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Victims vs. Predators: American Attitudes Towards Drugs

When do we start to care about drugs? By this, I mean at what point do we take action when it comes to drugs? I’m sure that we have all heard of our current opioid epidemic and the movements to combat it. The massive upsurge in drug overdoses that we have seen in the past few as mobilized many to discuss how the nation will combat this issue. Or, maybe you have heard of South Dakota’s nearly $500,000 ad campaign designed to bring awareness to the state’s meth crisis. So, what stirred people into action? In both of these cases, it was children.

 If we look at Matthew Lassiter’s Impossible Criminals: The Suburban Imperative of America’s War on Drugs, we can see this pretty clearly. In this article, Lassiter begins by talking about an event in the late 1990s where fourteen white high school and college students in Texas died of a heroin overdose. This was followed by an explosion of news reports detailing those who overdosed as “tragic victims” of a new drug crisis (Lassiter 126). This narrative of the victimization of children as the targets of drugs is one of the largest sustaining factors of the war on drugs.

 But children are by no means the only motivator. In Lassiter’s piece, we see the news narrative of the deaths in Texas shift from focusing on the victims to focus on the Mexican drug lords who were “calculated and cold-blooded” (Lassiter 126) in their actions. This is the other major motivator for drug policy; race. Lassiter also points to the example of the “crack epidemic” in which we see a large disparity between how white suburban “victims” and minority urban “predators” were viewed. At this time, there was a huge disparity between the sentences for crack and cocaine with a 100-to-1 ratio. This means that 500 grams of cocaine, what white suburban kids predominately used, was seen as equivalent to 5 grams of crack, what urban minorities predominantly used, in the eyes of the law (Lassiter 138). This, Lassiter suggests, clearly shows just how deeply entrenched in American ideals these concepts are.

 This is something we see much earlier in history as well. In Courtwright’s The Hidden Epidemic: Opiate and Cocaine Use in the South. In this, Courtwright focuses on the analysis of the documentation of drug use in the south to examine trends. Courtwright argues that the drug most used by black people. Whether or not this was true, it certainly was perceived to be true at the time and from this came the concept of the black cocaine users who would go on rampages while on cocaine. While this was not true, this narrative was a major motivator for the drug reform that led to cocaine becoming illegal.

 Courtwright by no means argues this in his writing, however, but with Lassiter’s article in mind, this becomes particularly clear. This is the biggest difference between these two articles. Lassiter goes through his article with a clear argument and perspective in mind and provides substantial information that backs his argument up. Courtwright on the other hand, while he is arguing a narrative it fails to really go beyond “this is what happened”. This is not to say all of the pieces for a more argumentative article are not there it is just that Courtwright chooses to attempt to remain relatively neutral. Because of this, I find Lassiter’s article significantly more impactful as it provides a clear perspective which I think we need more of. We all have a decent amount of information on drugs and their history, but we are lacking in conversations on what to do about it and that is a conversation that needs to be had if we are to ever hope for any sort of progress.

 All of the events in Courtwright’s article occurred in the late 1800s and early 1900s, nearly 100 years before the events of Lassiter’s article. To me, this clearly shows that the connection between drugs and race in America should not be a point of contention. There are years of history that supports this idea. What we should worry about is why? And how can we stop it? All of this really just shows how little our attitudes towards drugs have changed despite over 100 years pass.

Industrialization’s Effect on Drug and Alcohol Consumption in America

Over the course of American history, the United States and its inhabitants, on the whole, have largely and steadily gotten richer, save for a few blips and brief economic downturns like the Civil War, the Great Depression, and the Great Recession of 2008. In The Alcoholic Republic’s chapter 5, “Anxieties of Their Condition,” W.J. Rorabaugh notes that in America (and around the world, for that matter) around the time of the Industrial Revolution, a drastic social and economic class shift began which impacted patterns of drug and alcohol use.

With the Industrial Revolution came the growth of cities, westward migration, and a rapid population boom. Rorabaugh notes that new “middle class” positions, like clergy, schoolteachers, apprentices, and urbanites were all more susceptible to alcohol (and to a lesser extent) drug use. Even before the Industrial Revolution, with the rise of trade between Europe, Asia, and particularly the New World, drugs and alcohol flowed between both continents. Earlier in the book, Rorabaugh devotes several chapters to examining Revolutionary-era America’s patterns of alcohol consumption, which were largely equal to or exceeded Europe’s consumption levels, primarily due to America’s heavy production and drinking of hard, grain-based liquors.

Economically, the theory that as wealth increases drug and alcohol use increases makes sense. Just like with any “luxury” good, as people’s general and disposable incomes rise, their means to purchase and consume previously extraneous goods increases. In other words, people who have never used drugs or alcohol before, but have satisfied their basic needs—food, water, shelter, etc.—might have a higher propensity to experiment with drug and/or alcohol use than those who are just trying to simply survive.

Unfortunately, due to slavery and racism, people of color largely did not enjoy the immediate overall upward shift from the Industrial Revolution. As such, users of drugs and alcohol in the 1800s and into the early 1900s tended not to be African American, but rather white and middle or upper class. Thus, at least in this period of American history, substances were not really consumed by the poor, but rather the rich.

The graph above, which includes data from Our World in Data, shows that U.S. GDP per capita has steadily increased since 1820.

America’s “second industrialization,” World War II, also spurred drug and alcohol use and manufacturing. In Happy Pills in America: From Miltown to Prozac, David Herzberg notes the WWII drug boom, including increased use of opiates, antibiotics, the polio vaccine, and the start of anti-depressants.

Rorabaugh’s Alcohol Republic and David Herzberg’s Happy Pills in America: From Miltown to Prozac are two very different sources. Rorabaugh focusses almost exclusively on alcohol in a broad time period. On the other hand, Herzberg is looking more at prescription drugs (particularly anti-depressants) and their origins and sustained growing popularity from the time they were invented until now. However, taken together, they both explain, in general, that throughout multiple points in American history, when wealth broadly increases, so does substance use.

Generally speaking, similar trends of economic stability also correspond to the growth of marijuana consumption. During the 1950s and the early 60s (post-WWII and pre-Vietnam), overall economic growth in America was high (i.e. baby boomer generation). Not surprisingly, around the same time, marijuana started to come into the mainstream, setting the stage for its astronomical rise in the counterculture of the Vietnam War era and beyond.

Because the U.S. continues to amass per capita wealth today at an all-time high rate, it is plausible to assume that an increase in substance use will follow. Perhaps the modern opioid epidemic or the push for marijuana legalization are products of such wealth. (Think how many middle- and upper-class citizens there are for legalized marijuana businesses to market towards). Similarly, in other parts of the world, particularly those still developing economically, it would not surprise me if a similar trend occurs, increasing the global drug supply—for better or for worse.

Effects of Classism and Racism on the Prohibition Era

‘You cannot make your shimmy shake on tea. It simply can’t be done. You’ll find your shaking ain’t taking, unless you has the proper jazz, that only comes with such drinks as The Green River, Haig, and Hennessy’. This tune grapples with the tragic sentiment felt by many Americans after the passing of the Eighteenth Amendment in January of 1919 which prohibited the sale, manufacture, and transportation of intoxicating liquors. Musicians of the 1920’s found great popularity and fame by drawing on this perceived loss for artistic inspiration. Other industries such as advertising and film making industry expressed popular discontent with the novel social expectations. For this musician, the greatest drawback to the Prohibition movement was seemingly the inability to ‘shake your shimmy’ under the influence of lemonade and tea. However, many took more serious action in response to this drastic change and ultimately succeeded in escalating the end of this era. Ironically, this period much intended to be a dry spell for America is commonly termed the ‘Roaring 20s’ marked by numerous clubs and speakeasies, decorated with an emerging Jazz culture, and an eagerness to renounce the government’s imposed moral code. 

It is important to note however, that when considering this exciting culture of nightlife and rebellion, all social and racial groups took part. Often times, the acknowledgement that the Prohibition movement was in response to a growing class of drinking immigrants is not accompanied with the fact that many Americans actually participated in drinking culture just as much. Prohibition and temperance is often presented by historians as a movement primarily of the middle class seeking to establish respectability amongst a growing class of immigrants. Several analyses go as far as to hypothesize that before the passing of the eighteenth amendment, there was an inverse relationship between the likelihood that a county would have a prohibition policy and the size of the low income population and/or the African American population.[i]While this relationship may have some accuracy, it is not to be concluded that in general, the ‘urban’ class dominated the drinking scene. Language used in the year prior to the passing of the Eighteenth Amendment by the Anti-Saloon League and other Prohibitionists also suggests that the middle class were expected to uphold these principles of moral responsibility. Ultimately this rhetoric implicates the lower-income class and ethnic groups as being the primary target by law enforcement and consequently responsible for the ultimate failure of the Prohibition Era. 

Ironically, however, after the passing of the Eighteenth Amendment, prohibitionists struggled to enforce the law in large part because they had overestimated middle class morale, especially in New York. The Mediaindulged the public in images of middle class drinking promoting the idea that there was ‘respectable drinking.’[ii]Of course under the Volstead Act, actually having a drink was not considered illegal, but this behavior increased the demand for speakeasies and other avenues that sold and distributed liquor. Dry officials who denounced the media and these citizens for failing to set the standard for non-Americans further prove the classist and racist undertones of the Prohibition movement. Lerner points out in Dry Manhattan a quote from Federal Prohibition Commissioner Roy Haynes: Of them [middle class citizens] much is expected, for they represent the very best in American Traditions, and the nation naturally looks upon them as representative of the finest in American life. Non-observance [of Prohibition laws] on their part makes it easier for the foreigner unfamiliar with our customs and ideals, to violate the law.[iii]  These undertones of racism were so apparent at the time that ethnic groups took notice of them and interpreted them as such. 

In the African American community for example, many perceived partaking in Prohibition as an opportunity to gain social ascension and status within white America. They wanted to distinguish themselves from this false narrative that immigrants and the lower class were destructive to the American way of life. Of course considering the historical racial climate in the country, they saw this as an opportunity for change. This was particularly clear in Harlem as the Amsterdam News, the leading black paper at the time, advocated for these notions that African Americans should aim to ‘demonstrate the respectability of their race to the rest of the nation.[iv] 

Unfortunately for the dry African Americans, the contrary was true. In examining New York nightlife and the participation of the middle-class elite and federal officials in the drinking culture, it becomes clear that the notion of temperance as a respectable middle class value was a myth. In fact, the behavior of lawmakers and federal officials alone illuminates just how hypocritical the Prohibition movement was. In 1930, just 3 years before the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment, George L Cassiday, better known as ‘The Man in the Green Hat,’ was arrested on charges of distributing liquor to the House and the Senate for five years.[v]  In other words, he was the Hill’s official bootlegger. Although Cassiday never published the list of individuals, he did write several articles for the Washington Post after the fact detailing his clientele and admitting to helping ‘80% of lawmakers’ break the law, many of whom voted in favor of Prohibition.[vi]He even details that after he was barred from the House office building, he began serving the Senate instead who were more careful. Many of whom would keep their illegal stash on a bookshelf next to the Congressional Record!’[vii]It can be hypothesized from incidents such as this that federal officials’ disregard for Prohibition sent several messages to the public: One message being that the Prohibitionists movement was inherently hypocritical and that notions of middle class respectability and traditional American values never existed. From this it can also be concluded that such public behavior from these groups contributed to further dismantling any respect for Prohibition laws. 

Appointed district attorney of New York, Emory Buckner, demonstrated an extreme disinterest and unconcern for the moral obligations being demanded by the Prohibition laws in an interview with The New Yorker. Buckner was the same district attorney to launched an entire camp to revamp the way that New York enforced Prohibition. This involved targeting speakeasy establishments as a whole by padlocking them shut as opposed to the prior used method of conducting federal raids and arresting only the proprietors and waitresses.[viii]When pressed about his stance on the moral obligation of Prohibition Buckner explicitly stated that he only cared for it as a legal problem and did not find fault in a man who chose to drink. He says, ‘such a man is dissatisfied with a particular condition imposed upon him by society.’ Buckner goes on to admit in this same interview that the last day he had a drink or ‘went on the wagon’ was January 26, 1925, when he was appointed to DA: approximately 5 years after Prohibition laws went into effect.[ix] This announcement blatantly undermined the Anti-Saloons notion that upper-middle class Americans would carry this moral burden and set a sophisticated example for the rest of the world. For this statement, Buckner was criticized by the Anti-Saloon League’s lead counsel Wayne Wheeler for allowing New Yorkers to ‘drink without reprisal’ and was also rebuked by the then President, Calvin Coolidge.[x] 

Beyond underestimating public morale for prohibition, classist and racist motivations also made federal officials less prepared to enforce the laws. Specifically, in New York, federal officials had to reorganize enforcement strategies because the courts could not process the amount of cases that were developing each day. In fact, it was not until the courts realized the influence that middle class America had on the working class did they begin to target the ‘respectable’ drinking spots in Manhattan’s theater district as opposed to the working class saloons. Even this proved ineffective however as citizens came up with devious ways to avoid federal raids, notably the hidden chutes that allowed patrons to dispose of liquor the basement. Enforcement agents were then forced to divert their attention once again to closing down speakeasies as a whole rather than targeting a few bartenders here and there.[xi] Of course, the pockets and influence of speakeasy patrons was also underestimated as many clubs simply reopened at other locations or even implemented a back entrance after padlocks were imposed.

Individuals of all social and racial groups defied the law: in extremely unique ways. Beyond raiding the typical image of a speakeasy as a club or organizes establishments, enforcement agents also targeted apartments as many individuals set up parties out of their own homes. One unique case described a ‘portable speakeasy’ which was characterized as ‘a roving speakeasy with no bar other than the rim of a gallon jug and no whiskey glasses.’[xii]Customers were charged thirty cents a drink which simply translated into being served the largest gulp they could take at one time. This incident is simply representative of the measures many would take to break the law. We can conclude that this was exacerbated by the strong allure of drinking culture that the middle class painted in the media, ultimately weakening the overall effect of prohibition officers. This was reiterated by many dry critics at the time who admitted that these images ‘encouraged disrespect for the noble experiment.”[xiii] After his district attorney appointment, Buckner criticized the government for not truly trying to enforce Prohibition. He says the government needed to pay its enforcement agents a living wage as the current income of $1800 a year was not enough to live in New York.[xiv]Adjusted for inflation to indicate annual revenue of today, prohibition enforcement agents were paid roughly $27,000 per year. Buckner stated this all while referring to the individuals who crafted the Eighteenth Amendment as ‘zealots. In 1931, the Commission on Prohibition Enforcement evaluated the incidents and updates of enforcement strategies at the time and despite the failure of such strategies, stood firm in opposing the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. In this same report, however, they acknowledged that ‘the support of public opinion in the several states is necessary to ensure such cooperation.’[xv]

What this ultimately suggests contrary to past and even present beliefs concerning the behavior of minority and low-income groups is that the white middle class partook just as much in this seemingly immoral behavior as any other group in America. Consequently, the perception that alcohol consumption was a shift away from traditional American values can also be considered false as it was representative of a very small portion of the country. This false perception about the middle class and minority groups undoubtedly shaped legislation concerning Prohibition and can even be argued to have the same effect with other drugs such as Marijuana in modern day. The American Civil Liberties Union reports that marijuana use today is roughly equal between blacks and whites, however; Blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for possession.[xvi]Meanwhile, just last year, a Republican state senator inaccurately blamed African Americans for the passing of drug laws in the 1930’s: “What you really need to do is go back in the ’30s and when they outlawed all types of drugs in Kansas [and] across the United States. What was the reason why they did that? One of the reasons why — I hate to say it — it’s the African Americans, they were basically users and they basically responded the worst off those drugs just because their character makeup, their genetics, and that.”[xvii]What has happened historically and what is even happening today is that a misconception regarding who in America is utilizing drugs and for what purposes is influencing what legislation is created, and how it is enforced. The Prohibition era proved to have racist and classist motivations by presuming that the middle class were morally superior or in layman’s terms ‘better than’ other class and immigrant groups. This ultimately influenced how the city prepared to handle enforcement and contributed to the city’s initial struggle to enforce the law. Debunking myths about drug use can potentially contribute to more efficient legislation in the future. 

[i]Frendreis, John, and Raymond Tatalovich. “”A Hundred Miles of Dry”: Religion and the Persistence of Prohibition in the U.S. States.” State Politics & Policy Quarterly10, no. 3 (2010): 302-19.

[ii]Lerner, Michael A. Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2007 (148-170).

[iii]Ibid, 151.

[iv]Ibid, 201. 

[v]Wheeler, Linda. “The Day it Poured: Just 60 Short Years Ago, the Ban on Booze in D.C. was about to be Lifted.” The Washington Post (1974-Current File),Feb 27, 1994. edu/docview/750835381?accountid=10747.

[vi]Roller Emma. “Meet the Man Who Got Congress Its Booze During Prohibition.” The Atlantic. 11 Apr 2014.

[vii]Kelly, John. “Congress Winks at Prohibition in Bootlegger’s Tale.” The Washington Post. Washington: 27 Apr 2009. https://search-proquest-com.proxy.library.emory. edu/docview/1944021375/D72BF94DE4F54E27PQ/6?accountid=10747

[viii]Lerner, Dry Manhattan, 154. 

[ix]Markey, Morris. ‘Mr. Buckner Explains.’ The New Yorker. November 14, 1925.

[x]Lerner, Dry Manhattan, 155.

[xi]Ibid, 153

[xii]“Portable Speakeasy Operated by Pair at Rockaway Beach Uncovered by Cop: Their Bar was a 

Gallon Jug, and Whiskey Glasses were Customers’ “Guzzles”–Wares 30 Cents for a Swallow.” The New York Amsterdam News (1922-1938), Jul 29, 1931. docview/226277963?accountid=10747.

[xiii]Lerner, Dry Manhattan, 151. 

[xiv]Markey, Mr. Buckner Explains.

[xv]Sawyer, Albert E. “Report on the Enforcement of the Prohibition Laws of the United

States: Comment.” Michigan Law Review 30, no. 1 (1931): 7-37. doi:10.2307/1280632.

[xvi]‘The War on Marijuana in Black and White.’ American Civil Liberties Union. June 2013.

[xvii]Lopez, German. ‘A Republican Lawmaker blamed marijuana use by black people on ‘character makeup’ and ‘geneticts.’ Vox.9 Jan 2018.

Sex for Crack

The crack epidemic sparked the sex-for-crack phenomenon. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was very common for women to sell their bodies in exchange for money that they could use to
buy drugs, or even to sell their bodies in exchange for drugs directly. The most common drug exchanged for sex was crack, as opposed to cocaine.[i] According to American Addiction Centers, “Cocaine is a hydrochloride salt in its powdered form, while crack
cocaine is derived from powdered cocaine by combining it with water and another substance, usually baking soda (sodium bicarbonate).”[ii] The effects of smoking crack are instant, more intense, and last a shorter amount of time than snorting or injecting cocaine. The fact that the drug takes effect quickly and does not last too long can cause people to want to smoke more often to be high for longer periods of time leading to dependency. Crack is also sold much cheaper than cocaine.[iii] This is why crack is most often found in low-income neighborhoods, which mostly consist of people of color. This meant that more African Americans were selling their bodies for drugs, and studies by Robert Schilling and Dana E. Hunt show that this was mostly the case for African-American women specifically. The ties between women and motherhood in American society and the combination of sex and crack brought on the fear of “crack babies.” There is no medical condition that can be called “crack baby,” but people were concerned for children exposed to crack.[iv] Sex work is a consequence of drug addiction and low social economic class, which impacted African-American women most during the crack epidemic.

Ellen Mitchell’s New York Times article from 1990 shows how people viewed the connection between crack and prostitution at the time. According to the article, most prostitutes were addicted to crack in that time period and engaged in sex work on their own, without pimps. The tone of the article seems judgmental, “While yesterday’s call girls worked with a fair degree of discretion and usually behind closed doors, today’s genre are freewheeling streetwalkers who flag down cars by lifting their miniskirts still higher and smiling or sticking their tongues out at commuters leaving railroad stations.”[v] The author made it sound like women were selling their bodies for fun rather than painting them as victims of an addiction. The head of the Suffolk Police Narcotics Enforcement Team states, “As much as they earn, they spend it almost immediately on drugs. They are serious crack addicts.”[vi] According to the article, when crack began making its way into suburbs in the late 1980s, prostitution arrests in Suffolk County’s five westernmost towns immediately spiked by over a hundred arrests. This shows the connection between sex work and crack.

The newspaper article includes a testimony by a sex worker, Darlene, who did not use crack. She claimed that women that did use crack did not charge much for their sex work, and she confirmed that they immediately spent their earnings on crack. She also stated that they did not have a set schedule like she did. This shows that these women were not focused on sex work for money in general but for crack and, likely, worked when they needed more drugs. Darlene judged the women based on appearance and insinuated that she was a professional, while they were not. According to Goldstein’s review of Crack Pipe as Pimp: An Ethnographic Investigation of Sex-for-Crack Exchanges, “Prostitutes who accept cash for sex, and then buy their crack, have higher status than women who exchange sex for crack directly.”[vii]Darlene may have had more respect for the women she mentions as spending their money on crack than those that received crack for their services; however, she knew they would instantly spend the money on drugs, which was almost as if they were just selling their bodies for the drug directly. Therefore, Goldstein supports Darlene’s account of the other women as having lower status. Goldstein also included that most of the women in their samples tend to be “poor, female, African-American, homeless, powerless, and frequently high-school droupouts.”[viii] This supports the common demographic of the sex-for-crack phenomenon being low-income, African-American women.

O’Daniel’s book Hold On includes a section about a woman named Chantelle, which she categorizes as a “vulnerable woman” due to her low-income and health status. She says Chantelle began using drugs early in life, and she had a low income and was eventually homeless. Her drug addiction got worse, and she sold and traded sex to pay for drugs.[ix] Like many others, Chantelle began drug use before prostitution; therefore, prostitution was not the reason for her drug use. She was low-income and used prostitution to support her drug use.

The 1992 national report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics explains that prostitution was commonly used to generate income for drug use. Page 7 shows that Drug Use Forecasting reported in 1990 that 81% of females that were arrested for prostitution in 21 cities and 49% of males in 23 cities tested positive for drug use.[x] The page states, “prostitution is sometimes used to support drug use,” introducing the idea that prostitution was used as a means to support drug habits in the 1990s.[xi] The BJS report claims, “Users may resort to prostitution or increase their activity when drug dealing activities are disrupted or drug prices rise…the national TOPS study of people in drug abuse treatment in 1979-81 found that daily users of heroin or cocaine were more likely than other types of drug users to report income from crime.”[xii] During the crack epidemic there was an influx of crack in low-income areas, and the demand spiked up prices. Because of this, low-income people had to find a way to generate more money to pay for it, and many resorted to prostitution. The report states, “Drug users sometimes barter sex for drugs and may not consider it to be prostitution. Sex for crack exchanges seem especially frequent.” Because it was not considered prostitution, this establishes sex work as a way of income specifically for drugs rather than a crime in and of itself, which is how it was being used. This also emphasizes how common it was.

According to pages 43-45 of Prevalence of Drug Use in the DC Metropolitan Area Adult and Juvenile Offender Populations, 1991, randomly selected adult respondents convicted of  a crime said the drug most often sold was crack and “one in three respondents traded drugs for sex.”[xiii] Of those that traded drugs for sex, the drug they received in exchange tended to be crack (80.7%).[xiv] According to pages 97-98, when it came to convicted incarcerated juvenile offenders, more than one in three respondents engaged in a trade of sex for drugs, and “Again crack was the drug traded for sex almost exclusively.” [xv] This is because 97.9% of those that traded sex for drugs only traded it for one drug, and 93.6% of trades were for crack cocaine specifically. Cantor states, “This was the most specialized activity with respect to type of drug.”[xvi] The most common way to acquire drugs based on the study of juveniles was by trading sex. It was also the case that young people specialized in crack more than adults. 

Schilling’s study shows that it was more likely for African-American women to engage in sex for drugs than other women. It was a voluntary study in New York City, but of the 105 incarcerated women that met the criteria for the study, 104 participated.[xvii] Therefore, there does not seem to be much bias based on who participated. The study found that those who traded sex were less likely to be white.[xviii] However, there were fewer white females incarcerated. This may have skewed the results. 

Most of the respondents in Schilling’s study were African-American, and the majority of respondents also used crack daily. According to the study, crack has increased the rate of sexual encounters for money and cocaine. One reason they think this may be the case is because an addict can go through 10-20 hits of crack a day, which means they need more money more often to buy more.[xix] Hunt states in her ethnographic research, “The prostitute samples available to researchers and represented in these studies are of street level or lower status, often minority prostitutes who are more likely to be drug users than the more costly call girls.”[xx] This study insinuates that more women of color are available to researchers because women of color more often have this experience. This explains why the majority of respondents to Schilling’s study were African-American women.

In the chapter “Life Story: Michelle Riddle (grad. 2003)” of Sacred Shelter: Thirteen Journeys of Homelessness and Healing, Riddle tells her story as an African-American woman that became addicted to crack. She got addicted to crack in 1987 after being introduced to it by her husband, Darnell, who was already an addict. In page 115, because she realizes that he was selling their groceries to get money to feed his addiction, she tells him instead, “Go sell yourself.”[xxi] This demonstrates that it was known and common for people to sell their bodies for drugs. Later, in page 117, she is homeless. She needs money and does not want to steal; therefore, she says “The only thing I had to offer people was me, and that’s what I did.”[xxii] She recognized that she was poor and addicted to drugs, so she engaged in sex work in order to afford her addiction, like she had suggested Darnell do. This shows that for Riddle, sex work was a result of her drug addiction. 

Before becoming homeless and making her addiction to crack her main focus, Riddle gave two of her children to their father and one of them to Darnell’s mother in order to give them a better life. However, as a result of exchanging sex for drugs after this, Riddle became pregnant two separate times. She left both babies in the hospital after giving birth because she felt that she was not equipped to care for them given her addiction and economic status.[xxiii] Riddle did what she thought was best as a mother and crack addict.

Because of the discourse that ties women to motherhood in American society, it is important to note this aspect of how women addicted to crack were viewed at the time. According to DuRose’s chapter “Research Context” in The Governance of Female Drug Users: Women’s Experiences of Drug Policy, in the 1980s and 1990s, American society was very concerned for the wellbeing of babies with mothers addicted to crack. She states, “In 1985 a case study by Ira Chasnoff in the US, which reported the damaging effects of cocaine use during pregnancy set off a massive media response and a subsequent moral panic about an epidemic of ‘crack babies’ in the US.”[xxiv] People were afraid that babies would be harmed by mothers using crack and deemed it a choice. However, they did not publicize the impact that resources had on harming babies to the extent that they publicized drug use. DuRose explains that it is the social meaning of drugs that provoked this response not science. She says that according to NAPW, a fetus is not necessarily harmed by exposure to a drug, nor does that exposure cause a person to function differently in society biologically. Rather, as supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Recent research highlights the multiple determinants of poor maternal [and birth] outcomes, including the amount and number of all drugs used, poverty, poor nutrition, homelessness, lack of prenatal care, domestic violence and other health conditions.”[xxv] This research shows that due to societal meanings attributed to crack, women who are mothers and use the drug are often judged by their impact on the baby directly for drug use and its chemical effects. It is not considered that women who use crack also tend to have a lack of resources, which harms the baby. This relates to how due to the combination of using crack and having a lack of resources, women sell their bodies. 

Essentially, in the 1980s and 1990s, sex work was commonly a result of drug addiction, mostly among African-American women and specifically for crack. O’Daniel and Riddle provide accounts of women who were using prostitution for drug use, not drug use for prostitution. These women were having sex for money to buy drugs. The 1992 national report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and Prevalence of Drug Use in the DC Metropolitan Area Adult and Juvenile Offender Populations, 1991 explain that sometimes people would sell their bodies directly for drugs, usually crack. Schilling and Hunt explained that people who did exchange sex for drugs, whether it was for money to buy it or for drugs directly, were generally African-American women. Women who engaged in sex work to support their drug addiction were viewed as loose prostitutes as shown by Mitchell’s New York article. Because they were dependent on drugs, they were viewed as unprofessional by other sex workers. Because they were tied to motherhood by American society, the US government viewed them as “irresponsible” and “unfit mothers.” Not all African-American women participating in the sex-for-crack phenomenon were mothers, but this was the focus for the US government and media for those that were. Crack use usually meant users were low-income; thus, lacking resources to maintain the health of their babies. It is because of the combination of drug use and low social economic status that many African-American women sold their bodies for sex in the 1980s and 1990s.

[i] David Cantor, Prevalence of Drug Use in the DC Metropolitan Area Adult and Juvenile Offender Populations, 1991. (Rockville, Md. (5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville 20857) :, 1996),

[ii] “What Is Crack Cocaine?: Differences Between Crack and Cocaine,” accessed December 5, 2019,

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Natasha Du Rose, “Research Context,” in The Governance of Female Drug Users, 1st ed., Women’s Experiences of Drug Policy (Bristol University Press, 2015), 20,

[v] Ellen Mitchell, “Crack Addiction Is Forcing Prostitutes Onto the Streets,” The New York Times, February 18, 1990, sec. New York,

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Paul Goldstein, “Crack Pipe as Pimp: An Ethnographic Investigation of Sex-for-Crack Exchanges,” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs25, no. 3 (July 1, 1993): 268,

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Alyson O’Daniel, “Urban Poverty Three Ways,” in Holding On, African American Women Surviving HIV/AIDS (University of Nebraska Press, 2016), 81,

[x] Drugs, Crime, and the Justice System :A National Report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. (Washington, D.C. :, 1992),

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Cantor, Prevalence of Drug Use in the DC Metropolitan Area Adult and Juvenile Offender Populations, 1991.

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] Ibid., 97.

[xvi] Ibid., 98.

[xvii] Robert Schilling et al., “Sexual Risk Behavior of Incarcerated, Drug-Using Women, 1992,” Public Health Reports (1974-) 109, no. 4 (1994): 540.

[xviii] Ibid., 544.

[xix] Ibid., 545.

[xx] Dana E. Hunt, “Drugs and Consensual Crimes: Drug Dealing and Prostitution,” Crime and Justice 13 (1990): 193.

[xxi] Michelle Riddle, “Life Story:,” in Sacred Shelter, ed. SUSAN CELIA GREENFIELD, 1st ed., Thirteen Journeys of Homelessness and Healing (Fordham University, 2019), 115,

[xxii] Ibid., 117.

[xxiii] Ibid., 120.

[xxiv] Du Rose, “Research Context,” 19.

[xxv] Ibid., 20.

FROM OVERWHELMING MEDICINAL SUCCESS TO BROKEN BUREAUCRACY: An Evaluation of California’s Marijuana Policy Following Proposition 64.

Since World War II, California has dominated the culture, politics, and industry surrounding cannabis in America. From transforming the popular connotation around the drug to establishing a successful medical marijuana apparatus in 1996, the state has played a foundational role in the drug’s identity today. Following several failed attempts, and policy concerns such as regulatory capture and dependency exploitation, Californians approved Proposition 64 in 2016, legalizing the drug’s sale and consumption. Three years later, this analysis compiles evidence of successes and failures across the legal market; including the issues arising from the federal government’s problematic position, the inaction around marijuana-related incarceration, an unfairly distributed regulatory apparatus, suffocating compounding taxation, and decentralized political power. The cannabis industry in California today is characterized by underwhelming tax revenue for the government, racial justice frustration, a rapidly deteriorating small grower class, and a thriving black market. This analysis culminates with ten policy recommendations to ameliorate California’s marijuana policy and improve outcomes across the nascent industry.




            Since the days of the Counter-Culture movement, California has been at the forefront of the Cannabis Movement, providing the cultural, political and economic foundation for future social progress across the country. Today, the cannabis industry in California represents millions of jobs, serves tens of millions of Americans, and circulates billions of dollars. The Drug Enforcement Administration estimated that 70% of the nation’s cannabis supply comes from California[1]. Despite not being the first state to legalize, many more reluctant states are observing California and its marijuana policy and the transition to legalization due to the state immense size and importance. Three years since Proposition 64 passed legalizing marijuana, legal and safe marijuana has become available to many Californians, however policy failures across all levels of government have demonstrated the detriment of poorly-designed policy. This analysis finds that California has failed to curtail the marijuana black market due a myriad of factors; including inadequate market access, over-taxation, burdensome regulations, and federal hypocrisy. Cumulatively these miscalculations have resulted in the California’s legal market representing only about 20% of all the marijuana purchased in the state and many small growers returning to the black market.




            The state of California’s modern regulatory history with cannabis began in response to the counter-cultural movement of the 1960’s. Partially a result of the drug’s widespread and overt use by otherwise law-abiding citizens (specifically white suburban teenagers) and through the efforts of libertarian organizations such as NORML[2], cannabis was decriminalized with the 1975 Moscone Act[3]. Decriminalization would present one of many examples in American history of framing identity shaping government policy. Post-war California exemplified what Courtwright labels the Marijuana Complex, as cannabis was perceived entirely as a recreational and hedonistic drug[4]. This connotation ultimately doomed early legalization efforts, such as Proposition 19 in 1972. Despite early political setbacks, the counterculture movement establishes California as the cannabis cultivation and ingestion capital of the United States.

            During the 1980’s and the explosive HIV epidemic, the public perception of marijuana began to shift from a purely hedonistic, counterculture drug to an innocent remedy with untapped medicinal potential. This shift is largely attributed to rising visibility of HIV-positive gay men as cannabis became a widespread treatment to reduce pain for a drug which had (has to this day) no cure. As high profile arrests, such as “Brownie” Mary Rathburn, began to publicize in the media the drug’s medicinal and therapeutic qualities, progressive communities such as San Francisco began to build momentum for legalization.[5]From rebellious intoxicant to pain-relieving medicine, HIV and the transformation of marijuana’s connotation laid the foundation for the policy change to come.

            Support for marijuana legalization steadily grew throughout the 1990’s and became increasingly influential and organized. In 1994, Senate Bill 1364, to reclassify cannabis as a Schedule II drug at the state level[6], was approved by state legislators. In 1995, Assembly Bill 1529, establishing a medical necessity defense for cannabis use with a physician’s recommendation for patients treating AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, or multiple sclerosis, also landed on the governor‘s desk[7]. Both were vetoed by Governor Pete Wilson. Frustrated, proponents pivoted their strategy towards public opinion. In 1996, proponents gathered the required signatures to place Proposition 215 directly on the November state ballot. As a necessary compromise to ensure passage of the measure, Proposition 215 only legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes[8]. 56% of Californians approved, and in November of 1996 California becomes the first state in the nation to legalize medicinal marijuana.

            Over the next decade, the execution of Proposition 215 proved to be an enormous success, with 200,000 Californians in need able to acquiring the drug from medicinal dispensaries every year. This success was demonstrated by the continued growth in support for the legalization of both medicinal and recreational marijuana. In 1996, just 25% of Americans supported recreational legalization, compared to 44% in 2010 and 62% today[9]. In 2010, California legislators reduced penalties for cannabis possession to a civil infraction, equivalent to a parking ticket[10]. Later that year California became the first state to vote on a ballot measure seeking to legalize recreational cannabis, fittingly named Proposition 19[11]. Despite little funded opposition, Californians rejected Proposition 19 53.5% to 46.5%[12].

            Following the failure of Proposition 19, the cannabis industry, both medicinal and illegal, continued to grow. For example, from 2012 to 2016 in Humboldt and Mendocino counties, for example, an 80% increase in the number of cannabis cultivation sites and a 56% increase in the average number of total cannabis plants per site was documented[13]. The increase in cultivation sites and production densities are likely due to relaxed enforcement[14], increased market competition, and rising demand. In 2016, proponents were again successful in placing recreation legalization on the ballot[15]. Despite the efforts of opponents within law enforcement, the prison industrial complex, and other moral opponents[16], Californians approved Proposition 64, allowing adults 21 or older to possess, transport, and purchase, no more than one ounce of dry cannabis or eight grams of concentrated cannabis.



Fiscal Responsibility and Social Progress Meet

            When considering policy, the historically libertarian case for legalizing recreational marijuana is compelling. Goldsmith reveals “The total cost to society for dealing with [Marijuana] is gigantic. For everything, including law enforcement and prison administration, property damage, medical costs, and—most of all—lost productivity, the estimate for 2007 is $193 billion.”[17] By 2016, Washington and Oregon had already legalized recreational marijuana[18]. Fears of poorly implemented drug policy are valid, however as legalization spreads across the nation it can be reasonably assumed that states will learn from other states and subsequently adapt.

            Proponents, such as NORML, presented a multitude of practical reasons for legalizing cannabis. The primary argument centered around the lucrative taxation opportunity, with California estimating $1 billion in addition revenue for the state each year[19]. The California legislature ultimately decided to prioritize funds towards drug abuse prevention, public safety, and environmental protection[20]. Additionally, proponents have highlights potential boosts to the tourism industry from states where marijuana remains illegal, incorporating existing marijuana growers and distributors into the formal economy, and reducing arrests and the incarcerated population as additional benefits of legalization.


Human Health Concerns

            Opponents’ concerns with increasing accessibility to a federally classified Schedule 1 drug were not unfounded either.  Concerns regarding the effects of increased use and uncertain medical long-term effect, for example, are rooted in the inadequate amount of research resulting from this federal scheduling.[21] This inadequacy of research is especially regarding brains which have no fully developed (brains typically fully development around the age of 25[22]). While marijuana is less addictive than alcohol and other drugs, dependency can still develop. However, if alcoholism and heroin addiction, for example, are already crises plaguing society today, opponents argue against unnecessarily ruining more lives.

            There is also a rational fear of industry. Hudak explains “In the so-called vice industries— alcohol, tobacco, gambling— money is not made off those who occasionally indulge. Frequent gamblers, problem drinkers, and those addicted to tobacco deliver those respective industry profits. The same is true for marijuana”.[23] In a state which legalized two years earlier, the Colorado Department of Revenue estimated that frequent and heavy users, those who use marijuana more than twenty days a month, made up just 30 percent of the customer base but accounted for nearly 90 percent of the market demand.”[24] Unsurprisingly, concerns over deceptive candies, gummies, and sodas aimed at kids compounded fears of marijuana legalization[25].

           To address many of these health-related concerns, most medicinal and recreational legal states require distributors to test content and potency of the products they sell[26]. Testing is often combined with strict rules for growing conditions, ensuring the strength and purity of the product. In truth, opponents’ health-related concerns may not be as important to consumers as nonusers. From Eric Spitz in the LA Times; “the idea of testing for toxins and potency did not exist prior to 2018 in California. No one cared about these things in 2017, so why start worrying now? The answer to the question, “Why take the risk?” is simple. “Because I’m saving a lot of money and I haven’t had a problem in the past.””[27]


Policy Concerns

            Beyond human health concerns, logistical policy concerns arose as well. For example, regulatory capture poses a threat to the wellbeing and freedom of the very consumers legalization is designed to benefit[28]. There are certainly advantages to industry actors influencing the regulatory process, however, since many growers and dealers have previous experience in the pre-legalization environment, they have an information advantage over regulators[29]. Well-designed policy and limited consolidation should truncate these fears.

All of these valid concerns reinforce the importance of a state as gargantuan in the global cannabis industry as California executing the transition of cannabis from illegal to legal well. While the potential payoff to marijuana enterprises and individuals is undoubtedly large, very minute policy decisions have potentially immense negative externalities. The cannabis industry represents millions of jobs, serves tens of millions of Americans, and circulates billions of dollars. Given California’s size and historical role, the state’s ability to coral the black market into the formal economy will serve as an important indicator and role model for other, more cautious, states. The failure of a smooth transition, however, could not only delay legalization in other states, but potentially dissuade legalization entirely.




Federal Hypocrisy

            Before dissecting the imperfections of California’s cannabis policy following Proposition 64, a fundamental contradiction must be acknowledged, of no fault of the state of California or its legislators. Since 1996, and especially as the number of legal marijuana states climbs, the Federal government, through the Department of Justice, has begun adopting a hands-off approach towards regulating the drug (which remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance) in legal states, while continuing to strictly enforce its criminality in all other states[30]. This has created a deeply uncomfortable conundrum where an American can either be a successful entrepreneur or a federal prisoner, depending solely on the state they call home. This hypocrisy interrupts the established notion that federal law should never treat Americans differently based on state of residency[31]. So far, legalized marijuana are demographically much whiter than the average state, presenting a stark and problematic contrast from the country’s population of incarcerated non-violent offenders.[32] Davidson reveals a potential solution relying on judges; “18 USC § 3553(a) provides that one of the factors judges must consider in imposing a criminal sentence is “the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct,””[33] however, such a shift in judicial convention has yet to occur at a large scale.


Inadequate Financial Resources

            One of the greatest difficulties plaguing small actors within the California cannabis industry, especially those who previously operated within the illegal economy, has been the absence of banking and financial services. Under federal law, marijuana enterprises are engaging in an illegal drug trade, which makes them ineligible to access standard financial services such as checking and savings accounts, lines of credit, and business loans[34]. As a result, small marijuana enterprises must resort to cash-only operations, leading to tremendous insecurity and uncertainty. As states like Oregon and Colorado first began to legalize recreational marijuana, pressure mounted on the federal government to clarify their position, however in 2014 a much-anticipated guidance from the US Department of Treasury proved vague and did not sufficiently offer financial institutions protection against potential federal action. As a result, the financial industry determined the Guidance insufficient to allow their banks to engage with marijuana enterprises[35]. Relying so heavily on cash has widespread repercussions for marijuana enterprises.  For example, marijuana enterprises present elevated targets for burglary and opportunities for money laundering become easier[36].


Incarceration Ignored

            Non-violent drug incarceration and how to treat former and current offenders presents one of the most contentious debates surrounding legalization. Likewise, the conversation around incarceration is inseparable from both history and race. Looking back, Goldsmith reveals “Unlike many other Western countries, the United States responded to escalating crime rates by enacting highly punitive policies and laws and turning away from rehabilitation and reintegration.”[37] Following a crime wave during the late 1980’s, the federal government and states across the country championed tough on crime laws and increased punitive sentencing. As a direct result, the American incarcerated population more than quadrupled between 1980 and 2005[38]. This increase proved to be exceedingly racially disproportionate, to the extent that, according to the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, of white males born that year, 5.9 percent would serve a term in prison, however 17.2 percent Latinos and a horrific 32.2 percent of black males can expect prison sometime in their lives.[39]. Goldsmith continues “Prisons across the country now look like African American and Latino storage pens.”[40] Statistics, reveal the extraordinary extent to which these policies were and are disproportionately affecting minorities; more African American and Latino men in their twenties are in prison or jail, on probation, or on parole than in college[41]. Extensive literature exists documenting and establishing how policy is often written and executed with the objective of subjugating and crippling minority communities. Many examples emerge with policy formation, such as the infamous 100-1 crack to coke ratio[42], and policy execution, for example, that a severe penalty for marijuana possession is seven times more likely than one for drunk driving[43]. Civil rights groups frustrated with these inconsistencies and their devastating effects have long been at the forefront of the legalization movement[44].

            California, successfully lobbied by civil rights groups, provided a provision allowing for offenders to expunge marijuana offenses from their records, however the process requires the offender to hire a lawyer and navigate toilsome bureaucracy[45]. Many argue this is an unreasonable barrier for those who have lost years of their lives for ultimately no reason. In the summer of 2019, a bill was introduced in the California Senate which would automate the process and expunge the records of over a million residents instantly, however the bill has yet to become law.[46]


An Unfair Regulatory Apparatus

            The moment Proposition 64 was approved by the residents of California, a process just as consequential began within the legislature. The state began a two-year legislative process hearings, testimony, and policy formation, with the goal of successfully implementing policy which honored the popular vote, retained the safety and wellbeing of all residents as best as possible, and smoothly transition the state from one in which marijuana was illegal to one where it is legal. Ultimately, the state determined the optimal solution to executing the will of the people was through a new licensing system for growers and an expansion of the dispensary license system from medicinal to general dispensaries.

           Instead of a centralized regulatory apparatus, individual state agencies established regulations, including the State Water Resources Control Board, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the California Environmental Quality Act, and the Department of Pesticide Regulation[47]. On top of agency regulations were requirements to comply with all county and municipal regulations, including land use ordinances. Hekia Bodwitch explains “ Once growers have obtained a license for cultivation, they must, among other requirements, tag all plants with radio-frequency identification tags to track the product from its point of origin to commercial sale, maintain 24-hour video surveillance of all plants, record the names of and timestamp all individuals who enter the fenced cultivation area and report the weight of any discarded plant material”[48]. Further, Bodwitch adds; “Prior to sale, growers are required to hire third-party testing laboratories to confirm that their crop meets quality assurance guidelines for cannabinoid levels, moisture content, residual solvents and processing chemicals, pesticides, microbial impurities, foreign material, terpenoids, mycotoxins and heavy metals, plus cannabis must be transported to testing and dispensaries by licensed distributors.”[49]

           The result is a costly and burdensome regulatory system. Beyond decentralization and redundancy, this system is partially a result of the inadequate research around cannabis cultivation. Unlike other cash crops, cannabis must be tested for a wide range of contaminants because we simply don’t know enough scientific information on cultivation and its effects on the human body. The result is excessive testing costs— “$500 to $1,000 per batch, and most crops involve multiple batches,” said Gieringer, director of California NORML. “No other agricultural product is required to undergo such costly or sensitive tests.”[50] Regulation heavily concentrated upon cultivators, rather than distributors, lead to uneven distribution of opportunities and risk across the industry.


Over taxation Across the Board

            Another facet of marijuana legalization which garnered significant media attention in the years before and following legalization was the corresponding tax code. One of proponents most prominent arguments laid with the potential revenue for every level of government. Upon the conclusion of the aforementioned two-year period, the state determined that revenue would be generated separately at state and local levels. Consequently, take the example from Javier of Montes, a cannabis store owner from Wilmington, California, who received his city and state licenses in January 2018. Montes claims his business faces a 15% state excise tax, a 10% recreational marijuana tax by the city of Los Angeles, and a 9.5% in sales tax by the county and state, culminating in a markup of more than 34%[51]. California opted not to include in legislation a tax cap, unlike Oregon, where cumulative marijuana taxation cannot exceed 20%[52].

            Again, the previous issue of federal inconsistency reemerges. While cannabis’s status as an illegal substance renders marijuana enterprises ineligible for federal tax deductions, the federal government still requires, by law, marijuana enterprises submit their tax statements. Consequently, the effective federal tax rate for legal cannabis businesses can reach 70% to 90%.[53] Marijuana businesses paying federal taxes but remain ineligible for federal tax deductions demonstrates how this fundamental contradiction results in obviously bad policy. As of 2019, neither California nor the Federal Government has acted to address the resulting consequences for marijuana enterprises.

            As a direct result of the culminating over taxation, industry experts estimate that licensed cannabis sales of about $3 billion in California in 2018 accounted for only about 20% to 25% of all the marijuana purchased in the state[54]. These estimates are consistent with contemporary economic theory, which predicts if products are not properly priced (and taxed), the legal and illegal market will continue to coexist. Further, in periods of oversupply and low prices, such as California today, larger enterprises are able to withstand the shock while smaller firms are driven out of business. Market consolidation, a popular fear of many within the legalization movement, is a potential result.


The Local Veto Conundrum

           A last important facet of cannabis legalization lays with the distribution of authority. When advocates for legalizing marijuana in California drafted Proposition 64 before 2016, they made an important concession to win the support (or at least minimize the opposition) of local government and law enforcement groups: cities and counties would be allowed to ban marijuana-related businesses entirely if they desired[55]. As a result, roughly 75% of local governments[56] and 80% of municipalities[57] have outlawed stores selling cannabis. Some adopted the position as a result of a wait and see approach, while others outlawed the retail because of a fear of the drug and possible associated crime. Unequal access to cannabis has resulted in many consumers returning to black markets.[58] This remains a difficult policy to reverse without enraging local jurisdictions across the state.



            “California seems like a bastion of liberal ideals and progressive policies. No one was surprised that the state decriminalized marijuana for medical, and then recreational, use. However, when taking a closer look, it is apparent that California is a state of variable attitudes and morals with a penchant for local control and an ineffective legislature. Add to that an enormous cannabis industry that has been growing in a gray market for nearly two decades and the money and power that comes with the promise of a global market share, and the issue of cannabis legalization in California is exposed for the tangled web it really is.”

Amanda Reiman[59]

“The problem California’s legal cannabis industry faces is unique. We didn’t have a blank chess board like other states had,” he said. Instead, California inherited a patchwork of legal statuses — varying from county to county”

Adam Spiker[60]


The Results

            All things considered; legalization has not achieved the outcomes many proponents promised in 2016. Proposition 64, while successfully legalizing marijuana, failed in the overarching goal of delivering consumers from the high costs and safety concerns of the black market and the criminal justice system. Complex, expensive, and disproportioned regulations, compounding taxes and decisions by most local government to ban the sale of cannabis, have all allowed for the black market to survive and flourish. Most sales remain from illegal, unlicensed vendors, contributing to a disappointing first year of tax revenue. According to an anonymous 2018 survey of marijuana growers, 31% reported they had not applied for cultivation licenses[61]. The three reasons for not doing so most often cited were costs, regulatory inconsistencies, and alterations necessary to production practices. While advocates expected $1 billion in revenue, 2018 provided a meager $471 million, according to state officials[62]. The state amended its plans and extended the period that growers and sellers can operate with provisional licenses by five years, interpreted by many experts as a sign of a market in trouble[63].

            Other externalities have emerged as well, notably the harm to incredibly important and vulnerable small marijuana enterprises. A small grower from Humboldt County explains, “There was a pretense at both county and state levels of recognition that the transition to ‘legal’ pot should allow time for small producers to adapt, because the economic effect of wiping them out would devastate communities across the state”[64]. Barriers, high costs, and uncertainty provide large growers an advantage while pushing small growers either out of business or underground. Another advantage for larger, established enterprises is that cannabis cultivation is a relatively capital-intensive industry compared to other cash crops[65]. Further, the burden of compliance shifts lucrative profit-making opportunities from producers to non-producers[66]. All of these factors contribute to fears of the future advent of Big Marijuana— the rise of national and perhaps eventually multinational corporations[67].

           Early demographic trends of the nascent marijuana economy reinforce aforementioned fears. The market is increasingly dominated by well-financed white men[68]. While this is not atypical of most industries in America, it is a far cry from the demographics of those who typically work in the illicit cannabis market, both in other states and in California before legalization. Given the incredibly racialized history of marijuana and the devastating War on Drugs, many, especially in the area of racial justice, believe those targeted by the last 50 years of drug policy and those communities most affected should be first in line to run the industry and profit from legalization[69]. While constitutionally, California could never have hand-picked minorities to profit most, the many aforementioned barriers have all contributed to the exclusion of minorities from the new economy.




Policy Recommendations

           The transition from treating Marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug to widespread legalization was always a momentous task. Public policy, especially at the State level, is largely a matter of incremental policy shifts. That said, it is not unfair to say that, as of 2019, California’s implementation of Proposition 64 has been, by most accounts, poor. Careful analysis, reveals careful policy adjustments which can dramatically improve outcomes for marijuana enterprises and the people of California alike. Below are ten policy recommendations for various levels of government.


a) The first, and most pressing policy is for the State of California to automatically expunge the records of past nonviolent marijuana offenders. Doing so represents a moral obligation, both to the person, and for racial justice.

b) Second, until the nascent industry has stabilized and claimed greater market share from the black market, the State of California must lower statewide taxes which contribute to legal vendor’s inability to compete. Further, the state should enact a long-term cap on cumulative taxes.

c) the most effective step for the State of California to revive small and middle-sized marijuana enterprises is to establish an apparatus to provide the financial services to marijuana businesses they are currently excluded from by the Federal Government.

d) establish funding for potential incentive policy mechanisms: such as tax credits, crop insurance, and small business development grants, so as to ease the transition for former actors from the black market.

e) facilitated more research on the health effects, health regulations, growing practices. Investigate interdisciplinary effects, such as marijuana accessibility reducing education attainment and the potential decrease in the use of opioids among marijuana users.

f) The California Legislature must officially recognize the importance of small businesses and businesses of color and develop action plans to improve outcomes for these groups.

g) Streamline regulations and shift the resulting burden to achieve a more equitable balance between growers to non-growers.

h) Local governments must realize their contribution to the black market’s success to allow deliveries and pot shops within their jurisdictions. Failure to do so must result in state action to allow deliveries statewide and improve access for all Californians.

i) Cap the potency of products to reduce rates of dependency.[70]

and finally,

j) Polls demonstrate the majority of Americans now support the legalization of Marijuana. The Federal Government must move to legalize the drug nationwide, learning from the policy failure of California, so as to treat all Americans equally under the law.[71]




            California has long been the center of the Marijuana world; however, the State is not impervious to misaligned incentives and policy failure. Three years since Proposition 64’s passage, marijuana has become legal and safe marijuana to many Californians, however policy failures across all levels of government have produced an undesired situation which threaten the industry and the very Americans Proposition 64 hoped to help. Due to the federal government redistricting financial resources to marijuana enterprises, incarceration as an issue largely being ignored, a decentralized regulatory apparatus which overly burdens growers rather than non-growers, compounding taxation at every level of government, and local jurisdictions retaining the ability to restrict marijuana access to many Californians, the State has largely failed in its objective to corral the black market into the formal economy, resulting in disappointing revenue for the State and a devastated small business class. Many policy adjustments, some included, could potentially work to alleviate the issues facing this industry, however what is certain is that the status quo remains unsustainable.



[1] Bodwitch H, Carah J, Daane K, Getz C, Grantham T, Hickey G, Wilson H. 2019. “Growers say cannabis legalization excludes small growers, supports illicit markets, undermines local economies.” In Calif Agr 73(3):179. DOI:

[2] Dufton, Emily. Grass Roots: the Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America. New York, NY: Basic books, 2017.

[3] Reiman, Amanda. “Cannabis Legalization in California: A Long and Winding Road.” In Where There’s Smoke: The Environmental Science, Public Policy, and Politics of Marijuana, edited by MILLER CHAR, by HUFFMAN JARED, 200. University Press of Kansas, 2018.

[4] Courtwright, David T. Forces of Habit: Drugs and the Making of the Modern World. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002. 44.

[5] Reiman, 200.

[6] Vitiello, Michael. “Proposition 215: De Facto Legalization of Pot and the Shortcomings of Direct Democracy.” University of the Pacific Scholarly Commons, 1998, 761.

[7] Vitiello, 763.

[8]“NORML – Working to Reform Marijuana Laws.” The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, June 6, 1996.

[9]Daniller, Andrew. “Two-Thirds of Americans Support Marijuana Legalization.” Pew Research Center. November 14, 2019.

[10] Reiman, 208.

[11] Reiman, 204.

[12] Reiman, 208.

[13] Bodwitch, 179.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Reiman, 209.

[16] Reiman, 208.

[17] Goldsmith, William W. “Drugs, Prisons, and Neighborhoods.” In Saving Our Cities: A Progressive Plan to Transform Urban America, 169. Ithaca; London: Cornell University Press, 2016.

[18] Coffman, Keith. “Colorado, Washington First States to Legalize Recreational Pot.” Reuters. November 7, 2012.

[19] McGreevy, Patrick “One Year of Legal Pot Sales and California Doesn’t Have the Bustling Industry It Expected. Here’s Why.” Los Angeles Times. December 27, 2018.

[20] Krieger, Lisa M. “Where Does California’s Cannabis Tax Money Go? You Might Be Surprised.” The Mercury News. The Mercury News, May 26, 2019.

[21] Bodwitch, 183.

[22] “Brain Maturity Extends Well Beyond Teen Years.” NPR. NPR, October 10, 2011.

[23] Hudak, John. “Weighing the Costs and Benefits of Legalization.” In Marijuana: A Short History, 175. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2016.

[24] Ibid.

[25] McGreevy (2018).

[26] Hudak, 182.

[27] Spitz, Eric. “Op-Ed: California’s Cannabis Marketplace Is a Mess. Here’s How to Fix It.” Los Angeles Times, March 15, 2019.

[28] Hudak, 178.

[29] Hudak, 179.

[30] Davidson, Adam. “Learning from History in Changing Times: Taking Account of Evolving Marijuana Laws in Federal Sentencing.” The University of Chicago Law Review 83, no. 4 (2016): 2117.

[31] Davidson, 2105.

[32] Davidson, 2145.

[33] Davidson, 2150.

[34] Hudak, 188.

[35] Hudak, 187.

[36] Hudak, 188.

[37] Goldsmith, 170.

[38] Cullen, James. “The History of Mass Incarceration.” Brennan Center for Justice, July 20, 2018.

[39] Goldsmith, 180.

[40] Goldsmith, 179.

[41] Goldsmith, 181.

[42] Marcia G. Shein, “Racial Disparity in Crack Cocaine Sentencing,” Criminal Justice 8,

  1. 2 (Summer 1993): 28-62.

[43] Goldssmith, 178.

[44] Resing, Charlotte. “Marijuana Legalization Is a Racial Justice Issue.” American Civil Liberties Union, April 22, 2019.

[45] Shover, Chelsea L., and Keith Humphreys. “Six Policy Lessons Relevant to Cannabis Legalization.” The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse 45, no. 6 (March 14, 2019): 703. DOI:10.1080/00952990.2019.1569669.

[46] “California May Automatically Expunge 1 Million Convictions.” FOX40, June 12, 2019.

[47] Bodwitch, 178.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Ibid.

[50] McGreevy (2018).

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Deangelo, Steve. “Op-Ed: How the U.S. Tax Code Keeps the Illegal Market for Marijuana Alive and Well.” Los Angeles Times. July 15, 2019.

[54] Spitz (2019).

[55] Los Angeles Times Editorial Board, “Editorial: California Lawmakers Already Want to Roll Back a Key Promise of Marijuana Legalization.” Los Angeles Times, May 18, 2019.

[56] Ibid.

[57] McGreevy, Patrick. “California Cities Sue State over Home Deliveries of Pot.” Los Angeles Times. April 5, 2019.

[58] Los Angeles Times Editorial Board (2019).

[59] Reiman, 210.

[60] Sheeler, Andrew. “’Political Heavyweights’ Unite to Fight for Cannabis from the Capitol to the Counties.” The Sacramento Bee, August 6, 2019.

[61] Bodwitch, 180.

[62] McGreevy (2018).

[63] McGreevy, Patrick. “California to Give Struggling Cannabis Businesses More Time on Provisional Permits.” Los Angeles Times, June 14, 2019.

[64] Bodwitch, 181.

[65] Hudak, 190.

[66] Brodwitch, 182.

[67] Hudak, 190.

[68] Reiman, 206.

[69] Reiman, 207.

[70] Shover, 701.

[71] Daniller, Andrew. “Two-Thirds of Americans Support Marijuana Legalization.” Pew Research Center, November 14, 2019.




Most of the immediate readership of this paper will likely in some way be members of or connected to the Emory University community—and a little-known fact lurks in our own backyard: in the mid-late 1950s, Emory University medical school researchers, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, and the Central Intelligence Agency jointly participated in the testing of LSD on federal prisoners in Atlanta. All three organizations were sued in federal court and faced criticism by the local news media.

In this piece, I aim to briefly historicize drug use at Emory. In no way is this paper meant to be a comprehensive history of drugs at Emory, but rather a snapshot and potential outline to guide future inquiry; many of the facts and anecdotes revealed by the following research invite many questions. What was and is Emory’s relationship with drugs, both in the healthcare field and from students’ perspectives? Why do more people not question Emory’s historical tendency to regulate student drug consumption on its campus while simultaneously flaunting medical drug research? What are the modern implications of Emory ignoring its drug history?


Founded in 1836 in Oxford, Georgia, then Emory College moved to its current location in Atlanta in 1915. Relocating to one of the biggest cities in the South dramatically altered the history of Emory; business flourished as the population of the Atlanta metropolitan area steadily grew and Emory established itself as a respectable university and a medical center (Emory University History). However, geographical proximity to an urban center also allowed increased access to drugs and alcohol.

Emory Students’ Attitudes towards Drugs and Alcohol: Past and Present

The independent student newspaper of Emory University, The Emory Wheel, is celebrating its 100-year anniversary this year. The university archives include the digitalization of every Wheel issue from 1919 to 2009. Reading the Wheel archives generally reveals that Emory University was no different than other major, southern universities, particularly in the 1960s. Weekends on Greek life’s Eagle Row featured parties at every fraternity on campus; students drank, embraced the counterculture like at Berkley, on the whole opposed the Vietnam War, and pulled crazy, lawless pranks like the one described by Wheel staff writer Arnold Karol in the October 28, 1966 issue: “Along with traces of blood (obtained from the hospital blood bank), [the pranksters] left a blood-splattered hammer, several pieces of overturned furniture and various articles of clothing. The scene was so realistic that the police searched the campus for a body for several days afterwards and the Atlanta Constitution carried a banner headline, ‘Hammer Murder at Emory.’” Undoubtedly, Emory students drank and used drugs with relative frequency. A simple keyword search for “drugs” in the Wheel archives reveals 1,382 hits, dating back to 1920. Searches for LSD and marijuana reveal 73 hit and 401 hits, respectively—all of which does not include the last ten years.

One legal but harmful substance certainly prevalent at Emory during the 50s, 60s, and 70s was tobacco. On Thursday, May 9, 1957, (Vol. 38, Issue 28), the Wheel featured a half-page Marlboro ad with a man smoking a cigarette and the caption “You get a lot to like -filter -flavor -flip-top box.” On the very next page, another half-page ad promotes L&M cigarettes: “And this summer…get acquainted with the modern L&M Crush-proof box that’s ‘taking over’ on campus!” (The Emory Wheel). This ad certainly contrasts Emory’s current campus-wide no-smoking, “tobacco free campus” policy (Emory HR), which was instituted in 1988, according to original university internal archived documents (Emory University Senate).

Alcohol was and continues to be prevalent on Emory’s campus. For example, in the Wheel’s February 18, 2000 issue, a College Council ad reads as follows: “The College Council Ad Hoc Committee on Alcohol Abuse presents a Summit on DUI. Monday, February 21st 8:00 PM, Harland Cinema. Come discuss ways that we can reduce DUI within the Emory Community” (The Emory Wheel). A few months later, “SGA propose[d the] repeal of parking permits to limit drinking and driving incidents,” a measure which passed 18-3-3 (De la Merced). These examples show that DUI and alcohol abuse were problems on campus, enough so that College Council formed a committee on it and held public outreach events. Local alcohol vendors like Rocky’s Package Store on nearby Briarcliff Road ran ads in the Wheel, advertising for low prices and hiring students in the September 15, 2000 issue (The Emory Wheel).

One anecdote that demonstrates students’ modern attitudes towards drugs and alcohol at Emory was the February 2007 Student Government Association presidential election. Brian Kelly, one of four candidates for SGA President, ran on proposals including: “Disband student government, allow students to vote directly on SGA funding, free beer at Clairmont [Campus] and decriminalize marijuana” (Benz and Menegrian). Another hot button issue in the same election championed by candidate Andrew Lugerner was the late-night shuttle service to local bars which was “…briefly halted by administrators last semester and failed to receive $7,000 in funding from College Council last week” (Benz and Menegrian). Lugerner allegedly proposed this as a solution to drunk driving, claiming “…he was almost killed by a drunk driver himself” (Benz and Menegrian). Kelly garnered approximately 11% of the total vote, finishing in third place, and Lugerner ended up around 30% before ultimately losing as the runner up in a runoff—both not insignificant amounts—signaling at least some Emory students’ desire for student government that supported drug and alcohol consumption (Benz and Rizzo).

Emory’s SGA, to their credit, has also recently organized dialogue on drugs. SGA appropriated $4,000 to help fund a debate on the war on drugs called the Great Debate Series, featuring Steve Hager, editor in chief of High Times magazine, a publication advocating for the legalization of marijuana, and Bob Stutman, a member of a Congressional panel for national drug policy (Menegrian). This conference, coupled with the above anecdotes, reflect student substance use on campus, or at the very least a prevalence of public dialogue around drugs and alcohol at Emory—both of which needed to somehow be enforced.

Drug Enforcement at Emory: Police and Policy[1]

Founded in 1977, the Emory University Police Department is a full-service, fully accredited police agency responsible for patrolling and responding to calls for service in and around Emory’s campus. Prior to 1977, Emory’s properties were patrolled by the DeKalb County Police Department. EPD compiles annual data of drug interventions at Emory’s main campus in Atlanta and the original Oxford campus near Covington, GA. The most readily available data details EPD’s involvement in drug cases from 2011-2018.[2]


The above charts detail drug law disciplinary referrals (i.e. EPD electing to forgo legal processes in favor of referring the individual to student or employee conduct boards) and drug law arrests and citations. In almost every year, drug law disciplinary referrals eclipsed arrests and citations, sometimes by extremely wide margins. Furthermore, in both charts and in most years, usually (but not always) a majority of drug violations occurred in on-campus student housing, suggesting that the largest drug-using population at Emory is its students, not healthcare staff, hospital visitors, or campus passers-by. Finally, both drug law disciplinary referrals and arrests have generally trended down since 2011, perhaps a rough indicator of drug usage rates at Emory, policing techniques, or broader national, state, and local trends towards de-emphasizing the criminality of simple possession of marijuana. According to a drug case summary spreadsheet provided by EPD records manager Officer Edward Shoemaker, marijuana is generally the drug most encountered by Emory officers. More serious substance abuse, usually opioids, stolen from Emory’s healthcare facilities (either by staff or patients) occurs on average a few times per year, and most always results in arrests. Nonetheless, the spreadsheet generally trends to simple marijuana possession by Emory students as the most common drug crime on campus.

One interesting major EPD drug case was the arrest of business school undergraduate student John McGourty in 2017. According to Monica Lefton of the Emory Wheel, McGourty was arrested by EPD after they searched his dorm room in the Kappa Sigma fraternity house and found oxycodone, marijuana, and Vyvanse in addition to plastic bags, a scale, $2,800 in cash, and a scale. McGourty was charged with “… two counts of possession of a Schedule I or II controlled substance with intent to distribute; one count of manufacture of marijuana; and one count of possession and use of drug-related objects” (Lefton). This case represents a major drug bust by EPD, one that likely dramatically decreased the supply of multiple illegal drugs on campus, proving that students partake in much more than marijuana use.   

Another arm that Emory has historically used to enforce drug usage on its campuses by students is its internal conduct policies. As early as the 1950s, Emory administrators began to revise the code, not only on drugs and alcohol, but also on “academic dishonesty…, deception in university matters…, physical abuse of another’s person…, and sex offenses,” among other crimes and serious infractions, according to a hand-signed memo and letter from Ben F. Johnson, Dean of the Law School, explaining his draft to University Senate Chairman Frederick C. Prussner (Johnson, Ben). The final policy was “…adopted by the Emory University Senate at its February 16, 1968, meeting” (Committee). The policy used and mentioned the words of the Harrison Narcotic Act, noting that “Emory University does not condone the use of mind-altering drugs, e.g. marijuana and LSD…” (Committee). The policy goes on to explain the various dangers and illegality of drugs and further attempts to deter student usage by writing, “There is no evidence that the use of such drugs enhances academic achievement; on the contrary, such use is accompanied by impairment of judgement, reduced achievement, and decreased ability to complete successfully a program of academic studies” (Committee). Finally, the policy prescribes that any student in violation can receive up to the maximum penalty from the university general code of conduct (Committee).

The current Emory student code of conduct contains many of these same elements, expressly prohibiting possession, usage, etc. of alcohol or drugs on campus (Office of Student Conduct). One addition to contemporary Emory policy is the Medical Amnesty Policy which states that students will not be punished as part of a conduct case if they seek medical attention for themselves or others in a drug or alcohol-related emergency (Office of Student Conduct).

Atlanta and Drugs

The history of drugs at Emory would be incomplete without acknowledging the history of drugs in Atlanta. However, the history of drugs in Atlanta and in the South generally has been only tangentially discussed in some modern, epidemiological sources, but none to my knowledge have completely historicized Atlanta’s drug history, much less exclusively Emory’s. Despite a lack of a concrete magnum opus, modern statistics suggest that the Atlanta metropolitan area’s use of drugs is at or slightly higher than the national average (NSDUH). Despite this present-day belief of past and current drug prevalence in Atlanta (and seemingly at Emory), a counter to the counterculture started growing in the post-Vietnam era. Emily Dufton, in her book Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America, notes that in Druid Hills, “…a wooded neighborhood just east of Emory University, in the northeast corner of Atlanta…,” a seemingly well-off area, Marsha Manatt “Keith” Schuchard caught her thirteen year old daughter, Ashley, smoking weed and drinking with her friends in the summer of 1976 (Dufton 89-90). Schuchard would go on to lead the parents’ movement against (primarily) marijuana, effectively pointing out health concerns for youth consumption and pushing politicians under the upcoming Reagan administration to increase drug enforcement nationwide. As the parents’ movement grew, Atlanta hosted the Parents’ Resource Institute on Drug Education (PRIDE) conference in 1981, which was attended by “over 500 parents, teachers, professionals, and doctors who traveled to Georgia from thirty-four states…” (Dufton 145). Perhaps Ashley Schuchard and her teenage friends were influenced by the counterculture at Emory—or not—but the ironic proximity, if nothing more than geographic coincidence, is worth mentioning in Emory’s drug history.

Despite the materialization of the parents’ movement and Atlanta actually emerging as an epicenter against drug use, Emory continued its complicated drug history, which this time was surprisingly not perpetuated by its students, but rather its faculty, including “…Dr. Thomas Bryant, a boisterous forty-year-old with degrees from Emory University in medicine and law…” who served as president of the Drug Abuse Council, “…where he was charged with finding moderate responses to drug abuse issues, including researching policies that could contain the use of heroin in urban slums and examining the marijuana issues being debated in the states” (Dufton 63). Sadly, other Emory scholars proved less astute in their drug-related careers.

Emory’s LSD Fiasco

The most prominent story of drugs at Emory before the 1980s and the War on Drugs is the LSD scandal mentioned in the introduction. Multiple articles from the Atlanta Journal Constitution state that Emory doctors Dr. Harry L. Williams and Dr. Carl Pfeiffer tested LSD on federal prisoners for approximately four years. According to Neal Willard in his May 18, 1958 article in the Atlanta Constitution, “Sixteen prisoners in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary go crazy one day a week so that doctors from Emory University can study causes of insanity and seek a cure” (Willard). He goes on to note that the prisoners all volunteered for the study, which started approximately three years earlier, in 1956.

In 1981, the prisoners, who were former subjects of the Emory and CIA LSD tests, sued the university, the CIA, and the federal Bureau of Prisons in the Northern District of Georgia Federal Court in Scott et al. v. Casey et al. According to the original lawsuit, released in 2008 on the CIA’s reading room website, the federal jury charged with deciding the civil case decided that the 2-year statute of limitations applied, ruling against the plaintiffs. According to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) at the time, plaintiffs had no more than two years to sue after they found out that an action resulting in potential damages occurred. Thus, the ruling precluded any further examination of the facts surrounding the plaintiffs’ case, dismissing it on a technicality by discrediting the former prisoners’ testimonies of when they found out they were wrongly experimented on (CIA).

The lawsuit’s finding of facts states that “At the conclusion of the session, the participant was offered a stipend of $3 per session, good time credit, and a promise of a favorable recommendation to the United States Parole Commission” (CIA 5). Despite all of the prisoners “volunteering” for the study and signing Emory’s waiver, exhibited verbatim in the lawsuit, there remains doubt as to what extent the prisoners were potentially coerced by the federal government and by Emory to participate in the study.

Not only does Scott v. Casey raise legal and ethical questions proximate to the study itself, but further ethical malfeasance also stems from statements made by Dr. Harry Williams and Dr. Carl Pfeiffer about LSD after the fact. For example, a February 9, 1967 Emory Wheel article summarizes “’Drug abuse, LSD and the College Student’…the topic of the Feb. 2 E.R.A. Luncheon discussion, led by Dr. Harry Williams, pharmacologist in Emory Medical School” (Safra).  The article goes on to claim that “…Dr. Williams, who has administered the drug [LSD] several times in a controlled prison environment, describes the phenomenon as one which he would never want to experience. Of all the people who have voluntarily taken the drug from Dr. Williams, none have come back to request a second dose” (Safra). In the same article, Williams admits that “…Larger doses, however, are extremely dangerous, as the user loses complete insight and may attempt such things as flying out of windows” (Safra). Finally, Williams admits that the long-term effects LSD are unknown: “Whether or not LSD causes permanent damage to the nervous system is still an open question” (Safra).

These admissions beg the following questions: How much LSD was administered to the prisoners? Did it approach Williams’ “extremely dangerous” threshold? Why would Dr. Williams give a substance that he himself would not take voluntarily to his subjects? And if no subjects have ever come back to take a second dosage voluntarily, to what extent were the prisoners coerced into participation? Finally, if Williams himself did not know the long-term impacts of LSD, to what extent were the prisoners injured for life, as they claim in Scott et al. v. Casey et al? Remember that Dr. Williams’ statements above came in 1967, well after the study at the penitentiary had concluded.[3]

Dr. Harry L. Williams (left) squirts LSD into the mouth of Dr. Carl Pfeiffer at Emory as a microphone records, 1955 (Library of Congress)

Emory and the Drug Supply[4]

More recently than the 1950s, Emory Healthcare found itself in the midst of a modern drug scandal. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, employees at Emory University Midtown Hospital stole between $20-$40 million worth of potent and controlled prescription medications, for which the hospital paid and which the employees then sold into the illegal drug supply and/or consumed themselves. Only after avoiding detection for several years and a subsequent multi-year investigation by the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency and the DEA, were the employees fired and the supply stream stymied (Mariano). For its role in the scandal, Emory Healthcare faced sanctions and internal scrutiny, was fined $200,000 and has its pharmacy license suspended for three years (Mariano). As Mariano writes in the AJC, “Inadequate purchasing, receiving and recordkeeping safeguards kept Emory Midtown staff from detecting the illegal operation, but the hospital thinks its controls were sufficient, the order states. Emory denies all liability” (Mariano). According to Rebecca Lindstrom, multiple sources suggest that theft of drugs from hospitals in Georgia is a huge, underreported problem that often receives little to no publicity.

While the above cases certainly taint Emory University’s reputation, Emory scholars have performed and continue to conduct groundbreaking research, a plethora of which is centered around drugs. For example, Dr. Dennis Liotta, perhaps Emory’s most famous professor, revolutionized HIV treatment with the invention of Emvitra in 2003, a drug which over 90% of HIV/AIDS patients nationwide use today to effectively control the disease (Emory Winship Cancer Institute). Dr. Liotta is one of countless examples where Emory has positively impacted the world through drugs. Undoubtedly, these positive iterations complicate the history of drugs at Emory because Emory continues to both positively and negatively affect the legal and illicit drug supply.

Conclusion: Methods and Limitations

Research for this paper included a variety of primary sources: Emory University policy archives, The Emory Wheel archives, Emory University Police Department data and case files, and Atlanta Journal Constitution archives. As with most historical scholarship, analysis is limited by the sources and data that have been retained. In the case of this project, comprehensive drug arrest data from EPD is unavailable for multiple reasons including privacy, paper records (lack of historical electronic records), and records being destroyed recently. Furthermore, records from the Wheel, while searchable and easily readable in a digitalized format, were simply too vast to comprehensively review due to time constraints. Nonetheless, taken together, these sources provide a glimpse into Emory’s fraught history with drugs.


The implications for Emory’s “dual” drug history are vast. On one hand, Emory (like most modern universities) is susceptible to drug use on its campus simply due to the demographic it serves: young students, many of whom have disposable income and the means to at least recreationally use drugs and/or alcohol. Furthermore, adding in undergraduate Greek Life, Emory’s vast healthcare facilities (multiple famous and highly rated hospitals, clinics, etc.) increases the likelihood for abuse and theft of more serious drugs, like in the Emory Midtown Hospital case and in the handful of cases every year summarized in EPD’s spreadsheet. Nevertheless, Emory has generally successfully insulated itself from the drug problems in the neighboring city of Atlanta—from the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s to the modern opioid epidemic—proven simply by the fact that those drugs rarely surface at Emory.

I, for one, a current (and relatively well-informed) Emory undergraduate had never heard about any of the above stories prior to research for this paper—and I suspect most other members of the Emory community, past and present, had not either. Instead of using its powerful lawyers and highly-regarded reputation to sweep at best shady practices and at worst downright negligence under the rug, Emory needs to at least acknowledge its complicated drug history and take further steps to reduce student usage, healthcare employee abuse, and heaven forbid another CIA-LSD crisis—all while augmenting support for the Dr. Dennis Liotta’s of the university, who undoubtedly, through drugs, make a difference in the lives of countless patient.

Note: Footnotes, and a complete MLA style bibliography can be found via this publicly accessible link.

[1] Disclosure: The author of this paper is a current undergraduate student at Emory University, works as a student ambassador with the Emory Police Department, and volunteers with Emory EMS, a division of EPD. All information contained herein has been obtained through either open-source, publicly available research or has been made available for public dissemination through official channels.

[2] EPD defines “non-campus property” as follows: “Any building or property owned or controlled by a student organization recognized by the institution; and any building or property (other than a branch campus) owned or controlled by an institution of higher education that is used in direct support of, or in relation to, the institution’s educational purposes, is frequently used by students, and is not within the same reasonably contiguous geographic area of the institution. EPD defines “public property” as follows: “All public property, including thoroughfares, streets, sidewalks, and parking facilities, that is within the campus, or immediately adjacent to and accessible from the campus. (Source: Officer Edward Shoemaker, records manager, EPD).

[3] The Rose Library at Emory University has a recording of Dr. Williams talking to Emory students about LSD in the 1960s. Unfortunately, the audio file is not digitized and was thus unavailable to source for this paper.

[4] Note: While shocking and immoral, the stories described herein center around a few individuals in the Emory community and Emory Healthcare. These stories should not serve to discredit the good work the vast majority of Emory nurses and doctors perform. However, stories like this should make us wonder and question how much fraud, abuse, and misconduct related to drugs occurs today at Emory, particularly in the healthcare setting.

‘All the Scag in ‘Nam’

“Tens of thousands of soldiers are going back as walking time bombs.”[1] In 1971, the war in Vietnam was being reported on in a near constant fashion. As reports came back that more and more soldiers were using heroin while deployed, a new outlet for criticizing the war opened. Not only were the armed forces sending young men to fight and die in an unpopular war, those who survived would return as heroin addicts and, supposedly, turn to crime to fund their addiction. In addressing this issue, the Nixon administration laid the foundations for the “War on Drugs.” But following the release of a study conducted in the mid-70s, it was clear that the G.I.s were not coming home as addicts. This essay argues that the heroin “epidemic” was never as large of a problem as the Nixon administration and the public sphere considered it to be.

Ironically, the heroin of southeast Asia that created so many problems for America was encouraged to proliferate by America’s own post-World War II foreign policy. Containment, Brinksmanship, and Domino Theory are all familiar terms to any American public-school student. These policies and concepts, formed by the administrations that came after 1945, concerned themselves with the spread of communism and how to stop it. Stopping communism by any means necessary often entailed supporting sub-state actors and militias in civil conflicts against communists. Beginning in the 1950s, the CIA, working with the Chinese nationalist party, the Kuomintang, and regional powers in Laos, Burma, Thailand, and Vietnam, assisted anti-communist paramilitary organizations funded by the heroin and opium trade of these groups.[2] After helping to create these markets, the United States would later provide new consumers in the form of G.I.s in Vietnam.

The heroin in southeast Asia was cheap and potent, raising concerns that once G.I.s returned home they would be pressed into crime to pay for more expensive heroin that was much less potent than what they found in Vietnam. A 1976 study states that this purified heroin, or “scag,” could be 15 to 30 times as pure as the heroin available in the United States and was cheap enough that a habit could be maintained for $8 to $10 a day.[3] Fears of heroin addicted soldiers coming and turning to crime to fund their habit seemed well-founded.

Unlike marijuana and LSD, which found widespread use in the United States by the New Left counterculture movement, heroin use would not enter the American consciousness as a public health issue until the early 1970s. A Newsweek article from July 5th, 1971 titled “The Heroin Plague: What Can Be Done?” described the situation as follows,

“Heroin has exploded on us like an atom bomb. Ten years ago, even three years ago, heroin was a loser’s drug, an aberration afflicting the blacks and long-haired minorities. Now all this has changed. Nice Jewish boys are coming out of the woodwork as well as Mormon kids, Japanese Americans and all other exemplars of hard-working middle-class ideals.”[4]

Despite its use amongst urban minorities, heroin use only became a crisis when soldiers from Vietnam were, supposedly, returning home addicted.

            At first it appeared there were plenty of heroin user in Vietnam to support this fear. In May 1971, two congressmen, Robert Steele of Connecticut and Morgan Murphy of Illinois, visited the G.I.s in Vietnam. They reported that 15% of servicemen in Vietnam were actively addicted to heroin. This motivated President Richard Nixon to create the Special Action Office of Drug Abuse Prevention in June of the same year. Nixon appointed Jerome Jaffe to head the office. Jaffe enlisted the help of psychiatrist Lee Robins in understanding and tackling this problem. Robins confirmed high rates of addiction in 1971 as about 20% of soldiers self-identified as addicts.[5]

            Here lie the roots of Nixon’s War on Drugs. In creating the Special Action Office of Drug Abuse Prevention, Nixon was allocating massive amounts of money and resources to stopping the flow of drugs, namely heroin, into the U.S. The programs that came in the wake of the Special Action Office also devoted considerable resources to drug addiction treatment and prevention facilities. Nixon perceived heroin as a very real problem. The legacy of the War on Drugs typically focuses on the devastating long-term effects, especially on communities of color, but it must also be understood that Nixon was responding to a perceived threat to the public health and well-being of the nation.[6]

            While the War on Drugs was staged as a domestic initiative, mass media outlets covering Vietnam portrayed the conflict as an international war with drugs. The Washington Post published two articles in October of 1970 that alleged the Chinese were intentionally funneling opium into Vietnam to ruin American soldiers. The Washington Post was partially correct, the Chinese did have a hand in the opium trade in southeast Asia. However, this was routed through the Kuomintang, which had been expelled to Taiwan following their defeat by the Chinese Communist Party in the Chinese Civil War in 1949, not the communists as the newspaper alleged. In fact, in 1971, federal narcotics agents reported that there had not been a single seizure of narcotics from China since 1949.[7]

            Nixon and the media could agree on something, there was a serious drug problem in Vietnam, and it threatened to come home. Susan Stuart suggests that the Nixon administration used this as a diversion to draw attention away from domestic issues and create a problem that was sourced in Vietnam. She states, “Because it[The War on Drugs] involved troops in Vietnam, the Nixon Administration urged that failure in Vietnam was not the fault of policymakers but about the service men, despite the fact that drug use did not affect combat performance.” Nonetheless, the public largely believed the claims of Nixon and the newspapers and acknowledged that something had to be done.[8]        

            Robins, working under the Special Action office, published a study in 1974 titled “How Permanent Was Vietnam Drug Addiction?” Interviewing veterans who had just returned from Vietnam, the researchers were concerned that an influx of addicted veterans would put more strain on drug treatment facilities than they could handle. 34% of interviewees reported using heroin in Vietnam. 20% reported that while they were in Vietnam they were addicted to heroin. However, since coming back from Vietnam only 1% of interviewees reported being addicted to heroin. A 95% remission rate, which is the drop from 20% to 1%, was unprecedented for any addict populations in the country. Although those who did heroin in Vietnam were more prone to heavy use, this study suggests the “epidemic” of addicted veterans was solving itself. [9]

            The study also presents data from a separate study done with Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act (NARA) patients to demonstrate the difference between remission rates of veterans and prisoners being treated for narcotic addiction. The study shows, “While more than two-thirds of the addicted Vietnam veterans had no use after their return, more than two-thirds of the NARA patients were readdicted six months after their release.”[10] Returning veterans of the study, interviewed ten months after coming home, had four extra months to get readdicted compared to the NARA patients. 94% of veterans reported they knew where to buy narcotics once back in America. The study concludes that while the veterans could very well relapse into addiction in the future, the findings suggest we should reevaluate the effectiveness of forced treatment for addiction.[11]

            Something about Vietnam encouraged drug use but was not enough to keep veterans using back home. Jeremy Kuzmarov suggests that drug use, more generally, was a way to cope with combat anxieties and escape from war. He states, “Drugs often provided a powerful antidote to the hazards and stress of combat. They helped GIs to cope with their anxieties – away from the theater of battle and usually without damaging their physical capabilities.” He further states these findings are in line with many psychiatric studies concerning drug use in Vietnam.[12] Kuzmarov is not talking about heroin use specifically, but certainly heroin was used as a method to escape from reality.

            CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta suggests that the low level of recidivism was due to a change in environment. When these veterans returned home, the dramatic change in scenery could break addictive tendencies. The addicts, Gupta argues, had come to associate Vietnam and heroin use, but when removed from this environment, the urge to use heroin decreased. Unlike the previously mentioned studies, Gupta provides no concrete data to support this claim. Instead he relies on the study conducted by Robin in 1974 and simply elaborates his claim into the results. Considering the extent of heroin usage in Vietnam and the dramatic decrease once soldiers returned to the United States, Gupta is most likely gesturing in the right direction with his inference. The extent to which this is the case is up for debate.[13]

            Stuart offers an assessment as to why the heroin in epidemic in Vietnam received so much attention despite it’s main claim, that addicted troops would return home still addicted, being disproven. Quoting Robins, she states, “‘[T]heir history of brief addiction followed by spontaneous recovery, both in Vietnam and afterwards, was not out of line with the American experience; only with American beliefs.’ Unfortunately, those American beliefs were entrenched, and the research results were assailed as being a Department of Defense whitewash. Once the fear of heroin addiction had proved to be a potent marketing tool for the War on Drugs, the American public was not going to be deterred by evidence to the contrary.” Even as evidence to contrary emerged, the American public was still firm in believing the heroin problem in Vietnam could come to America.[14]

Robins published an article in 2010 reevaluating the significance of the study, focusing on the medical and psychological implications of heroin use. This article concludes similarly to NARA study, suggesting that the way we view treating heroin addicts may not be correctly addressing the problem. The article concedes that it is limited in focusing only on returning Vietnam veterans and puts forth that the “findings may have been influenced by these special circumstances, but we cannot be sure whether they have been because there is no equivalent study of heroin use in a general population that has provided enough regular heroin users for comparison.” The uniqueness of the situation perhaps stunted any attempts to apply the findings to addiction treatments in America at the time.[15]

            Being cited by Kuzmarov, Gupta, and Stuart and being deemed worthy of a modern reevaluation, Robins’ 1974 study carries much of the burden in pushing back against the heroin epidemic myth. Despite being the foundational study on the subject of heroin use in Vietnam and its potential threat to America, the results would not carry any serious implications until being reevaluated decades later.

 Both the media and the Nixon administration had a vested interest in perpetuating the myth. For the media, it was a major source of criticism of the war and the administration and provided plenty of fodder to write about. The war threatened to utterly ruin a generation of young men, if not be killing or maiming them, then by creating addicts.

            For Nixon and his administration, the epidemic was a serious issue but also one that could be turned on its head. In 1973 Nixon stated, “Three years ago, the global heroin epidemic was raging completely out of control and time was running out for an entire generation. But we launched a crusade to save our children and the nation, and now we’re moving from defense to offense and rolling up victory after victory.” Heroin usage rates increased as the decade carried on.[16] But Nixon could play hero even as the evidence suggests otherwise.

            Heroin was certainly an issue in Vietnam. But that the results of the primary government study into the issue of heroin addicted troops coming home as heroin addicts were ignored, suggests the problem carried more rhetorical value as a threat than was true. As the media and the Nixon administration made claims to this threat, the public was captivated and believed the problem to be larger than it was. It has taken decades for scholarship to identify this myth even as the evidence to disprove it comes from the mid-70s. All this coupled with the pervasiveness of the fear American soldiers would return as addicts can leads us to a few inferences. One, heroin, due to its low level of popularity, was unknown or uncertain to much of the public. It was a mysterious narcotic without much public knowledge about it. Two, those with access to the information that the epidemic would most likely not take over at home either were ignorant of the information or willfully ignored it. And finally, heroin use and addiction, then just as much as now, require more research to truly understand the best mode of treatment.


Primary Sources-

“Excerpts From President’s Message on Drug Abuse Control.” The New York Times. June 18, 1971.

Robins, Lee, Davis, Darlene, and David Nurco. “How Permanent was Vietnam Drug Addiction?” American Journal of Public Health Vol. 64 (1974): 38-43.

Shuster, Alvin M. “G.I. Heroin Addiction Epidemic in Vietnam.” The New York Times. May 16, 1971.

Stanton. “Drugs, Vietnam, and the Vietnam Veteran: an Overview.” American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse Vol. 3 (1976): 557-70.

Secondary Sources-

Bergen-Cico, Dessa. War and Drugs: The Role of Military Conflict in the Development of Substance Abuse. Boulder, Colorado: Paradigm Publishers, 2012.

Gupta, Sanjay. “Vietnam, heroin, and the lesson of disrupting any addiction.” CNN Health. December 22, 2015.

Kuzmarov, Jeremy. The Myth of the Addicted Army: Vietnam and the Modern War on Drugs. Amherst, Mass: University of Massachusetts Press, 2009.

Robins, Lee, Helzer, John, Hesselbrock, Michie, and Eric Wish. “Vietnam Veterans Three Years after Vietnam: How Our Study Changed Our View of Heroin.” The American Jounal on Addictions. Vol. 19 Issue 3. April 15, 2010.

Spiegel, Alix. “What Vietnam Taught Us About Breaking Bad Habits.” NPR. January 2, 2012.

Stuart, Susan. All Roads Lead From Vietnam to Your Home Town: How Veterans Have Become Casualties of the War on Drugs. 6 Alb. Gov’t L. Rev. 486. 2013.

[1] Alvin M. Shuster, “G.I. Heroin Addiction Epidemic in Vietnam,” The New York Times, May 16, 1971,

[2] Dessa Bergen-Cico, War and Drugs: The Role of Military Conflict in the Development of Substance Abuse (Boulder, Colorado: Paradigm Publishers, 2012), 79.

[3] M. Duncan Stanton, “Drugs, Vietnam, and the Vietnam Veteran: An Overview,” American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse vol. 3, no. 4 (1976): 561, accessed November 10, 2019,

[4] Jeremy Kuzamarov, The Myth of the Addicted Army: Vietnam and the Modern War on Drugs (Amherst, Mass: University of Massachusetts Press, 2009), 44.

[5] Alix Spiegel, “What Vietnam Taught Us About Breaking Bad Habits,” NPR, January 2, 2012,

[6] “Excerpts From President’s Message on Drug Abuse Control,” The New York Times, June 18, 1971,

[7] Kuzmarov, Myth of the Addicted Army, 40-41.

[8] Susan Stuart, All Roads Lead from Vietnam to Your Home Town: How Veterans Have Become Casualties of the War on Drugs, 6 Alb. Gov’t L. Rev. 486 (2013), 493-94.

[9] Lee Robins, Darlene Davis, and David Nurco, “How Permanent was Vietnam Drug Addiction?” American Journal of Public Health, vol 64, (1974): 39, accessed November 10, 2019,

[10] Ibid, 41.

[11] Ibid, 43

[12] Kuzmarov, The Myth of the Addicted Army, 22.

[13] Sanjay Gupta, “Vietnam, heroin, and the lesson of disrupting any addiction,” CNN Health, December 22, 2015,

[14] Stuart, All Roads Lead From Vietnam, 495.

[15] Lee Robins, John Helzer, Michie Hesselbrock, and Eric Wish, “Vietnam Veterans Three Years after Vietnam: How Our Study Changed Our View of Heroin,” The American Journal on Addictions, vol. 19, issue 3, April 15, 2010,

[16] Kuzmarov, Myth of the Addicted Army, 119.

Who Was Mother’s Little Helper?

“Doctor please, some more of these, Outside the door, she took four more.” The Rolling Stones song “Mother’s Little Helper” paints the tragic reality of the nations most “smartly dressed junkie”: the American housewife. Though the American housewife was not a new concept, what transpired after World War II created new perameters for women that only heightened this preexisting concept of domestication. World War II fundamentally changed the cultural landscape of gender roles and expectations, allowing women to fill traditional male roles while the men were in battle. Prior to World War II, women hadn’t experienced this level of autonomy which caused a new host of problems pertaining to the transition back to such antiquated gender roles. Though men felt emasculated in their new desk jobs, the transition was particularly difficult for women who had tasted freedom in some capacity during the war, encapsulated by Rosie The Riveter, and were forced back into domesticity seceding it. Though America experienced an economic boom after the war leading to prosperity and a renewed sense of hope in the American Dream, the 1950’s were also dubbed the “age of anxiety,” diverting from stereotypes about this “golden era.” For example, about half of the New York population was experiencing some kind of anxiety disorder during this time period. Anxiety was an intersectional issue spanning class gender and race contrary to the popular belief at the time, it was not just a middle class disorder. The gender role crisis was fortified by the Freudian psychoanalytic ideals that had been seeping into mainstream culture, popularizing mental health disorders. It is often said that art immitates life; representation of the addiction sweeping the country spanned multiple forms of media demanding a wake up call for the victims and institutions responsible. Advertising companies capitalized off of these new toxic gender roles and the desire to live anxiety-free lives and in doing so, “transformed doctors and patients into consumers.” 

The diagnosis of mental health disorders was an intersectional issue because there was a treatment disparity between class and gender. Almost everybody suffered, but the wealthy were the ones that had access to treatment. It was not unusual for someone with means to go to a physician for everyday problems such as anxiety due to minor inconveniences, but the poor tended to avoid physicians as they were distrustful, and remained skeptical of the validity of their own problems. This led many to let their problems develop into monsters far beyond average neuroses leading to high numbers of poor people in mental hospitals with schizophrenia diagnoses that arrived through the criminal justice system rather than self appointed administration. The language surrounding those who receive mental help also played a large role in who was getting the prescriptions. Poor neurotic people were viewed as belligerent but rich people with problems were simply dissatisfied with themselves. It is also important to note that marginalized groups suffer from these symptoms on a regular basis but it was thought that “coarser less refined souls” would be unphased by these diseases. Rollo May felt that “anxiety resulted from a cleavage between expectations and reality, he argued that the middle-class white women’s greater distress reflected their higher life expectations,” ultimately making the assertion that anxiety was a middle-class disease. Certain illnesses became “trendy” for this group of people such as neurasthenia: a diagnosis reserved for “anglo-saxon people with refined intelligence and refined sensibilities.” Neurasthenia also had intersections with gender because people believed that unnatural gender roles were the reason so many middle and upper class men and women were suffering the same symptoms. It seemed the only logical treatment for this was to overcompensate to “reverse” the “gender crisis.” For example, some doctors claimed that men should partake in more masculine activities such as physical sports and hunting to restore their vitality while women should go on bed rest to restore their natural passivity. Fundamentally expressing that the catalyst for this disease was due to straying from gender roles led people to believe that pills would restore the natural order of gender thus ridding them of their anxiety. However, “feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman argued that enforced passivity itself was the root cause of neurasthenia, since it kept women from much-needed engagement with social and political life,” commenting on the idea that the oppression women faced was cyclical in nature. Though the disease faded away, other labels replaced it and the same logic ultimately persisted. 

After World War II, the transition from the battlefield to suburbia led to the phenomenon of emasculation. This obsession with hypermasculinity ultimately deterred men from reaching for a pill to quell their anxiety. The advertising companies understood that marketing to men would not be as lucrative so they learned how to manipulate the market and target women, specifically upper class white women who had access to treatment. Before this time period Freud had come out with psychoanalytic theories which ultimately popularized psychiatry and anxiety disorders as a whole which remained applicable and credible in this time period. “The idea of psychiatric help, understood in Freudian terms, became a hugely popular concern. Everyone thought they should be better adjusted at work and be more mentally healthy. Anxiety was a trendy disorder,” Nicole Rasmussen remarks. Ultimately, the capitalization of the psychiatric craze and the emasculation men felt towards prescription drugs along with the exponential boredom and anxiety felt by women in the domestic sphere provided the perfect niche market. During the early 1950’s, drugs shared the spotlight with popular antibiotics, not yet becoming “blockbuster” drugs, however this all changed when Miltown hit the shelves. “Miltown’s introduction into the market was initially underwhelming, selling just $7,500 dollars worth during the first month after its launch in May 1955. But by the end of that year, sales hit $2 million.” The language used to describe the mental health discrepancies between men and women trickled into how the media targeted their customers. Housewives were expected to remain within their domestic spheres bolstering extreme boredom, pressure, and anxiety, but instead of implementing lifestyle changes to effectively manage their stress, doctors began prescribing Miltown and it soon became America’s favorite sedative and mother’s little helper. In the Miltown advertisement on the left, the tag-line reads “pregnancy can be made a happier experience…” while also promising “complete relief from insomnia, anxiety and emotional upsets” and “no adverse” physical effects. The advertisement depicts a white, well dressed woman holding a price tag for a crib with her dainty gloved hands. During pregnancy, women will naturally experience said symptoms largely due to hormonal changes that are not typically debilitating but women were convinced that these symptoms were a deterrent to their overall happiness, aka, their ability to conform to society’s expectations for women. Furthermore, this advertisement is largely ironic because the FDA stated in 1976 that popular tranquilizers, Miltown included, can potentially cause birth defects if taken with the first three months of pregnancy, less than 20 years after this advertisement was produced. 

Advertising companies disguised their true intentions of subduing women into domestic passivity by promising them relief of their symptoms, allowing them to capitalize off of the panic surrounding shifting gender roles. Throughout the 50’s, these advertisements began circulating popular news sources such as “(Newsweek, Time, Science Digest) and women’s magazines (Cosmopolitan, Ladies’ Home Journal).” These sources reached a mass audience, specifically women, creating the connection between patients and consumers, planting the idea in people’s heads that a pill would fix their problems. Though the drug was masqueraded as safe, it was still habit forming and people built tolerances causing them to take higher and higher doses to get the same effects easily leading to unintentional overdoses. As time progressed, prescription medication became more and more prevalent and advertising tactics became increasingly overt. For example, in the 1970’s, almost 20 years after the release of Miltown, almost 100 million prescriptions were written for Valium alone, another “blockbuster drug.” A study during the 1960s revealed that women were being prescribed Valium twice as much as men. As sedatives became more associated with women, the neurosies these drugs were treating also grew in association with femininity reflected in the violently misogynistic depictions in advertisements. The Butisol advertisement to the left depicts yet another middle class white woman, this time in the kitchen getting tied up by her child in a playful way with arguably darker associations to the incarcerating reality of domesticity. The rope represents the way in which the housewife is ultimately encompassing child rearing and cooking. The tag-line reads “now she can cope…a daytime sedative for everyday emotional stress.” A frustrating element of this advertisement is the language surrounding the said anxiety. Phrases in the description such as “situational stress,” “worry,” and “pressure” connote problems that can be fixed with therapy or other means that don’t require the numbing of a pill describes as an “anxiety-allying agent,” further bolstering the conception that the pills are helpful and benign. Furthermore, the warning on the ad states that it “may be habit forming” which to any consumer, would not cause concern. There is no mention of possible overdose or fatality. One of the “adverse side effects” is stated as drowsiness similar to a “hangover.” The advertisement overtly expresses the idea that in order to cook and raise children–the limited scope of womanhood–you have to be sedated to be able to perform effectively in the societally contrived role. If women felt slightly stressed, they didn’t have to change their environment or advocate for their emotions, they could simply reach for a pill to quell their anxiety which was harmful to themselves and those around them in their constant sedation. 

In this advertisement, a woman is seen behind a plethora of cleaning products, the brooms resembling prison bars. Her facial expression shows desperation, and anxiety. She is completely overwhelmed by her domestic obligations. The caption reads, “You can’t set her free, but you can help her feel less anxious,” again blatantly avoiding the root cause of the issues by making lifestyle changes but instead opting for quick fix because they firmly believed that women and men had stagnant roles to fill. Again in the description, the advertisers express that “you cannot change her environment of course” because what else would a woman be good for except cleaning, cooking, and parenting? The ad proceeds to say that though “your reassurance and guidance may have helped some,” only a pill can truly lift her out of her depression. The use of your seems to be addressing the husband of the housewife further relinquishing any atonomy a woman had over her body and her mind. Though the pills were advertised as benign medication, in reality, they caused housewives to conform to their gender roles by sedating them into blind submission. 

Representation of the theme of medicating women into passivity spanned across multiple media outlets. The Rolling Stones released a song in 1966 about Valium. They referred to the pills as a“mother’s little helper,” coining the term just before the drug “became the top-selling pharmaceutical in the United States from 1968 until 1982 with a peak of 2.3 billion tablets sold in 1978.” One of the opening lines states “‘kids are different today’ I hear every mother say,” likely referring to the pervasive teenage culture proceeding the baby boom, causing mothers to feel overwhelmed and out of control. The next lines states “Mother needs something today to calm her down, And though she’s not really ill,There’s a little yellow pill.” Again, we see commentary that reflects unnecessary cause for medication, even though she’s not sick she still seeks “the shelter of a mother’s little helper.” The next verse she expresses that “Cooking fresh food for a husband’s just a drag, So she buys an instant cake and she burns her frozen steak.” This verse speaks upon the tedious domestic duties that were expected of women. Though the song could be considered condescending and invalidating, it is worth noting that women of this generation were educated, many had worked in the war and experienced life beyond what their mothers had, so to go from living life to merely existing created a depressing reality for many women. Their identity was now tethered to the brooms in their hands, the baby in their arms, and the casserole in the oven. Women were fundamentally reduced to objects, like dolls with different functions. As the song progresses, after analyzing the lyrics, I noticed that at first only “two (pills) help her on her way” but soon, it takes “four help you through the night, help to minimize your plight.” On top of this, she takes “four more behind the door” speaking upon the way women would take more than their recommended doses without consulting their doctors to feel the same pain relief due to their tolerances building slowly. Furthermore, the pronouns of the song change about half way from her to you, signifying a wake up call for the listeners of the song, insinuating that though your addiction isn’t your fault, nobody else is going to save you and admitting is always the first step. The line “(men are) so hard to satisfy, You can tranquilize your mind” could insinuate that not only are women domestic servants, but are reduced further to sexual objects that need to be numbed to get through wifely“duties.” The last verse of the song expresses the darker realities of addiction, “The pursuit of happiness just seems a bore, And if you take more of those, you will get an overdose.” The song expresses how quickly an addiction can turn fatal which wasn’t often acknowledged in mainstream media at the time, especially from the advertisers and pharmaceutical companies. This song captures the sentiment that they were slowly killing themselves taking pill after pill with no regard for tomorrow.

         The movie Valley of The Dolls from 1967, the film adaptation of the book by Jaqueline Suzanne, highlights narcotics as a treatment for Hollywood female film stars by their agencies and doctors. The characters in the film refer fondly to their pills as “dolls,” short for Dolaphine which is the brand name for Methadone. The word doll is also used to describe attractive women creating the connection between the pills that women that use them. This could be connected to the idea that women can’t fulfill their “doll” like roles without the help of a pill. The name also reflects the way in which the pills were considered to be toys and childlike crutches for the user leading to dependence and addiction. One of the main characters, Neeley O’hara, is on set complaining of the hot stage lights when she storms off stage in frustration to be berated by her male producers. The director states, “It’s not booze its pills” that’s causing her to act up. Later that night after a troubling interaction with her love interest she is seen “taking dolls” with liquor to help her fall asleep, and again in the morning to wake her up. Soon the character begins spiraling into addiction causing her to be admitted into a hospital. Though the film is a mostly fictitious storyline, it is heavily based on the real lives of Hollywood stars reflecting the self destructive behavior of women all over the country during this time period. 

During the war, men and women adopted new roles: women were effectively running a country, affording them unprecedented autonomy, while many men were contributing directly to the war effort through militia. This temporary military-based society shifted the gender roles, causing a stir after the war was over and a subsequent desire to return to a “simpler time” with more rigid gender roles. Though men felt emasculated in their new desk jobs, women dealt with excruciating boredom and constraint in their suburban, domestic bubble causing anxiety. In the postwar era, the economic boom along with patriotism linked with consumerism caused consumer culture to be at an all time high extending from kitchen appliances to narcotics. Advertisements portrayed sedatives as medicine rather than addictive narcotics with serious side effects. They conflated daily struggles with existential crises to bolster sales while convincing women their anxiety was a deterrent to fulfilling their designated roles. Along with post-war gender panic, advertising agencies created customers out of patients, bolstering high sales and deadly addictions.


The Rolling Stones (1967) ‘Mother’s Little Helper’, Flowers (Aftermath), UK.

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Robson, Mark, director. Valley Of The Dolls 1967. YouTube, YouTube, 24 Dec. 2017,


Calcaterra, Nicholas E, and James C Barrow. “Classics in Chemical Neuroscience: Diazepam (Valium).” ACS Chemical Neuroscience, American Chemical Society, 16 Apr. 2014,

Herzberg, David. “‘The Pill You Love Can Turn on You’: Feminism, Tranquilizers, and the Valium Panic of the 1970s.” American Quarterly, vol. 58, no. 1, 2006, pp. 79–103. JSTOR,

Herzberg, David. Happy Pills in America : From Miltown to Prozac, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008. ProQuest Ebook Central,

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Take, The, director. Why Valley of the Dolls Became a Surprise Classic. YouTube, YouTube, 16 Jan. 2017,

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Clandestine Operations of the CIA on Vulnerable Populations

Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), also known as “acid”, is one of the most popular psychedelic drugs, frequently known for its properties of causing users to “feel out of control or disconnected from their body and environment.” LSD was first synthesized in 1938 by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann with the intentions of being a medicine. More specifically, LSD has been shown to interfere with the chemical balance of one’s brain which can interfere with the regulation of one’s own physical and emotional well-being, as well as their understanding and perception of the environment around them. A single dose of acid may only last for up to 12 hours, but can have a long-lasting substantial impact on a person. With these effects in mind, a single dose of LSD could result in a variety of experiences, both positive and negative. Due to these effects, in 1971, the government placed LSD as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substance Act meaning that it has a “high potential for abuse”, “no accepted medical uses”, and “a lack of accepted safety for use.” However, the means in which the government obtained this information was not through traditional ethical medical experiments that could scientifically lead to said conclusion. Instead, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) abused their power and targeted vulnerable minority populations throughout the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, in order to perform experiments on them with the sole intention of weaponizing LSD as a mind-control drug. This was a continuation of malicious state-sanctioned abuse towards vulnerable minority populations. In order to fully comprehend the extent to which the government was malevolently and systematically using these “studies” to harm minority populations, we must look at various experiments’ goals and their methods for achieving those goals.  

 With the rise of the Cold War in the late 1940s, the United States was desperate to develop tactics that would give them an advantage in their intelligence gathering efforts. In order to do this, the U.S. government did what they are best at and stripped citizens, mostly citizens of color, of their civil liberties and human rights in the name of “national security”. One of the experiments: Project MKUltra, as it was coded, was never intended to be used for medical research. It was actually the code name for an umbrella of experiments on humans and animals that were intended to identify and develop drugs and procedures to be used in interrogations in order to weaken the individual and force confessions through mind control. Only 10 years after its creation, the CIA was aware that LSD was a new drug with untapped potential, and thus they wanted to test out its euphoric capabilities. Lieutenant Charles Savage of the Navy was one of the first military officials to perform a study in order to attempt to understand the potential long term effects of LSD usage. In his study, “Project Chatter”, he attempted to search for positive LSD effects that would have long term benefits on depression. Although he failed to link the two, he did conclude that LSD causes a distortion rather than a deterioration of reality. People on LSD are then highly subjectable to “hallucinations induced by suggestions” which he recognizes as having potential use for psychotherapy. 

Failing to find a conclusive medical benefit to the consumption of LSD, the CIA shifted their focus from psychotherapy, to psycho-warfare. U.S. researched noted that LSD “is capable of rendering whole groups of people, including military forces, indifferent to their surroundings and situations, interfering with planning and judgment, and even creating apprehension, uncontrollable confusion and terror.” The CIA clearly had full intentions of turning LSD into a weapon in order to create subservience in other countries to the United States military. Additionally, the CIA worked towards creating forcing loyalty upon domestic citizens as well through the use of LSD and hallucinations as a result of suggestions. Once again, the CIA knew that what they were doing with drug testing might have been theoretically revolutionary, but that the unethical means they went through in order to perform the study outweighed any potential benefits. Project BLUEBIRD (which would eventually be renamed to MKUltra in order to denote the level of classification) was one of the first studies done by the CIA in order to attempt to weaponize LSD for brainwashing purposes. Their knowledge of the potential ramifications of the experimentation amplifies the governments culpability in the abuse of these clandestine operations. 

Project BLUEBIRD, before it was even proposed, was already understood to be an unethical study. In the proposal for funding, security requirements are proposed which classify the project as of the utmost confidential and thus labeled “TOP SECRET” and any document transferred between offices must have had been hand carried and on a “Eyes Only” basis and “dissemination should be limited to only those who have ‘need to know’”. On top of their desire for such secrecy, their understanding of their unethical and thus malicious behavior is codified in their proposal when they note that documents can be declassified to just “secret” when the documents “do not specify the true purpose of this program, nor does it make direct reference to the materials and means” of the program. The CIA is clear in their understanding of how unpopular and controversial their project is by classifying it from even some of the most highly ranked military officials. If they felt that they were academically contributing to the scientific understanding of LSD, then the need for so many fail-safes of secrecy would be unnecessary. The CIA further displays their direct understanding of their unethical practices when attempting to find a psychiatrist. First of all, they use the psychiatrist as the only licensed medical professional. They will perform physicals and various examinations that they may not be an expert in, because exposure of the program is of utmost priority. And second, they note on problem 3 of potential problems to finding a psychiatrist as “[h]is ethics might be such that he does not care to cooperate in certain more revolutionary portions of the project.” They eventually find a psychiatrist that will be “completely cooperative in any phase of our program, regardless of how new or revolutionary it may be.” Project Bluebird was known by the researchers to cause ethical concerns, but yet they continued anyways and received financial support from the government. The project focused on using LSD and its subsequent effects as a means of interrogation and brainwashing. Although the raw data from the study is unavailable (due to it still being classified), it can be reasonably understood that in order to perform an experiment on interrogation and coercive techniques while under the influence of LSD, they had to use interrogation techniques in a legitimate setting so as to get accurate results. At its core, the purpose for the study was unethical so any subsequent actions acting on behalf of the project are unethical as well. 

The CIA continued their research into LSD being used to force unwilling subjects to perform actions under instructions from the US in their various sub-projects of MKUltra. One of these is Project Artichoke which attempted to use LSD and methods of hypnosis in order to produce amnesia and other vulnerable states in order to see if a person could be “involuntarily made to committ an act of attempted assassination.” Not only is this again fundamentally problematic at its core, to make someone unknowingly and unconsciously attempt to assassinate a target for the U.S. government. What makes the problem even worse is that this specific study was intended to be “a ‘trigger mechanism’ for a bigger project, it was proposed that an individual of [CLASSIFIED] decent” that is “proficient in English and well established socially and politically in the [CLASSIFIED] Government could be induced under ARTICHOKE to” involuntarily attempt an “assassination of against a prominent [CLASSIFIED] politican, or if necessary, against an American official.” Project Artichoke, if performed by any individual or organization that was not the CIA, would have been viewed as a direct act of treason and violation of basic human rights. By forcing someone to commit a crime knowing they would have no recollection of committing said crime or why they did it, they are forcing subjects to have a weak and seemingly unrealistic defense, thus implicating themselves in their assassination attempt and absolving the U.S. government of any responsibility or culpability in the matter. Additionally, the CIA theoretically prepares to use the same tactic in order to kill a U.S. official, which again is conspiracy to commit murder as well as treason. It is clear through the goals of just these two projects that the CIA was malicious in their intended use and study of LSD. In addition, the methods for which they used in order to recruit subjects was overly coercive and abusive so as to target minority populations, since they were seen as less valuable members of society than whites in the white dominated government of the 1960s. 

Another strong indication of the abusive towards minority communities through drug testing is the way in which the CIA and researchers recruited members to their study. Before diving into the subject, a clarification of what it means to “voluntarily consent” to a study must be understood. Consent is willful, enthusiastic, and active. When the government utilizes certain recruitment tactics, it must be understood that even if participants voluntarily sign a legal contract consenting to the study, coercive methods by the government are abused by researchers in order to target minority populations. Drawing analysis from a 1983 court case Scott v Casey, the CIA partnered with Emory University medical school chairmen in order to disguise themselves as members of the United States Public Health Service and contact the Federal Bureau of Prisons so that they can use convicted prisoners as subjects for their LSD mind control programs under MKUltra. Although participants signed a legal contract consenting to the study, the contract was overly coercive because it gave incentives of early release from prison as well as large payment while in prison, both of which would be a great incentive for any prisoner to partake in the study. In other studies like Operation Midnight Climax, the CIA would have CIA operatives pose as sex workers and lure clients back to CIA safe houses where they would be unknowingly drugged and observed through a one-way mirror. The purpose of this practice was to study LSD doses on unsuspecting victims. This tactic would later expand to restaurants and bars in which agents would simply just drop LSD into unsuspecting people’s drinks.   Combining these abusive tactics of recruitment into the study as well as the subsequent effects of being coerced into or unknowingly being dosed with LSD, like Frank Olson who, after a week of being unknowingly fed LSD committed suicide, amplifies the maliciousness of the government. These tactics are often most used on minority populations because of their vulnerability and desire to gain access to their human rights. 

Targeting minority populations for blatantly unethical studies has been a common practice of the United States government for some time now. In the 1930s, the U.S. government sponsored the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male” in which the intention of the study was to observe cases of untreated syphilis. In order to do so, they lied to the participants and informed them that they were being treated for “bad blood” and would be receiving free health care from the U.S. government as a reward for participating in the study. Thus, the participants were completely unaware that they ever even had syphilis in the first place. It was to their understanding, more or less, that they would participate in the study for 6 months and then receive free treatment and healthcare. Tuskegee University, a historically black college in Alabama, agreed to permit the study and loan the U.S. Public Health Service full access to their medical facilities because they were under the impression that the purpose of the study was to benefit public health in the local poor population. They targeted a specifically black, young, and poor population because they knew that their incentives of free health care would be more coercive since these black men still did not have access to all their constitutional rights. This practice of intentionally lying to their subjects and partners was not only unethical, but done with malicious intent because they knew they were systematically harming African-Americans by withholding treatment. While the university and subjects were told the study would last only 6 months, it actually ended up lasting 480 months (40 years). Not only would this lead to the death of over 90% of the subject group (523 people), the U.S. government, during the timeframe of the study, declared penicillin to be an adequate cure for syphilis. However, not a single subject was informed of that breakthrough and thus were prevented from accessing a life-saving drug.

Although some might claim that the government was not being malicious because they were no laws surrounding ethical experiment practice in the 1930s, the resulting consequences of the study highlight the intentional abuse on African-Americans. In 1973, a whistleblower informed the public of the study and due to public outcry, an advisory panel determined the study to be “ethically unjustified” and ordered its immediate termination. After that, the NAACP filed a class action lawsuit in which the U.S. government voluntarily accepted responsibility by agreeing to a $10 million settlement. Additionally, they agreed to follow through on their empty promises and created a “Tuskegee Health Benefit Program” in which the U.S. government promised to give lifetime medical benefits and burial services to all living participants. The U.S. government actively accepts responsibility by then continuing to update the program in order to include spouses and offspring in 1975, and expanded the program in 1995 to include health as well as medical benefits. The government further accepted full responsibility for the harms created by the study when President Clinton stated “The United States government did something that was wrong — deeply, profoundly, morally wrong. It was an outrage to our commitment to integrity and equality for all our citizens.” To this day, the government is still paying 12 offspring for the damages they caused by intentionally putting African-Americans in harm’s way. The President recognized not only that the study caused harm, but also that it was the direct fault of the United States government. Even though he was not a direct proponent of the study, he recognizes that his position as the Executive means the government is responsible for past actions taken by the federally-backed researchers. Additionally, he highlights that this study not only caused significant harms, but that those harms were the intentions of the study and intended for African-Americans. “To our African American citizens, I am sorry that your federal government orchestrated a study so clearly racist.” President Clinton accepted that the federal government was responsible for these blatant racist actions and notes, “[t]hat can never be allowed to happen again. It is against everything our country stands for and what we must stand against is what it was.” However, systematic racism continued to manifest itself in state-sponsored drug testing experiments by continuing to target vulnerable populations and maliciously test on unwilling and unaware individuals. In the Tuskegee study, the government caused harm to its subjects by intentionally lying to them and subsequent harm due to a lack of treatment that could have been used to save their lives. Well into the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, the government continued to resort to these unethical practices in order to harm minority populations. 

In conclusion, the United States government, and more specifically the CIA, utilized coercive and abusive tactics in order to perform studies on mind control with LSD. The researchers had little concern for the well-being of their subjects and were more interested as to how LSD can be militarized to their advantage. Notably, they targeted minority populations because they were vulnerable and would be easier subjects to abuse.

Ethical Implications of Understanding Addiction: Lexington Narcotic Farm and the Addiction Research Center

By Shreeja Patel

In response to a rise in domestic narcotic consumption during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the federal government passed comprehensive legislation seeking to regulate and tax the introduction of narcotics.[i] The 1930s ushered in a new wave of solutions to the domestic drug crisis that combined the resources and approaches of numerous organizations with overlapping motivations for mitigating national opiate addiction. Construction of the Lexington Narcotic Farm, later commonly referred to as Narco by its nearly 30,000 inmates, was one such solution. Narco opened its doors in 1935 on 12-acres of land in rural Kentucky, promising to rehabilitate the nation’s growing number of addicts by giving them access to the therapeutic potential of medicine, spirituality and labor.[ii] However, within Narco, an Addiction Research Center (ARC) staffed by the National Research Council was simultaneously investigating both the science behind addiction and potential permanent cures through experimentation on prisoners housed there. These experiments involved unethical treatment of prisoners, as researchers preyed on the vulnerability of ex-addicts and abused their bodies in the name of science. Despite the ineffectiveness of the Lexington Narcotic Farm in mitigating the problem of high relapse rates amongst its prisoners, unethical research practices were permitted to continue in the ARC into the late 1970s because of the numerous institutional actors that reaped knowledge from the exploitation of criminalized addicts.  


A mid-1920s investigation of federal prisons by the Bureau of Efficiency of the Department of Justice revealed that prisoners who had been addicted to opiates lacked appropriate medical attention when incarcerated. In his report, the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, James V. Bennet, called for the establishment of two “narcotic farms,” or prisons solely dedicated to treating these prisoners separate from the rest.[iii] Congress debated Bennet’s proposal and ultimately passed the Porter Act of 1929, which authorized the construction of two Public Health Service Narcotic Hospitals.[iv] The Narcotic Farm erected in Lexington, Kentucky was the first of its kind and its rural location and arable land were of utmost importance as they ensured both that prisoners would be isolated from the temptations of urban life and that they could enjoy the catharsis of working its soil. In The Narcotic Farm, historian Nancy Campbell describes how Narco’s structure reflected its dual nature as both a prison and a hospital: “The institution’s size, towering walls, and barred windows powerfully communicated its mission of incarceration…Despite the institution’s overbearing scale, therapeutic ideals were central to its design, which included a spacious chapel and a complex grid of courtyards allowing for light and ventilation throughout the institution”.[v]

“Exterior of Lexington Narcotic Farm” University of Kentucky Archives Date: 1935-05-25
“Exterior of Lexington Narcotic Farm” University of Kentucky Archives Date: 1935-05-25

Narco housed what would later be called the Addiction Research Center (ARC), laboratories where researchers hoped to learn more about the underlying mechanisms of addiction and potentially discover a cure. Dr. Clifton K. Himmselbach, the first director of the ARC, was a prominent addiction researcher of the time whose work with rats helped him to determine a research principle which became the basis for much of the experimentation done by the ARC: “A substance that will support and maintain the ‘addicted state’ is essentially addicted in itself.”[vi] Himmelsbach’s “addicted state” refers to a new homeostatic equilibrium that a user’s body establishes in response to even small quantities of an addictive substance.[vii] Under his supervision, the ARC aimed to better understand the underlying mechanisms of addiction and assess the addictive potential of novel synthetic analgesics by performing tests on the captive population of highly experienced and knowledgeable ex-addicts  housed at Narco. Researchers justified this testing because they felt that this patient population patients could best understand the risks associated with participating in drug testing trials.[viii] Prior efforts taken to discover therapeutic alternatives to Cocaine successfully eliminated all medical uses of the drug and led to the subsequent decline in national coca leaf importation. Motivated by this success, researchers at Narco’s ARC sought to investigate the neurophysiological underpinnings of narcotic addiction and discover potential alternatives.[ix]

Characterization of the ARC Research

The ARC is credited with establishing numerous “milestones” in addiction science and treatment such as identifying neurological opiate receptors and challenging accepted stereotypes about addicts.[x] In Addiction Research Center: Pioneers Still on the Frontier, John Walsh adds that: “The contributions of the Lexington researchers have ranged across applied and basic research. Standard withdrawal techniques for morphine and heroin and later for methadone, barbiturates and alcohol were developed there. The scientific characterization of the morphine abstinence syndrome and tests for opiate dependence came out of the center.”[xi]

However, the conflation of prisoners with patients gave rise to conditions that were inherently coercive and demonstrated gross violations of the ethics of human subject research. For one, the “consent forms” that patients were made to fill out prior to participating in ARC experiments read more like a release to protect the laboratory and its researchers from potential lawsuits.[xii] Furthermore, though all participants were volunteers with the freedom to withdraw from the program at any time, participating meant that they were going to be administered the drugs they so desperately craved. Laboratory protocols attempted to replicate the “natural” conditions experienced by addicts in the world outside the Lexington Narcotic Farm, meaning that patients were given high doses through intravenous injections.[xiii] The ARC operated long before the international organized trafficking of heroin, therefore addicts were exposed to highly pure narcotics with withdrawal symptoms more debilitating than what ex-addicts experience today.[xiv] Researchers believed that their data would be virtually useless if they were unable to record the highs and lows of addiction. As a result, they justified exposing their patients to the wrath of withdrawal by emphasizing the scientific value in re-addiction studies, but they failed to acknowledge its clear hypocrisy: patients were re-enacting the very conditions that led them to be admitted to the Narcotic Farm in the first place.[xv]

Photograph by artist Arthur Rothstein of a patient at Lexington Narcotic Farm

Patient Perspectives

In a hearing on the work done by the ARC from its establishment in 1935 through 1976 when the last patient was transferred out of the facility, a former test subject Eddie Flowers reflected on his experience: “Later on I came to grips with the fact that I was used. Being a young man, I was very vulnerable in the sense that if it’s about drugs, I wanted drugs.”[xvi] In his testimony, Flowers also mentioned the existence of a “drug” bank which experiment participants could choose from as payment for their participation. He went on to say:

There was a guy there by the name of Red [Rodney] . . . [who] shared with me, ’cause he didn’t share that with a lot of other people, about the fact that he was in this drug program in Lexington, Kentucky. He kind of like laid it out to me, that they’d take him out of the main population for two or three weeks, and they’d try different drugs on him, and then they’d pay him off in heroin, ’cause that was his drug of choice. . . . [T]hrough his ‘nagling, I was able to get in. . . . [T]hat’s when I began to be a part of that whole experimentation thing. (2004)[xvii]

Witness testimonies like Flowers’ and official ARC reports reveal that participants were administered every abused drug known to humans. Studies often involved the administration of large doses followed by periods of forced sobriety that would cause volunteers to experience the worst of withdrawal. In a statement on the ethics of the research practiced by the ARC, its former director Dr. Harris Isbel claimed that “ethical codes were not so highly developed” during the time he proceeded over the center. Despite attempts to mitigate criticism, the ARC continues to have a legacy of unethical research practices that have now made it illegal for federal prisoners to be used in medical research of any kind.[xviii]

Motivations for Different Institutional Actors

The research conducted at the Addiction Research Center attracted a variety of institutional actors with different motivations behind their support, ultimately allowing experimentation on the prisoners held at the Lexington Narcotic Farm to continue virtually uninterrupted for decades.

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University of Kentucky Archives Atlanta Georgian “The Light of a New Day” Date: March 4, 1935

First and foremost, the federal government saw the establishment of The Narcotic Farm as a necessary measure to contain the new prisoner population of ex-addicts created by increasingly enforced regulations surrounding domestic narcotic use. Publicity campaigns demonstrate how these facilities helped promote a positive image of federal efforts to combat the growing problem of opiate addiction in America. For example, The Denver Post ran a full page spread on March 19, 1939 that promised that “Drug Addicts have a Future.” The article’s images depict a crazed narcotics abuser being pacified by a Narco administrator demonstrating the salvation promised by the institution.[xix] Furthermore, a front-page spread ran by the Atlanta Georgian in 1935 echoes this promise, as it depicts a long line of “victims of drug addiction” making their way to the Federal Narcotics Farm in search of “public enlightenment.”[xx]

The federal government’s vested interest in the Lexington Narcotic Farm was about more than gaining public approval as the research conducted behind its walls benefitted the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) amongst other arms of the federal government. In a memorandum to the chair of medical sciences, Mr. Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics, mentions the Army’s interest in a number of compounds synthesized by the academic chemists of the ARC.[xxi] Furthermore, investigations from the 1970s revealed the CIA funded the lab’s research into LSD to find a potential drug that could allow for “mind control” as a part of a project they called MK-Ultra.[xxii]

Members of the scientific and medical communities also had a vested interest in conducting their research at the Lexington Narcotic Farm because working with the approval of the federal government allowed them to further their research agendas with minimal constraints. On federal involvement in the ARC’s work, Dr. Caroline Jean Acker, a historian of medicine and public health at Carnegie Mellon University writes: “From its earliest stages, the committee sought and obtained cooperation from federal officials active in drug enforcement and addiction research. These links kept the work tied to policy that reflected the new, harsher view of addicts; they also suggest that the quest for the non-addictive opiate analgesic was meaningful to these groups as well.”[xxiii] For the academic chemists, physicians and pharmacologists that made up the ARC, collaborating with the federal government also granted them unique access to the drugs necessary for research into the underlying mechanisms behind addiction. Dr. Nathan B. Eddy, a physician who served a leading role in the pharmacological division of the National Research Council’s Committee on Drug Addiction, writes about how the involvement of Mr. Harry Anslinger was a vital resource for the scientists working at the ARC. Through Anslinger, researchers were provided with large amounts of confiscated morphine and heroin.[xxiv] Previously, researchers interested in understanding the addictive effects of these drugs were limited by a lack of vital starting materials due to stipulations outlined in the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914. Therefore, operating out of the Lexington Narcotic Farm and in cooperation with the federal government enabled ARC scientists to overcome this obstacle and conduct readdiction studies on its prisoners.

Additionally, for the academic chemists at the ARC seeking to synthesize alternative analgesics, federal support allowed them to forge mutually beneficial relationships with prominent pharmaceutical companies that helped advance their discoveries. For example, when these chemists successfully synthesized desomorphine from opiate starting materials, they were unable to achieve adequate yields for the doses required for human subject testing. At the time, Merck and Company, Mallinckrodt Chemical Works and the New York Quinine Company were the only pharmaceutical companies under the Harrison Act that were permitted to import and process opium on a large enough scale.[xxv] Through relationships fortified by Anslinger and other federal officers, these pharmaceutical companies collaborated with ARC researchers to make substantial amounts of the compound for clinical testing on the ex-addicts held at Narco. Furthermore, within the academic chemistry community, little research had been done into analytical and synthetic work involving alkaloid chemistry, or the chemistry of synthetic opiates. Therefore, the studies conducted by the ARC provided opportunity for innovation and discovery.[xxvi]

International actors and foreign governments also benefitted from the research conducted by the ARC. Anslinger’s presence on the committee linked its work to the international conversation on drug control policy. The goal of ARC chemists to synthesize a nonaddictive analgesic was supported by international efforts to curb the distribution of opiates to medical channels, as policymakers feared the iatrogenic causes of addiction. Ansligner’s ties to international actors allowed chemists from the ARC to serve as expert consultants for the League of Nations’ Opium Advisory Committee.[xxvii] After World War II, there was a sudden surge in the availability of potentially dangerous and addictive new drugs. As a result, the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations turned to the ARC to test the effects of these novel drugs on human subjects because at the time it was the only institution in the world performing this kind of research. For more than two decades, ARC researchers continued to evaluate virtually every new pharmaceutical to hit the market on the patients at Narco[xxviii] and this partnership continued after WWII and into the 1960s in the form of contributions to research funding.[xxix]


Amongst the aforementioned interests, those of the ex-addicts admitted to the Lexington Narcotic Farm and experimented on were not represented. At its inception, Narco was erected with the purpose of quarantining addicts far from the temptations of the communities they called home. The hybrid prison-hospital promised to rehabilitate addicts, relabeling them from criminals to patients worthy of government and scientific investment. However, the research conducted by the Addiction Research Council reveals the dark underbelly of this alleged “New Deal for the drug addict” as it involved administration of opiates to the prisoners in order to study the mechanisms behind addiction.[xxx] An early conclusion established by the ARC was that “an addict’s drug-seeking behavior after withdrawal is at least partly conditioned.”[xxxi] This finding, demonstrates precisely why the ex-addicts undergoing rehabilitation at the Lexington Narcotic Farm represented a population incapable of truly providing informed consent to experiments that enabled them to receive doses of the drugs they so deeply craved.

These ethical concerns were identified by Assistant Surgeon General Walter L. Treadway, a member of the ARC in the years leading up to the opening of the Lexington Narcotic Farm: “It is not assumed that Federal prisoners should be used as experimental animals for the furtherance of medical knowledge. However, a large prison may be regarded as analogous to a laboratory, subject to control, where observations and scientific studies should be made possible.”[xxxii] Treadway’s caution summarizes how the human subject research at the ARC was inherently exploitative. To generate the knowledge that they sought, researchers needed to exert a degree of social control over their subjects that only a federal prison—that stripped inmates of their autonomy when they walked in the door—could provide.

In conclusion, researchers at the ARC were complicit in conducting unethical research on federal prisoners housed at the Lexington Narcotics Farm. Narco’s approach to addiction rehabilitation was found to be virtually unsuccessful as relapse rates hovered around 90% throughout its tenure.[xxxiii] Regardless, the investment of numerous powerful institutional actors into the ARC’s research allowed its studies to continue without interruption for nearly 50 years.


Campbell, Nancy D. The Narcotic Farm. New York: Abrams, 2008.

Caroline Jean Acker. “Addiction and the Laboratory: The Work of the National Research Council’s Committee on Drug Addiction, 1928-1939.” Isis 86, no. 2 (June 1995): 167–93.

David F.  Musto. “The Harrison Act.” In The American Disease: Origins of Narcotic Control, 54–68. 1999. Oxford University Press, n.d. Accessed December 3, 2019.

Dr. Geoff Watts. “Cells, Addicts, and the Gulf between Them.” New Scientist, October 20, 1977.

Eddy, Nathan Browne. The National Research Council Involvement in the Opiate Problem, 1928-1971. Washington D.C.: National Academy of Sciences, 1973.

Nancy D. Campbell. “A New Deal for the Drug Addict: Addiction Research Moves to Lexington, Kentucky.” In Discovering Addiction: The Science and Politics of Substance Abuse Research, 319. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007.

Nancy D. Campbell. “The Tightrope between Coercion and Seduction: Characterizing the Ethos of Addiction Research at Lexington.” In Discovering Addiction: The Science and Politics of Substance Abuse Research, 319. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2007.

Pattillo, Alexandra. “Dr. Herbert Kleber: How a 1960s ‘Narcotic Farm’ Shaped Modern Addiction Treatment.” Inverse. Accessed December 5, 2019.

Walsh, J. “Addiction Research Center: Pioneers Still on the Frontier.” Science 182, no. 4118 (December 21, 1973): 1229–31.

White, Wm. C. “COMMITTEE ON DRUG ADDICTION OF THE NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL.” Science 73, no. 1882 (January 23, 1931): 97–98.

[i] David F.  Musto, “The Harrison Act,” 59–63.

[ii] Campbell, The Narcotic Farm, 36.

[iii]Eddy, The National Research Council Involvement in the Opiate Problem, 1928-1971, 25.

[iv] Caroline Jean Acker, “Addiction and the Laboratory,” 178.

[v] Campbell, The Narcotic Farm, 36.

[vi] Eddy, The National Research Council Involvement in the Opiate Problem, 1928-1971, 26.

[vii] Dr. Geoff Watts, “Cells, Addicts, and the Gulf between Them,” 158.

[viii] Campbell, The Narcotic Farm, 166.


[x] Campbell, The Narcotic Farm, 164.

[xi] Walsh, “Addiction Research Center,” 1229.

[xii] Campbell, The Narcotic Farm, 172

[xiii] Nancy D. Campbell, “The Tightrope between Coercion and Seduction: Characterizing the Ethos of Addiction Research at Lexington,” 114–15.

[xiv] Walsh, “Addiction Research Center,” 1229.

[xv] Nancy D. Campbell, “The Tightrope between Coercion and Seduction: Characterizing the Ethos of Addiction Research at Lexington,” 114–15.

[xvi] Campbell, The Narcotic Farm, 165.

[xvii] Nancy D. Campbell, “The Tightrope between Coercion and Seduction: Characterizing the Ethos of Addiction Research at Lexington,” 116

[xviii] Campbell, The Narcotic Farm, 167.

[xix] Campbell, The Narcotic Farm, 13.

[xx] University of Kentucky Archives Atlanta Georgian “The Light of a New Day” Date: March 4, 1935

[xxi] Eddy, The National Research Council Involvement in the Opiate Problem, 1928-1971, 45.

[xxii] Campbell, The Narcotic Farm, 165.

[xxiii] Caroline Jean Acker, “Addiction and the Laboratory,” 178.

[xxiv] Eddy, The National Research Council Involvement in the Opiate Problem, 1928-1971, 20.

[xxv] Caroline Jean Acker, “Addiction and the Laboratory,” 181.


[xxvii] Caroline Jean Acker, “Addiction and the Laboratory,” 179.

[xxviii] Campbell, The Narcotic Farm, 164.

[xxix] Eddy, The National Research Council Involvement in the Opiate Problem, 1928-1971, 81.

[xxx] Nancy D. Campbell, “A New Deal for the Drug Addict: Addiction Research Moves to Lexington, Kentucky,” 55.

[xxxi] Walsh, “Addiction Research Center,” 1230.

[xxxii] Nancy D. Campbell, “A New Deal for the Drug Addict: Addiction Research Moves to Lexington, Kentucky,” 54.

[xxxiii] Pattillo, “Dr. Herbert Kleber.”