The misdealing of drug info
January 10th, 2018
Susan Boyd’s Busted: An Illustrated History of Drug Prohibition in Canada appears just months before marijuana becomes legalized in Canada. A book launch will be held on January 23 in Vancouver at SFU Woodwards, 149 West Hastings Street at 7 pm. Full details here.
In Busted, Boyd looks back at the ways in which various drugs have been controlled and policed by the Canadian state since the 1800s and illustrates how the criminal justice, “tough on crime” approaches to prohibition have not only been ineffective, but have done more harm than good.
Boyd also shows how drug laws, and drug scares, have been based on racial, gender and class stereotypes and prejudices. She devotes attention to the various organizing and resistances against prohibition and criminalization in Canada, including the counterculture movement in the 1960s, and the many harm reduction campaigns and pushes for safe injection clinics across the country.
Reproduced in the book are over 170 black and white, and full-colour images which reveal the various ways drugs have been portrayed throughout Canadian history in advertisements, film, and prohibitory propaganda. They also provide context for the stories of resistance and activism surrounding sensible drug laws and decriminalization.
Susan Boyd is a distinguished professor of Human and Social Development at the University Victoria, and she was a member of the federal Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation.
ABOUT SUSAN BOYD
There were only three other books on drugs and cinema published prior to Susan Boyd’s Hooked: Drug War Films in Britain, Canada, and the United States (2008). Most significantly, Michael Starks’ illustrated history Cocaine Fiends and Reefer Madness (1982) looks at films from around the world. Boyd examines Canadian “drug” films, as well as British and U.S. productions, from 1912 to the present.
“I also write about alternative films and stoner flicks,” she says, “and I include a chapter on women and maternal drug use. I also include films from 1980 to the 2006. My perspective is quite different due to my focus on drug prohibition which emerged at the same time as the discovery of film. Their histories intersect in interesting ways. I am less interested in the portrayal of each drug, rather my focus in on war on drugs narratives (and ruptures) and how cinematic representations of illegal drug use and trafficking (regardless of drug type) are associated and linked to discourses about the Other, nation building, law and order, and punishment.”
Boys says some of the most significant Canadian drug films are: High ((1967) directed by Larry Kent; Curtis’s Charm (1995) directed by L’Ecuyer; The Barbarian Invasions (2003) directed by D. Arcand; (2006); On the Corner (2003) directed by N. Geary; and Trailer Park Boys (2006) directed by M. Clattenburg. Her favorites are The Barbarian Invasions (2003) and Trailer Park Boys (2006) (and their 2004 Showcase episode titled Trailer Park Boys X-Mas Special (2004)). Favourite joint productions are Atlantic City (1980) directed by L. Malle; and Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (2004) directed by D. Leiner.
Chinese Opium Den, produced in 1894 is considered to be the first drug film. It was a half-minute long silent film (Kinetograph) featured at penny arcades. The film was made for Thomas Edison’s film studio Black Maria. Its popularity sparked a host of other “opium” films but unfortunately only stills of Chinese Opium Den now exist. “Getting permission to include film stills was an education and it took months to figure out the copyright issue,” she says. “I was able to include films stills from the joint Canadian film, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.”
Some of the films stills included in her book are from Broken Blossoms, 1919; Narcotic, 1934; The Pace that Kills, 1936; Assassin of Youth, 1935; The Man with the Golden Arm, 1955; The Trip, 1967 Easy Rider, 1969; The Panic in Needle Park, 1971; Trainspotting, 1996; Gridlock’d, 1997; Cleopatra Jones, 1973; The French Connection, 1971; New Jack City, 1991; Maria Full of Grace, 2004; Reefer Madness, 1936; Valley of the Dolls, 1967; Postcard from the Edge, 1990; Blow, 2001; Marihuana, The Weed with Roots from Hell; Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, 2004; Layer Cake, 2004; and Drugstore Cowboy, 1989.
As a long-time community activist and resident of B.C., living in Vancouver’s east end, Susan Boyd was an Assistant Professor in the School of Criminology and the Department of Women’s Studies at SFU before becoming an Associate Professor of Sociology/Criminology at Saint Mary’s University. She subsequently became a professor in the Faculty of Human and Social Development at the University of Victoria. Susan Boyd has an M.A. in clinical psychology from Antioch University and a Ph.D in criminology from Simon Fraser University. Susan Boyd has worked with harm reduction and anti-drug war groups. From 1992 to 1999 she was an outreach worker with Drug and Alcohol Support for Women (DAMS) and Keano Women’s Healing Circle. For the last three years she has been working with SNAP (SALOME/NAOMI Association of Patients), who meet at VANDU (Vancouver Network of Drug Users) every week. Her academic interests are focused mainly on drug policy and law, maternal drug use, reproductive autonomy, and media representations. She was Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia., University of Victoria when she co-edited With Child with Lenora Marcellus. Susan Boyd was an Associate Professor in Studies in Policy and Practice at the University of Victoria when she published From Witches to Crack Moms, her feminist analysis of the impact drug law and policy have on women in the U.S. compared with women in Britain and Canada. The drug war’s impact on women and indigenous peoples of Colombia is also considered. Since then Boyd worked with Bud Osborn and Donald MacPherson to chronicle the history of resistance in the Downtown Eastside for harm reduction and a supervised injection site. More recently she has been examining media representations of criminalized drugs and the people who use them. Boyd was awarded the Distinguished Professor Award at the University of Victoria in 2014 for her research, teaching, community service, and publications on drug policy.
Co-written with Connie Carter, a senior policy analyst for the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, Killer Weed: Marijuana Grow Ops, Media, and Justice (University of Toronto Press 2014) documents fifteen years of scare tactics about marijuana growing fueled by a few vocal spokespeople, the RCMP and media. After wide-reaching analysis, Boyd and Carter conclude in the final chapter such scare tactics have little merit. They cite the findings of the federal government’s justice department’s own study on marijuana grow ops that challenges claims made by the RCMP and media regarding organized crime, violence and public safety. That justice department report is corroborated by scholarly research–but the justice department study was never released. Boyd and Carter obtained a copy of the unreleased study from a reporter who received it following a Freedom of Information request.
“The second important finding,” says Boyd, ” concerns civil initiatives and by-laws, municipal multi-partner initiatives that have sprung up all over B.C. and elsewhere since 2004. There is little oversight of these initiatives as they are outside criminal justice. BC Hydro, the city government, police, RCMP, firefighters and electrical inspectors all work to identify high electrical usage, and then enter homes without a warrant, and there is an assumption of guilt rather than innocence. These homeowners are fined regardless of whether or not evidence of marijuana growing is found.”
Specifically, on page 146, Killer Weed discusses the so-called “smart meters” that have been forced upon BC Hydro customers.
According to the authors of Killer Weed, a fifteen-year drug scare about marijuana grow ops has helped to facilitate changes in federal law (mandatory minimum sentencing for some drug offences, including growing more than five plants (resulting in six-month jail sentences), as well as changes in the medical marijuana program (eliminating personal growing and designated growers), provincial legislation, and civil by-laws and multi-partner initiatives.
“We question these changes,” says Boyd, “and the turn to law and order responses, many that contravene charter rights, and the impact on vulnerable populations such as youth, aboriginal people and the poor.”
Mothers and Illicit Drugs: Transcending the Myths (1999, University of Toronto Press)
(Ab)Using Power: The Canadian Experience (2001, Fernwood)
Toxic Criminology: Environment, Law, and the State (2002, Fernwood)
From Witches to Crack Moms: Women, Drug Law, and Policy (2004, Carolina Academic Press)
With Child. Substance Use During Pregnancy: A Woman-Centred Approach (Fernwood, 2007). Edited by Susan C. Boyd and Lenora Marcellus. 136pp ISBN: 978-1-55266-218-2 $17.95
Hooked: Drug War Films in Britain, Canada, and the United States (Routledge 2008).
Raise Shit! Social Action Saving Lives (Fernwood 2009 $26.95). With Bud Osborn and Donald MacPherson.
Killer Weed: Marijuana Grow Ops, Media, and Justice (University of Toronto Press 2014) $28.95 9781442612143. Co-author with Connie Carter, a senior policy analyst for the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition
More Harm Than Good (Fernwood 2016) co-authored with Donald MacPherson and Connie Carter.
Busted: An Illustrated History of Drug Prohibition in Canada (Fernwood 2017)