Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Drug War History Events: The Great American Pot Story

smoke signals sml[1]Cannabis and its defining role in the culture wars and the ‘war on drugs’ declared by former New York State Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller forty years ago will be fully explored by award-winning investigative journalist Martin A. Lee in two separate events in the North Country on September 26-27.  Lee will also be speaking in Albany on September 28.

All three events are sponsored by the freedom education and human rights project, John Brown Lives!, as part of “The Correction,” the organization’s latest initiative that uses history as a tool to engage communities in examining the past and addressing critical issues of our time.  The focus of The Correction is the impacts of the 40-year era of the Rockefeller Drug Laws.

Lee, author of Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana—Medicinal, Recreational and Scientific (Scribner 2012), will give an entertaining yet thoroughly-researched overview of the world’s most controversial plant and discuss the far-reaching effects of the drug policies enacted in New York State and elsewhere around the country.

In 1973, then-governor Rockefeller reversed his earlier position that favored treating drug use and addiction as a public health issue to one that led to the passage of the harshest drug laws in the country.  Following Rockefeller’s lead, New York Legislators enacted statutes that created mandatory minimum sentences of 15 years to life for possession of four ounces of narcotics—a comparable sentence for second-degree murder.

The statutes, which became known as the Rockefeller Drug Laws, ushered in a program of unprecedented prison building, mass incarceration, and population dislocation. These “drug laws” transformed the economy and the landscape of many small towns and villages of the North Country and, directly or indirectly, altered the lives of many thousands of people, their families and communities, upstate and downstate.

SUNY Plattsburgh’s Department of Anthropology and the Albany-based Center for Law and Justice are joining John Brown Lives! to sponsor Lee’s visit.  His talks are free and open to the public.

Lee’s schedule:

  • ·      Thursday 26 September in Plattsburgh

SUNY Plattsburgh’s College Ballroom

7:30-9:30 p.m.

sponsored by the Department of Anthropology

  • ·      Friday 27 September in Saranac Lake

BluSeed Studio 24 Cedar Street

7:30-9:00 p.m.

  • ·      Saturday 28 September in Albany

Arbor Hill/West Hill Branch of Albany Public Library

148 Henry Johnson Boulevard

2:30-4:00 p.m.

co-sponsored by the Center for Law and Justice

John Brown Lives! was awarded a $10,000 Project Director’s Grant for The Correction from the New York Council for the Humanities. Founded in 1975 and supported by Federal, State, City, and private sources, the New York Council for the Humanities helps all New Yorkers become thoughtful participants in our communities by promoting critical inquiry, cultural understanding, and civic engagement through grants and programs.  

For more information, contact Martha Swan, Executive Director of John Brown Lives! at or 518-744-7112 or visit John Brown Lives! on Facebook.


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23 Responses

  1. Jillian Galloway says:

    I trust the government and I believe they do what’s best for us but I fail to see the justification for arresting 800,000 people/year for the “crime” of wanting to use a far safer alternative to alcohol.

    Alcohol causes liver disease, heart disease, brain damage, violence, cancer, and kills 80,000 people/year in the U.S. while marijuana does none of these things. We could prevent a lot of the harm that alcohol causes by giving people the right to choose marijuana instead of alcohol. Why aren’t we doing it already?!

    • Nature says:


      Who says marijuana is actually safer than alcohol? It may be. But I wonder if all of the people that currently use, or abuse, alcohol switched to marijuana if it wouldn’t end up being just as unhealthy/unsafe. And I tend to think that many people who currently use alcohol would just add pot to the mix (if they haven’t already).

      • John Warren says:

        Who says marijuana is actually safer than alcohol?

        Oh I don’t know, let’s see, how many deaths from alcohol poisoning are there each year? How many from marijuana poisoning? How many from cirrhosis? How many from alcohol related accidents? How many murders and other violent crimes fueled by alcohol?

        It would seem to me that common sense says that marijuana is much safer than alcohol. Oh, and then there are all those scientific studies.

        If you can’t rely on common sense, use Google.

        • Paul says:

          Are these adjusted for the number of users? Also (if they are) maybe Alcohol is so bad because it is legal and so well socially accepted?

        • Nature says:

          I stand by my assertion. I don’t think marijuana is safer or more healthy than alcohol. It may be different, but no better. How about all the deaths/medical conditions from Cigarettes? There is currently a national campaign to eradicate smoking (try google, you might find some information). How good can marijuana smoke really be for you? Do we really want to encourage another form of smoking?

          How about what I like to call the Cheech and Chong effect. Or, you may remember Beavis and Butthead? This looks funny on the TV set, but it isn’t funny when you see real people pissing away their lives and time in a fog when they could be doing more productive things like… spending meaningful time with their kids… helping out in their community… moving out of their parents house, etc.

          You may know people that smoke weed occasionally and are productive members of society. I Know people that drink occasionally and are productive members of society.

          I am not arguing for the merits of alcohol (if there are any). I am simply saying that I don’t see a lot of good in marijuana.

  2. Pete Klein says:

    Not opposed to marijuana or any other drug being legal and available over the counter but what has this to do with the Adirondacks except, I would guess, the jobs the drug laws provide in prisons to house those charged with using or selling what someone decides is illegal.
    Anything can be made illegal for whatever reason.

    • Ryan Finnigan says:

      The criminalization of marijuana does affect the Adirondack region, just as it does everywhere. Not only in regards to the high local prison population, but also in the fact that there are plenty of native non-violent Adirondackers that would face criminal penalty for consuming and/or transporting marijuana. The Adirondack region does not exist in a self-contained bubble and, in fact, is severely negatively affected by this nations’ (as well as New Yorks’ specifically) criminalization of marijuana, as well as, I would argue, the entire U.S. and most of the world!

    • John Warren says:

      1 – We have had an enormous economy built upon the drug war.

      2 – This event is sponsored by a local organization to discuss #1.

  3. Frank says:

    This is an excellent book. A very comprehensive review of the history and laws surrounding cannabis. This book is worth a read if you are on either side of the legalization of cannabis.

  4. Paul says:

    The Adirondacks also has lots of state land. These are places that growers love to use. I have even seen trail registers in places where guys have signed in saying that the reason for their hike was to check on their pot plants! Funny though, they usually use names like IP Freely and have a phone number that starts 555?

  5. Charlie S says:

    What get’s me is when you’re entering a town on the road and a sign says “This is a drug-free community.” And how about employers who require their employees take piss tests randomly and on short notice. Your system could be loaded with xzanax or any of a number of prescription drugs that the pharmaceuticals sell us,which are proven to kill and impair by the tens of thousands of people a year,yet have a trace amount of harmless marijuana in your system and your career is ruined.A very corrupt system it is indeed. Drugs should be legalized for recreational use.That would sure save us a lot of money,and free the prisons a good chunk.

  6. Charlie S says:

    About the “This is a drug-free community” thing. There’s no such thing. Everyone and their mother is on some kind of pharmaceutical or another.I’d bet a weeks pay that wherever such signs exist there are ample amounts of folk within shouting distance with some kind of disorder being treated by yours truly the corporate pharmaceutical industry.

  7. adirondack joe says:

    marijuana leads to hard drugs.

  8. Charlie S says:

    Maybe when you’re a teenager marijuana leads to hard drugs Joe,and then it would likely be peer pressure more than anything else that would do the leading.It’s a crock to say such a thing.It’s been being said by propagandists for years.You’re not a propagandist are you Joe? If marijuana leads to harder drugs how come every one I know who smokes weed (whose numbers are great)does not do harder drugs? Any answers Joe?

  9. adirondackjoe says:

    charlie, i grew up in the 70’s. its not propaganda. any one i knew that has turned to hard drugs and there are many, all have one thing in common. they ALL started with marijuana. if you still don’t think that’s so,ask anyone in law enforcement.

  10. adirondackjoe says:

    i can’t drink milk. i’m lactose intolerant.

  11. Charlie S says:

    Joe! You said marijuana leads to hard drugs and I answered with what I think was an appropriate and true response. Then you corrected yourself and said “They started with marijuana.” Fine! But my experience shows that there’s just too many people who smoke weed and do no other drugs.Weed did not lead me to harder drugs.I started with that then ventured further.It was a choice.It was the people I hung out with.It was lots of reasons but it wasn’t the weed.I don’t do drugs anymore and I am fortunate that I am alive and am grateful for that.I know,or have known over the years,too many people who smoke/d weed but do no other drugs,which would make your first statement false.
    You also say: “if you still don’t think that’s so,ask anyone in law enforcement.”
    I’m glad you brought law enforcement into this Joe as two police officer’s have shared this with me…that they know it is not the weed that is causing all of the problems,it is the harder drugs and alcohol.Two cops told me that.
    I’m not condoning the use of marijuana and i’m certainly not against it.If people want to smoke a plant that should be their choice,they should not be thrown in a cage like an animal because of it.The laws are unjust regards this issue.My friend Scott Cratty drove to a black neighborhood in his corvette to cop weed some fifteen or so years ago.He was shot by an idiot for whatever stupid reason in the process of copping weed and ended up dying from that bullet wound.If marijuana had been legal back then my friend Scott would be here today.He was a good man!He didn’t drink but he liked his weed.I am certain there are a ton of other similar stories. There was a dude who got thrown in a cage a few years ago (in the Capital region) for possession of marijuana and they found him hung in his jail cell the next morning.The unreasonable laws do more damage than good in too many cases as has been proven over and again.

  12. adirondackjoe says:

    charlie, why don’t you and the rest of your doper buddies just move to Colorado were it’s legal? end of problem for both of us.

  13. Charlie S says:

    Why would I want to move to Colorado Joe? And what’s with the “doper” kick? You’re not biased against people that are different than you are you Joe? That’s a small place to be. Problems? I don’t have any,i’m a happy camper thank you.

  14. Charlie S says:

    Thank you Paul. His time was up evidently.As all of ours will be eventually.It’s only a matter of time.

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