals, et cetera, et cetera.
And they recommend national decriminalization so that this comes out in 72.
It's widely available. You can buy like a pocket paperback version for a dollar twenty five.
And Nixon ignores it. He just says like, no, absolutely not.
He's somewhat misconstrues their findings to the press and says, well, never legalize the drug, which of course was was not what the commission was saying, but he kind of tosses it into the trash, ignores it and keeps marijuana precisely where it is.
So that's ultimately why although the placement was supposed to be temporary, it remains a schedule one drug because Nixon was just like, screw you, Shafer Commission.
I am not going to listen to your recommendations, but what the Shafer Commission found seemed to be embraced by increasingly the middle class in the United States. You know where this is. Pot joints are being passed around at parties and then you have an entire rise of cannabis magazines. Cheech and Chong, what was the culture of the 70s like? Because that was when there was some real movement towards decriminalization.
Absolutely right. So as I said, the Shafer Commission's report was widely available. Anybody could buy a copy at the bookstore.
And it really inspired a growing wave of young people who were influenced by the activism in the 1960s and by the 1970s said, OK, well, it's it's up to us now to really change laws, not just by protesting and taking to the streets, but by joining state legislatures. So in nineteen seventy three, starting in Oregon, some young people joined the state legislature. They passed the nation's first decriminalization law, where essentially they put the Shafer recommendations, Shafer Commission's recommendations into play on the state level.
And by 1975 to 1978, there's a wave of eleven more states that decriminalize the personal possession of up to an ounce of the drug.
You can have it on you. And now there's all these companies popping up that are making yeah, bong's pipes rolling. Papers are huge scales, toys hiding places, Christmas stockings full of paraphernalia, magazines to support this drug culture, movies, music, everything you name it.
It's like this whole new world of pop culture opens up. And although the United States is going through a pretty fierce recession at the time, by 1977, paraphernalia is pulling in two hundred and fifty million dollars a year, which is the equivalent today of one billion.
And there is a stat I found out after I wrote the book, which is a bummer, because they should have put that in there. But paraphernalia in 1977 brought. And more money than the release of the first Star Wars movie did. Wow, take that.
George takes that George Lucas take it all the way to the bank.
Well, and then you had Carter's election, and it seemed like for a moment there there was going to be potentially national decriminalization, but then that falls apart.
What were some of the missteps of that cannabis culture at the time that directly led into what would become the parent movement?
Yeah, there were there were a lot of kind of fundamental missteps.
Decriminalization still allows a lot of products to exist essentially in a gray zone. Right. There's not a lot of oversight or regulation. There were bongs that looked like spaceships, Christmas stockings there. A book for called Tots Who Toke, you know, like just not not great stuff.
If you're trying to avoid pissing off parents or government regulators look like bad choices.
Right. And meanwhile, there are also surveys showing that adolescent cannabis use is increasing. Absolutely.
By 1977, 78, 79 raises adolescent marijuana use are climbing and in fact, actually sort of peaking, I think historically to the point where one in nine high school seniors is using the drug every day. And children as young as 13 report that the drug is very easy to get. And that becomes a very severe problem for the decriminalization movement.
Pot is everywhere, as Keith Shuard Marcia Manit, nicknamed Keith Shuard, don't know why she's nicknamed Keith, but she is. And as you said, you know, it's like the drug followed her home. She was completely unprepared for it. And suddenly her 13 year old daughter is smoking pot and drinking in her backyard at her 13th birthday party.
And what she does is essentially launch launch a national army of angry parents who take her ideas, spread them nationwide to the point where by 1980, they had their own federal lobbying organization right outside of D.C. and Maryland. And when Ronald Reagan gets elected president in November of 1980, they are perfectly positioned to deeply influence his administration's execution of its burgeoning war on drugs.
And by this time, their activism and their lobbying have also overturned a lot of the states that had decriminalized pot.
Pretty much all of them. So Nancy Reagan really embraces this as her cause.
And so what effect did she have on bourgeoning the power of these parent activist groups?
Yes, Nancy is huge. She is instrumental. I mean, and she's so what we associate with this, she's the face of just say no today. And, you know, very much so credited with bringing this anti anti adolescent drug abuse prevention platform to to national consciousness.
And Ronald Reagan uses that to support his Anti-Drug Abuse Act in 1986, which I mean, really sounds like it just supercharged the war on drugs.
Absolutely it is.
It is probably one of the most important pieces of anti-drug legislation in federal history. And, of course, it's being passed in the wave of prominent cocaine related deaths and in the wake of huge amounts of media, freak out about the dangers of crack cocaine.
That's where we get the 100 to one sentencing discrepancy between crack and powder cocaine. But it passes mandatory minimum sentences for numerous other substances, including cannabis.
Right in this really. It also leads to even more mass incarceration, which would be important in the social justice argument for legalization that would follow. Could you talk about just how the numbers of incarcerated people just spiked up and especially disproportionately people of color? Yes.
Well, that's the big byproduct of this 100 to one sentencing discrepancy between crack and powder cocaine. So you have to have a fairly decent amount of powder cocaine to warrant the minimum sentence, which I think was like five years or something. And then you have to have two tiny rocks of crack to warrant that, because it really was believed at the time that the way to win the war on drugs and the way to defeat illicit drug use in the United States was just by incarcerating anyone who was involved in it.
And either that would get them clean and they wouldn't go back to it or they'd be so scared of being incarcerated again that they wouldn't go back to it, et cetera, et cetera.
But state laws in a lot of places mirrored these increasing federal penalties. So you have people getting picked up. There's a lot of emphasis on it. There's a lot of benefits for local and state police forces and police departments got really addicted to this this constant influx of funds. And it created well, it transformed the United States into the country that incarcerates the largest percentage of its population in the world. I mean, we incarcerate more Americans than China does.
And China's population is over one billion. We're third of that. And we incarcerate more citizens than China does. It's the effects of this are incredibly negative and long lasting and incredibly problematic. In March of twenty nineteen, I stepped foot for the first time into a little farm town called Winder, a town full of stories, legends and secrets, and it would change my life. What I unearthed was a story shrouded in scandal and mystery, 50 years in the making, a story with secrets never before revealed.
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Can you tell me about a person that I was just so fascinated to read about in your book, Browny Mary Rathbun?
Yes, I love Browny Mary. She's one of my heroes, and she was one of my absolute favorite people to write about. She's just she's just fascinating. Yeah. So I think one of the coolest things about cannabis history is the way that it overlaps with so many other really intriguing moments in our larger American historical tapestry or however you want to describe it.
Mm hmm. And one of those ways is how the marijuana, the medical marijuana movement was entirely sort of interwoven with the AIDS epidemic and the gay rights movement. So Browny Mary Rathbun was a San Francisco girl.
She was quite a bit older, even in the nineteen eighties. She was waitressing at IHOP and she's been using cannabis every day since she was thirty five to deal with the pain in her knees from from waitressing every day. And she lives in the Castro district in San Francisco, which was really kind of one of the first neighborhoods in the United States. It's where Harvey Milk at his center is a political center. It's, you know, full of full of young men.
And she becomes friends with a young man named Dennis Peron. He runs a marijuana supermarket, as he calls it, out of his living room and his big group house in San Francisco called the Big Top.
And Brownie Mary gets her nickname because she's also a baker and she makes pot brownies to start being sold at Perens, you know, marijuana supermarket in his house.
And they become very popular and she becomes very popular.
And her name is actually Mary Jane. Isn't it great? I mean, what a moment of historical kismet that she's actually Mary Jane Rathbun. And it's just you can't make this stuff up. It's so good.
But she she gets busted as you do.
And rather than being sent to jail, she's given community service and she works with an organization called Shauntay, which deals with or helps people suffering from terminal illnesses.
And in the mid 1980s, these individuals in the Castro district in San Francisco, you know, it's not just cancer. It's it's what ultimately will be known as HIV AIDS.
And no one really understands the disease at this time. It's terrifying. Not entirely sure how it spreads.
So Browny Maria starts working with these young men who are dying of these horrible diseases, these myriad symptoms, and she realizes the one thing she can give them to help are her brownies. Right.
Because they can crawl that they control nausea, they increase appetite. So it helps with wasting syndrome. They give people a little bit of strength. They give people a little bit of energy.
And so she starts baking her brownies again and distributing them just to ultimately who are HIV AIDS patients.
And that changes everything. It makes an incredibly sympathetic.
So she starts working with Peron to pass legislation that allows providers and doctors to recommend, not prescribe, but recommend the use of marijuana for a variety of different illnesses, including HIV AIDS, but also cancer, glaucoma, numerous other things. And it results in the passage of the first medical marijuana law in nineteen ninety six, which was called the Compassionate Use Act, which again has that that sense of sympathy and compassion and love and its very title.
And, you know, this unleashes a wave of additional legislation to the point where now I think thirty three states have medical marijuana laws with more poised to pass in coming years.
Yeah, it is amazing just how quickly that happened. You know, going from the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 to the Compassionate Use Act in 1996.
Yes, absolutely. And it's funny because, you know, you're talking about this shift in 86 and 96. I always sort of see it in these 10 year, 10 year phases 76, the parent movement forums, 86, Anti-Drug Abuse Act passes, 96 medical marijuana passes. It's like every year there's something about the six years where things change.
But but it's absolutely due to a growing recognition of.
The value the drug could provide for individuals. I mean, you know, everyone knows someone who has cancer. And I think it was also a byproduct of, wow, we passed this incredibly fierce legislation in nineteen eighty six against cannabis, but also lots of other drugs.
And the effects were ultimately quite minimal.
I mean, the idea of incarcerating individuals for something didn't obviously stop its use.
I think that was quite apparent across the United States.
And suddenly you had more people knowing someone who had been negatively affected by drug laws then who had been benefited by them. And there is this shift of like, wait a second, this isn't working. And, you know, this drug could help my mom, who has you know, she's going through chemotherapy and she's sick all the time. This could help my grandpa who has glaucoma. This could help my friends. You know, this could help this could help people I know and love.
And as soon as that shift occurs where drug use is seen as sympathetic rather than criminal, laws change always. Right, and then as soon as you get into recreational, there's also all that tax money that you can get from from selling this stuff. The story is always about money, isn't it? Yeah, well, our roads are crumbling. Our schools are failing.
What can we do? We can sell pot. Of course we can. All of our problems will be solved.
And it is it is fascinating.
I mean, the money is a big driver. But but I think what's also driving the passage of all these legalization laws is something that we had discussed a little bit earlier, which is social justice. I mean, when you have very clear statistics saying that, you know, people of color in the United States are incarcerated far more often and far more regularly and for far greater periods of time for the use of this substance than white individuals, whereas people of color and white individuals use pot at pretty much the exact same rates.
That's a problem. Right.
And it also has made state legislatures work a little bit harder to pass these laws. So I think New York is already working on expunging previous marijuana violations from people's criminal records, which is which is an incredibly important part of, I think, social justice ideas. They're trying to ensure that people who benefit most from what will what they predict to be will will be growing and booming industries are not just like white dudes in suits the way it often has been in places like California and stuff like that.
The other corporatization of the cannabis industry.
Precisely, you know, and they're trying to ensure that the tax dollars go to the right places there.
You know, it is really difficult to take a formerly black market market product, make it legal, do it right, and incorporate our growing awareness of the effects of racism on public policy that has been so clearly demonstrated and shown over the over the past couple of years through, you know, a public policy papers and scholarship and academic research and all of that. It's you know, it's a perfect storm of trying to really, I don't know, solve a lot of the nation's problems and and counteract a lot of the the nation's previous mistakes through laws surrounding just this one little this one little plant.
You know, it's a lot to put on poor little pot, you know.
Yeah, well, and there's still so many issues. As long as cannabis remains a schedule one substance at the federal level.
I know when you published Grass Roots, you had a very strong warning at the end that, you know, don't take any of this for granted.
We've seen reversals in the past, you know, with the parent movement a couple of years later looking at the current atmosphere in the United States.
What what are what are your feelings now about federal either decriminalization or just legalization? Yeah, hard.
Hard to say. I've never I've never been much of an oracle. I've never been much of a predictor of the future. Better looking at the past.
But I remain hesitant to assume that the road to outright legalization and rescheduling the drug will be in any way simple because. Well, I mean, similar to similar to when state based decriminalization laws in the 1970s were starting to be passed. There wasn't a lot of federal interest because there was so much else going on.
And right now there's a lot happening at the federal level that is really taking legislators attention away from something like like pot.
How the federal government functions and if the drug were to be rescheduled is an incredibly convoluted and complicated process that would require congressional approval and the participation of numerous federal agencies, including the DEA, the FDA, Health and Human Services, numerous others, to kind of get on and say, OK, well, that's not going to be a schedule one. What is isn't going to be what is this mean? How do we move it? You know, if all the states are doing this, there's so much work that goes into it.
It's it's not just like you wave a wand and boom, everything's done. It's hard.
And this is this is both the benefit with checks and balances, but also the complication of having this very convoluted form of government that we have.
Well, as you mentioned earlier, I hope you do write a follow up.
Oh, thanks. Tell that to tell that to editors who want to give me very large advances and I'll do it.
That was drug historian and writer Emily Dustan. You can find out more about her work at her website. Emily Duffed in Dotcom. Thanks for listening to our second bonus episode from. More about this series, Visit the Syndicate podcast, Dotcom, The Syndicate is a co-production of Imperative Entertainment and Fox to link. Executive producer is Jason Hoak, produced and edited by Laura Krantz and Scott Carney. The syndicate scored and mixed by Louis Weekes. I'm your host and creator, Chris Walker.
And if you've enjoyed our show, please leave us a review wherever you get your podcasts. It really helps more people find out about our show. As promised, here's a preview of Wild Things Space Invaders, but don't forget, you can listen to episodes right now by subscribing on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. Here's the trailer.
Space is big. You could say it's astronomically large, and if out there among all those galaxies and stars and planets, there wasn't some kind of life. Well, that seems like a waste of space. But then again, if it is full of life, then where is everybody? Who else shares our universe? What are they like? Do they know about us?
A lot of people are trying to answer these questions from the ufologists who dig deep into the events in Roswell, Roswell, and certainly become a household word that clearly is synonymous with government cover up and crashed UFO to the military pilots who see strange objects hurtling through the air at supersonic speeds. A lot of people in the Navy have stories like this going back decades. So this is a pretty normal Kurd's to see strange things in the sky to the radio astronomers searching for signals from intelligent civilizations.
So we're looking out there to see if we can find any radio signals, any optical signals, anything that might indicate that would tell us that someone else is using a technology and the astrobiologists trying to figure out just what life is. But it may be that life is something different than that than what we have now. And you can be searching for a long time for something. You don't know what it is. As different as all these people see, they're all connected by a question we've been asking ourselves forever.
Are we really alone? So this season, we turn our eyes skyward wildly. Space Invaders, the search for extraterrestrial life arriving on Earth in September.
Twenty twenty, subscribe at Apple podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or anywhere you listen to good stories.