PTSD, Peacekeeping, and Politics by Adam Montgomery

(It’s an honour to have Dr Adam Montgomery share his thoughts on trauma, the military, and PTSD. You can read more of his work in a forthcoming book, The Invisible Injured: Psychological Trauma in the Canadian Military from the First World War to Afghanistan.)

PTSD, Peacekeeping, and Politics

In the twenty-first century, it seems that trauma is everywhere. From soldiers to emergency medical workers, there has been a growing awareness since the new millennium about the effects of psychological trauma on long-term mental health outcomes. We now routinely hear about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after natural disasters, car or train accidents, sexual assault, and even war journalism.

But while the Western world is now keenly attuned to trauma and PTSD, each nation has had its own unique historical experience with this complex and thorny disorder. In America, the PTSD concept first grew out of the Vietnam War and the social alienation felt by returning American soldiers. Working with anti-war psychiatrists in the late 1970s, Vietnam veterans were able to gain recognition (and in some cases, compensation) for both the traumatic events they witnessed and a social ostracism which stripped them of any ability to tie their service to a nationally supported cause. PTSD was, for better or worse, as much a political disorder as a medical one in 1980s America.

Stemming as it did from socio-political turmoil, PTSD was initially dismissed by other Western nations as a unique, American-specific phenomenon; that is until they, too, discovered PTSD symptoms in their own citizens. In Britain, the Falklands War and subsequent difficulties faced by British veterans spotlighted the reality of PTSD and slowly forced the British government, psychiatrists, and military brass to accept the reality of war trauma. By the late 1980s, trauma and PTSD were seen as a natural outcome of witnessing death and destruction.

In Canada, a nation that had not been at war since the Korean conflict of the 1950s, PTSD was also viewed as an American-specific phenomenon throughout the 1980s. Despite ample experience with shell shock and battle exhaustion in the First and Second World War, the Canadian military quite simply forgot about trauma from the 1950s until the end of the Cold War.

Then, everything changed overnight. With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United Nations and its allied countries were thrust into a plethora of peacekeeping missions; in several regions where there was little or no peace to keep. In Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, for example, Canadian peacekeepers were faced with numerous traumatic events, such as ethnic cleansing and combat with belligerent forces. Unfortunately, they returned to a Canada that cared little for their service.

Caught up in a series of scandals such as the murder of a Somali teenager by Canadian paratroopers in Somalia in 1993, the Canadian military and Department of National Defence wished to suppress any unpalatable overseas experiences. Thus, they initially denied peacekeepers faced any post-tour issues. But by the late 1990s, with Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire’s public battle with PTSD following his time as Force Commander in Rwanda in 1993-94, and a growing chorus of traumatized rank-and-file peacekeepers, PTSD became a cause for national concern.

The Croatia Board of Inquiry, called in 1999 to investigate the possible exposure of Canadian peacekeepers to toxins in Croatia, found quite another cause for soldiers’ suffering. After dozens of testimonies from peacekeepers, many of whom told tales about cleaning up dead bodies, watching belligerents’ bodies being dragged through the streets, and having guns pointed at their heads by Croat and Serb soldiers, the board concluded that soldiers’ trauma and subsequent health difficulties were caused not by toxins, but intense psychological duress.

Canadians at first demurred. Peacekeeping had become Canada’s defining contribution to global politics in the 1950 to 1980s period; it was viewed as a relatively benign and adventurous experience for Canadian soldiers. How could ostensibly peaceful tours cause the same after-effects as war? By questioning peacekeeping, Canadians had to turn inward and question their own national identity. Naturally, this introspection took time, and to some degree the peacekeeping myth – a belief that peacekeeping involves simply patrolling a well-defined zone of separation between belligerents and handing out candy to local children – endures.

What has changed, though, is Canadians’ understanding that a percentage of soldiers exposed to traumatic events, whether on peacekeeping or war operations, will return with long-term mental health challenges – the most obvious being PTSD. My book, The Invisible Injured, explores all of the aforementioned themes and events, and argues that PTSD and its antecedents should be viewed not just as medical conditions, but also as profoundly shattering social experiences which are intimately linked to politics as well as Canada’s need to define itself as a middle power in world events. PTSD’s effects include not just nightmares and flashbacks; they also include possible release from the military, pension battles, and social ostracism. In the post-Afghanistan era, when the Canadian government is making plans to once again commit Canadian soldiers to peacekeeping missions in Africa, history can once again play a role in demonstrating not just where we have come from, but where we are going.

 

Adam Montgomery is the author of the forthcoming The Invisible Injured: Psychological Trauma in the Canadian Military from the First World War to Afghanistan (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017).

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The 10 Best Drug Movies of the Past 50 Years

Cheech and Chong. Tony Montana. Reefer Madness. Blow. These are some of the characters and films that normally come to mind when you bring up drugs in cinema. But let’s get real, folks. It goes so much deeper.

Drug movies are both fascinating and titillating. Whether it’s the “War on Drugs” or depictions of the counterculture or portrayals of Big Pharma and the business community, all sorts of movies have been made about the illicit drug trade, pill-popping, and even more that simply feature drug use. But what are the best drug movies of the past 50 years? High Times has got some ideas. Buzzfeed has done it. And so has IMDB.

Now it’s time to offer a fresh take on the list.

Before we begin, though, let’s establish a boundary or two. What is a drug movie, one might ask? The best way to think about it has to be through heavy drug use and a focus on the drug trade, organized crime, or medical marketplace. This means that Dazed and Confused, which only has mild drug use, doesn’t make it. Neither does The Program, with James Caan. Or Rocky IV.  Or the relatively new Alice in Wonderland. These films feature some drugs use and are trippy to watch, but to make this list drugs have to be absolutely central to the plot. There are other rules, too. First off, alcohol is NOT a drug. (In fact, there’ll be another alcohol list in the future.) Second, power – money, politics, sex, the ability to get others to do what you want – is NOT a drug. Finally (thank fuck), altered perceptions or dream sequences, but which are NOT based on explicit drug use, are thrown out. So, for example, Raising Arizona, The Matrix, or Fight Club have to get bumped from consideration.

Here’s my Top Ten and watch those other more standard lists go Up in Smoke.

10. Sicario (2015)

French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve crushes it. Again. With Sicario (meaning hitman), he drops us into the grisly world of drug enforcement.

I’ve been an outgoing proponent of Denis since Incendies (2010), and he’s continued to crank out brooding and thought-provoking pictures, including Enemy (2013) and Prisoners (2013). After having worked with Jake Gyllenhaal for both films in 2013, he casts Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benicio Del Toro to headline his take on the War on Drugs’s primary theatre of war – the US/Mexico border.

Emily Blunt is once more playing Ellen Ripley. (Think Edge of Tomorrow – wait, is that what it’s called?). Really, it’s not a bad place to be. She’s steely-eyed and intrepid. And she’s posing moral questions as the focal piece of the film.

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Source: New Yorker magazine

The soundtrack is hauntingly grim, the acting is understated, and the cinematography – by the incomparable Roger Deakins – is spartan. Rapid cutting is superseded by long, lingering shots. Movement gives way to stillness. A great example is one of the signature battles of the film, when a traffic jam, not a car chase, ramps up the tension. Deakins, who was burned at the Oscars once more, uses most of the arrows in his quiver to generate one of the most gorgeous films of 2015-2016. By itself, that’s enough to make this list.

 

9. Good Fellas (1990)

GoodFellas tells the true story of Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta in a star-making performance and it wasn’t till Blow (2001) and Narc (2002) that he reached such heights once more. Am I fond of Liotta? Somewhat. But not a lot. I like Liotta as much as, say, Al Gore or John Kerry or, I don’t know, porridge. In this, however, Liotta’s compelling. His Henry Hill is chaotic and flawed. He’s shallow and violent, as well as understandable and all human. At times, I find myself cheering him and pitying him simultaneously. When he suggests, “as far back as I can remember I always wanted to be gangster,” I shake my head and, at the same, kind of wonder. Hmm? This is a testament to Liotta’s best and breakout performance.

In 1990, Martin Scorsese wasn’t unique in addressing organized crime. A tipping point, it seems, had been reached, and audiences that year were treated to an abundance of mafia, mob, and crime films, including: Miller’s Crossing, King of New York, The Krays, The Grifters, and, yes, The Godfather Part III. But GoodFellas stands apart and above.

As Henry is initiated into the world of guns and drugs, gambling and prostitution, he is mentored by Robert De Niro’s Jimmy Conway and Joe Pesci’s Tommy Devito. Both actors have been understandably lauded for their vibrant portrayals of tough guys. Eventually, Henry and his wife Karen (played by Lorraine Bracco) discover the sex and violence of organized crime is thoroughly intoxicating, just as much as the cocaine that they inhaling.

This movie – its soundtrack and cinematography, and so much more – is just as addictive.

8. The Constant Gardner (2005)

Big Pharma. Big Bad Pharma. This is the subject of John Le Carre’s novel and ultimately the movie, directed by Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles. The story is disjointed, relies on flashbacks, and, according to Roger Ebert, is a far distance off ‘a logical exercise beginning with mystery and ending at truth…” Instead, we are pulled into a maddeningly elusive conspiracy and a fragmented narrative in which Ralph ‘Rafe’ Fiennes (i.e., Voldemort, The Red Dragon, Hades, and M) plays a widower in search of the truth. Why is his wife dead? Who is responsible?

His answers rest in the multinational pharmaceutical corporations. In particular, a company that is using Kenya’s population for fraudulent testing of a fictitious tuberculosis drug (“dypraxa”). The drug has known harmful side effects, but this is disregarded, as is the health of the African test subjects. Of course, this sort of testing is based in reality and spots like China, Estonia, Romania, Tunisia, as well as other African countries, have served as fertile testing grounds.

Fiennes, playing Justin Quayle, confronts Big Bad Pharma and suggests that the pill we take – whether for Tuberculosis or Tachycardia –  is more than just an ‘an inanimate fucking object.’

If you like underdog tales, especially ones where caricatured corporations are fucked over by the ‘little guy’ (see Erin Brockovich, The Insider, Michael Clayton, etc.), this movie is for you.

7. Easy Rider (1969)

It’s difficult to begin with Easy Rider, which nearly everyone regards as one of the greatest and most influential drug movies of all time.

Disclosure: I should not have watched Easy Rider at an early age. I found it incredibly jarring. I was in grade 9 and not at all battle-hardened or street-smart. The cruel ending forced me into a funk. It challenged me to think about human nature, the nature of the United States, and served as a bewildering counterpoint to many of the testosterone-fuelled and predictably satisfying action movies (think Arnold, Jean Claude, Sylvester) to which I was exposed in the 1980s.

Wyatt and Billy didn’t deserve that! Who were they bothering? What, there’s not going to be any payback? That’s it?! Jesus Christ. Dammit.

Plot and Characters: Peter Fonda plays Captain America with the old stars and stripes on his back, helmet and bright long-barrelled motorbike. Dennis Hopper plays the sidekick, sporting pioneer trooper buckskins, long mustache and hair. They’re touring around the beautiful USA and shit happens to them: there’s a drug deal, parades, bordellos, Mardi Gras, LSD trips, and unexpected violence.

Easy Rider is a quintessential American road movie.

And the best part of the piece is Jack. This is his breakout. Vincent Canby, writing in the NY Times in 1969, was tepid, even haughty, about the film, but he sure loved Nicholson:

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‘Suddenly, however, a strange thing happens. There comes on the scene a very real character and everything that has been accepted earlier as a sort of lyrical sense impression suddenly looks flat and foolish.Wyatt and Billy are in a small Southern town—in jail for having disturbed the peace of a local parade—when they meet fellow-in-mate George Hanson (Jack Nicholson), a handsome, alcoholic young lawyer of good family and genially bad habits, a man whose only defense against life is a cheerful but not abject acceptance of it. As played by Nicholson, George Hanson is a marvelously realized character, who talks in a high, squeaky Southern accent and uses a phrase like “Lord have mercy!” the way another man might use a four-letter word.’

In Jack, we trust.

6. Apocalypse Now (1979)

Francis Ford Coppola had a mental breakdown during shooting, as he wrote the script on the fly and had to negotiate with a hard-partying, spaced-out crew, in addition to the fickle President Marcos of the Philippines. Coppola had to fire the original leading man, Harvey Keitel. Then, Martin Sheen – the replacement – had a heart attack.

Marlon Brando showed up to film his scenes as Colonel Kurtz much like Shaq often did to start the Lakers training camp – in less than ideal shape. Coppola would also have to tread carefully with the mercurial Brando, who hadn’t learned any lines and insisted on being filmed in shadow. And Dennis Hopper. Dennis Hopper being Dennis Hopper, well, he was regularly stoned on marijuana, cocaine, speed and many other drugs. He was manic. Crazed. Demented. A feature of this list a second time, he didn’t have much acting to do in portraying a whacked-out photojournalist drunk on the Colonel’s Cool-aid.

The story, based loosely on Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, follows a booze-fuelled, PTSD-suffering, lone-wolf agent as he journeys up a river to find a rogue soldier, Kurtz, who has slowly gone mad, raised his own army, and established his own territory in Vietnam. As this troubled agent/assassin, Willard (first Keitel, then Sheen), heads up the river, the visuals gets increasingly trippy. The imagery, in short, becomes more hallucinogenic. By the time Kurtz converses with Willard, the audience has gone way down deep into the proverbial rabbit hole.

The film is improvisational and chaotic. It’s intoxicating and brazen. And it’s a masterpiece.

5. Dallas Buyer’s Club (2013)

In the excellent 2013 movie, Dallas Buyers Club, we are exposed to valiant patient activism during the AIDS crisis in the United States. Based on the true story of AIDS-stricken Ron Woodroof, a cocaine-snorting cowboy and homophobic Texas tradesman, the film shows a shockingly thin Matthew McConaughey battle his sickness, inner demons, and the authorities in Texas Mercy Hospital, the drug industry, and government.

I’ve reviewed the film elsewhere and I’ve used it to try and communicate the complexities of medical marijuana dispensaries, in particular. I remain convinced that the movie provides a harrowing, insider overview of drug regulation and the politics of medicine in modern society.

Woodroof, who’s unhappy with his illegally purchased zidovudine, known as AZT, and on the edge of death, seeks out alternative and experimental drugs from a doctor in Mexico. Then, Ron, being the savvy entrepreneur/hustler that he is, quickly establishes a club (charging a $400 membership fee) to sell his smuggled wares, including vitamins, DDC, and Peptide T. In doing so, he runs afoul of the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration and is essentially forced to confront the existing power structure of drug regulation.

At one point in the film, he storms a town hall meeting of citizens, drug company leaders, and FDA regulators and, while still quite ill and attached to his IV bag, Ron starts finger-pointing. “People are dying. And y’all up there are afraid that we’re gonna find an alternative without you.” Inevitably, bums shift in chairs. Chests are puffed up. And murmurs echo in the room. “You see,” Ron continues, “the pharma companies pay the FDA to push their product. They don’t want to see my research. I don’t have enough cash in my pocket to make it worth their while.”

The film has strong performances, namely McConaughey and Jared Leto, who plays his cross-dressing compadre. Jennifer Garner,  on the cover of a recent Vanity Fair and recovering from the newest Batman’s infidelity, offers up some of her best work.

With Dallas Buyer’s Club we see the problems inherent in the relationship between big business, regulators, and interest groups. And while the film didn’t get it all right, it’s still a stimulating film and a significant reminder about the power of Big Pharma, the complicated nature of drug regulation in the 20th century, and the ways in which everyday citizens like Ron Woodroof can influence the system.

…THE END? NOPE

FOR THE TOP FOUR, VISIT http://www.alternet.org/drugs/10-greatest-drug-movies-past-50-years WHERE THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED.

SUPER SPECIAL THANKS TO MATT TODD, WHO WAS INSTRUMENTAL IN WORKING THROUGH THIS LIST WITH ME. WE DIDN’T ALWAYS AGREE, BUT SUCH IS LIFE. HE AND I WILL BE RELEASING A MODIFIED (HISTORY-LADEN) VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE IN THE NOT-TOO-DISTANT FUTURE.

HAPPY CANADA DAY!

 

Rebranding: Justin Trudeau and Canadian Coffee

For millions of Canadians, there is no icon in business more collectively beloved than Tim Hortons. “Tim’s” – as the franchise is affectionately called – long ago transcended the humble domain of doughnuts and coffee. Instead, it is now a part of the Canadian national identity – one of those rare brands by which individuals and societies categorize themselves.

Forget beer. Tim Hortons coffee is Canada’s drug of choice.

beer

And it is a fascinating historical and political development that Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party cleverly latched onto this when pitching itself to the masses. The Tories held photo-ops inside Tim Hortons outlets across Canada and made sure to be photographed delivering Tim Hortons goodies around various communities.

In 2009, one researcher felt that the Tim Hortons X factor was essential enough to warrant asking voters which party leader was more likely to buy their coffee at Tim’s. No surprises here, the Conservatives edged the Liberals in this category. Canadians had, in short, developed a culture of conservative coffee.

With the recent election of Justin Trudeau and a new Liberal government (which promised hope and change), the time is right to take a step back and assess the relationship between Tim Hortons and politics.

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Trudeau family at Halloween. May the 4th be with you.

* * * * *

Tim Hortons opened its first location in 1964 in Hamilton, Ontario. It was co-founded by NHL player, Tim Horton, who played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, among other teams. In succeeding decades, thousands more popped up across the country, making it more successful in Canada than McDonald’s. Sure, the arrival of the coffee chain in a small town sometimes meant the end of local ‘mom-and-pop’ shops, but its presence produced more excitement than resentment. Getting a Tim Hortons was a sign that a community – however small – had made it.

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Tim handles the puck

Over the course of 50 years, Tim Hortons caught and surpassed the big-name American burger chains to become the undisputed champion of Canada’s “quick service restaurant” market.

By 2004, the term “double-double” entered the Oxford dictionary of Canadian English, signifying recognition of its importance to everyday speech. Ordering a drink of this kind represented, at least for some commentators and scholars, more than just habit. It was and remains an act of solidarity within the national body politic. According to the Globe and Mail, one estimate suggests Tim’s sells nearly eight in 10 cups of coffee sold in Canada.

double doublealways fresh

Most pharmaceutical companies would kill for that kind of market share.

This road to dominance was chronicled in Ron Joyce’s Always Fresh, an insider’s account of Tim Horton and the business named after him.  At times, it is a devastatingly blunt account of the chaotic and complicated personal story behind one of Canada’s most successful businesses.

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Ron Joyce, one of the co-founders of the franchise, chronicles the drugs, the infidelity, an epic court battle, and one spectacular, fatal car crash – that of Tim Horton himself, which was booze-fuelled and largely overlooked until recently.  Joyce, in short, takes his readers behind the counter, into the kitchen, and demonstrates the inner-workings of the company.

The tone of tenor of the book are inherently and recognizably free-market. It is a Horatio Alger, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, local-boy-makes-good narrative. First, Joyce settled in Hamilton and worked menial jobs in factories, scraping together enough to get by. Later, he joined law enforcement and increased his measly pay by taking on a variety of odd jobs, including: a produce truck driver, construction worker, and then Brinks guard. Finally, he simply fell into the restaurant business in his mid-thirties and then, through sheer hard work and force of will, he went on to become one of the wealthiest businessmen in the country.

We have all been exposed to this upwardly mobile narrative before, and it surely one that resonates with free-market advocates and, more generally, economic conservatives. Yet, Joyce’s story is intriguing because it showcases how success can tear at the fabric of friendship and family. According to Maclean’s, “It’s as much about jealousy, greed and betrayal as it is about cash flow and marketing.”

According to Douglas Hunter, politicians, especially the Conservative Party, saw tremendous value in the legend of Tim Hortons and seized on the idea that the company, as well as the hockey player founder, was representative of the average Canadian.

When Condoleezza Rice visited Canada in 2006, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay was photographed taking her to Tim’s. Newspapers referred to this as “double-double diplomacy,” even though she chose to have her coffee black with one sweetener, rather than two creams and two sugars.

Prime Minister Harper also used the Tim Hortons logo as a political stage, including a 2009 speech that welcomed the company back to Canada after it relocated its corporate headquarters from the U.S. To make this political statement, Harper declined an invitation to speak at the United Nations General Assembly, much to the chagrin of the national press.

Harper explicitly referenced how the company was an “essential Canadian story,” which included “success and tragedy,” as well as “big dreams in small towns,” “old fashioned values and tough-fisted business,” “hard work and hockey.” To use David Farber’s phrase, this muscular nationalism, an unshakable patriotism that was popularized by Harper.

Similarly, as Canada prepared to go to war in Afghanistan, the Canadian Chief of Defence Staff, General Rick Hillier, contended that troops should have a Tim Hortons at Kandahar Airfield. It would cost the public at least $4 million, but access to Canada’s drug of choice was a boon to morale. “There’s nothing more Canadian than sipping a double-double in Kandahar airfield while you’re watching a hockey game,” noted Gen. Hillier.

According to Hillier’s Afghanistan commander, Brigadier-General David Fraser, when asked what he thought about the idea: “Tim Hortons better get its ass over here, as far as I’m concerned.”

* * * *

The identity crisis Canadians have suffered since Confederation in 1867 has helped Tim Hortons achieve its emblematic status. It doesn’t help that Canadians are so close to the United States and struggle with what makes us distinct.

Essentially, this means we have been desperate to clasp on to everything that helps delineate and comfort us, particularly in a post-1980s globalized world in which national culture has become so tangled with acts of consumption.

Tim Hortons has seized on that and the Conservative Party seized on that, too. “The worst thing a company can do is tell you straight up ‘We are important to your identity,’” says Douglas Hunter. Instead, the politicians made that point. Tim’s was used as a prop and a backdrop. And the coffee formed part of a political strategy, which has helped reinforce the iron grip of a gentle brand.

And while Justin Trudeau, Canada’s new prime minister, promised hope and change on the campaign trail he made sure to stop in to Tim’s for a cup of coffee. Some drugs, it seems, are hard to kick.

Tories, Turmoil, and Marijuana Legalization

THE CBC reported yesterday that there is tremendous turmoil within the Conservative Party over the legalization of marijuana. Without Stephen Harper, the issue has created controversy. The story below is by Stephen Dyer.

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As candidates for the Conservative Party’s leadership race continue to line up, an issue has emerged that many thought the Tories had put to bed a long time ago — the legalization of marijuana.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper called marijuana “infinitely worse” than tobacco. “If we sell marijuana in stores like alcohol and tobacco, that will protect our kids? No one believes that,” he said.

But last week Maxime Bernier injected a slightly unexpected element into the race when he suggested he was leaning toward supporting a Liberal motion to legalize possession of marijuana for recreational use, as has already happened in four U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

“I think it must be time to have a discussion with that,” he told Rosemary Barton, host of CBC News Network’s Power & Politics. “I am happy that this government will bring a bill.”

“I am more for it” than against it, he said. “It depends how the government will do it. At the end I will decide whether I will vote for it or against it. But I am more toward — for — that.”

That position sets Bernier at odds with his party’s long-held opposition to loosening the laws against recreational use of marijuana.

Law unpopular with Tory voters

According to Vote Compass, CBC’s voter-engagement survey, about 37 per cent of Conservative voters in the last election said they supported the full legalization of marijuana.

Another 38 per cent of Conservatives supported the NDP’s position of decriminalization of marijuana — a step short of legalization that would treat pot possession similar to a traffic offence.

Only a quarter of Conservative voters agreed with Harper’s position that marijuana possession should remain a criminal offence —  a number that drops to 14 per cent across all voters.

These numbers suggest there is an audience within the Conservative Party for a more libertarian viewpoint — like the one Bernier is pitching.

On the other side of the debate is Bernier’s only other declared rival, former minister of labour Dr. Kellie Leitch. She is one of the few Conservatives who have continued to thunder against the impending legalization of marijuana since the party’s electoral defeat in October 2015.

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“Health Canada spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year to encourage Canadians to stop smoking. Now the government wants Canadian kids to have access to a drug to smoke, marijuana,” she told the House of Commons in February. “Parents are scared and concerned for their children. The government is sending out mixed signals.”

Indeed, the Liberals have been criticized by advocates of marijuana reform for maintaining the current criminal penalties while they take their time drafting a legalization plan, rather than moving immediately to decriminalize as an interim measure.

Not clear where leader stands

Also sending out mixed signals is interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose.

As Harper’s health minister, Ambrose often found herself fronting the party’s anti-legalization approach, including the “reefer madness” strategy of linking marijuana use to mental illness.

So an interview she gave in January to Vancouver radio station CKNW caused considerable confusion about her position.

“The bottom line is there’s a huge faction of people in this country that want — that are mostly adults, to be frank — that want access to pot and they want it legalized and it’s for recreational purposes.”

Ambrose then said she hoped the Liberals would push ahead faster to regulate storefront pot dispensaries that have sprung up around Vancouver.

“I hope the faster they move on this the better, because the proliferation of pot dispensaries is quite large, so it has moved now not just in Vancouver but across the country, and they’re unregulated. So the sooner they can move on that, the better to protect kids.”

Conservatives later explained that Ambrose was merely recognizing the inevitability of legalization, and encouraging the Liberals to get on with it. But government supporters jumped on what they saw as another Conservative post-election reversal.

“Health minister who spent millions of your $ on misleading ads against pot wants us to legalize faster,” tweeted Trudeau’s principal secretary Gerald Butts.

Will the vote be whipped?

It remains to be seen whether marijuana will become an issue in the Tory leadership race, or if members who dissent from the official party line will be able to express those views in Parliament.

Asked whether the party intends to allow a free vote when marijuana reform finally comes before the House, Ambrose’s director of communications Mike Storeshaw told CBC News no decision has been taken.

“Decisions on caucus positions for legislation aren’t made until there’s actually legislation to consider, and we don’t appear to be anywhere near that point yet.”

The Rise of Big Cannabis on Shaw TV

The Rise of Big Cannabis Symposium that I recently aired on Shaw TV in Saskatoon, Prince Albert, Moose Jaw and Swift Current stations.

The first airing was this weekend on March 19th @ 9:30pm

Other dates to follow:
March 21st – 11pm
March 23rd – 9:30pm
March 24th – 10pm
Bonus airing in Saskatoon on March 27th – 11pm

Twin Addictions? Zombies (i.e., The Walking Dead) and Bath Salts

In 2015, we are grappling with the addictive properties of The Walking Dead. Based on the best-selling comic book and developed for TV by Frank Darabont, the series has proven to be as enduring and enslaving as many popular drugs.

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With only a month left in Season 6, many questions surround the future of Rick, Daryl, and the rest. The zombie hordes have broken through the wall. Ron has set his sights on Carl and the next episode, which is called “Start to Finish,” will likely see the end of a character. But who will it be? Who’s going to lose a body part or two? Tune in…

But zombies don’t only frequent the big and small screen. They don’t simply occupy pages of novels and graphic novels. Quite the opposite. In recent years, drug addicts on bath salts have been portrayed as nightmarish zombies tearing at the flesh of unwitting victims. Let me explain.

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Bath salts are examples of new classes of designer drugs, which are sometimes referred to as “legal highs.” These are substances with psychotropic effects that have been or are marketed and distributed for recreational use by exploiting gaps in existing drug legislation. Another popular example is the synthetic cannabinoids (“fake marijuana”) marketed under names such as Spice.

In 2012, the Americans made bath salts illegal through the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act and then with the Synthetic Cathinones Control Act a year later. At roughly the same time, Canada introduced measures to ban the key ingredient in bath salts, methlyenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV).

The move to schedule and control the drug was surely warranted, yet one can easily detect how the drug was sensationalized as part of this process. Lurid and grotesque stories were reported about bath salts, including the naked zombie attacker who was shot by police in Miami while biting a victim’s face. Rudy Eugene, the face-chewing “zombie,” wasn’t on any bath salts, contrary to a majority of the stories.

Yet, the nation went into full-on moral panic mode. From PBS and Spin to Forbes and GQ magazine, the public was exposed to the new menace in American society. It was the stuff of nightmares. It was a Zombie Bath Salt Apocalypse.

The Big Picture

Cathinones are naturally occurring amphetamine-like substances that come from Khat, a plant found in eastern Africa which has been chewed since at least the tenth century. Synthetic cathinones, not surprisingly, are lab-created derivatives of this compound, dating back to 1928 or so.

By the 1990s, the use/misuse of the synthetic cathinones began to pop up on radar screens and became an issue with law enforcement and government officials.

Before the recent regulation in the past few years, the designer “bath salts” were purchased from dealers, through online distributors, or at book stores, gas stations, and head shops. They got the nickname because they resembled the everyday Epsom salts that bath-lovers pour in their water when they take a soothing soak.

But there are trade names as well: “Ivory Wave,” “Purple Wave,” “Ocean Burst,” “Monkey Dust,” “Sextacy,” “Vanilla Sky,” and “White Lightning” are just some of the varieties one can put in the body rather than the bathtub. Tough to detect, they can be snorted, smoked, or injected.

And the effects of these are similar to MDMA. Users have reported increased energy and empathy, more sociability, and mental and sexual stimulation. The negative side effects of bath salts, on the other hand, have included difficulty breathing, fatigue, insomnia, muscle twitching, nausea, paranoia, violent behavior, and tachychardia.

A Vicious Circle

Compared to traditional psychotropic drugs (cocaine and LSD, for instance), there is relatively scant medical information available. That has not prevented its assignment to the category of Schedule I, meaning it has no known and accepted medical use.

Yet certain researchers raise interesting points. One is that classifying bath salts as schedule I substances without pre-clinical or human research is very problematic.

This move restricts the number of laboratories and institutions with licenses to study the bath salts. As a result, finding an accepted medical use becomes even more difficult, even though there have been suggestions that bath salts could be a viable alternative to amphetamines in dealing with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or severe, treatment-resistant Depression.

This is, in short, a case of the snake eating its tail, and one does not have to look any further than LSD to detect some historical parallels. In the late 1960s, the recreational abuse of LSD as well as the anti-authority, counter-cultural, and outright malevolent images associated with it helped to scuttle research. Now, after over forty years, LSD has begun to make a slow return, and perhaps even a comeback.

lsd

Hyperbole and inaccurate information played a role in the scheduling and controlling of LSD, in other words. This was also the case when it was reported that crazed Mexicans who smoked marijuana went on vicious rampages, or when it was reported that Chinese workers were raping white women in opium dens while customers were “Chasing the Dragon.” With bath salts, which are the latest in a long line of drugs used for their euphoric effects, this hyperbole was readily apparent.

No, bath salts will not turn you into a cannibalistic criminal like Rudy Eugene in Miami. And, no, bath salts will not give you super strength. But the media had no problems in pushing such narratives on news consumers.

Should we be surprised about this type of journalism? Or that it dovetailed with the first synthetic cathinone legislation in 2012, which was passed the same month as the attack? Far from. If anything, the history of drug policy demonstrates how predictable this is.

In the future, the best way to avoid cowering in bed (or hiding behind a big wall) in the face of an imminent zombie bath salt apocalypse is with candor. It’s probably best not to cut off avenues of research or focus on gory thoughts about face-chewing.

the-walking-dead

And, at the very least, it would be prudent to recognize the challenges and dangers of designer drugs like bath salts, even as we place them in a longer history of drugs. This way, like Rick and Daryl, we can create a proactive strategy for evading the zombie hordes.

Saskatoon top place in Canada to be charged for marijuana possession

Saskatoon is one of the cities in Canada that cracks down hardest on possession of minor marijuana and this is incredible, especially in light of the provincial government’s newly unveiled policies on liquor regulation.

As seen here and  here, the Wall government has ushered in a series of new rules that liberalizes alcohol policy in Saskatchewan. We are privatizing liquor in the province. And we are also – to supporters, at least – rationalizing widely unfair policies.

booze 1

It’s strange, then, that the rate of enforcement for possession of marijuana is so variable. In Saskatchewan, for example, Regina is much more lenient than Saskatoon. And we must question what this ultimately means? Just as consistent liquor policies drove debates in government and within the electorate, the lack of rationalization and parity in enforcement rates deserves more consideration.

 

Mr. J. Lundstrom, a Saskatoon -based marijuana advocate.

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The CBC decided to interview me recently about Saskatoon’s enforcement of marijuana.

This is the beginning of the story:Saskatchewan is the place you’re most likely to get busted for simple possession of marijuana and Saskatoon tops the list of major Canadian cities. According to 2014 data from Statistics Canada, 77 per cent of the time Saskatoon police stop someone suspected of having pot, they lay a charge.That compares with 48 per cent in Regina . The Canadian average was 39 per cent.

Meanwhile, if you look at the per capita rates of pot charges, Saskatoon ranks fourth behind Kelowna, Gatineau and Sherbrooke.

Lucas Richert, a history instructor at the U of S who has an academic interest in pop culture and drugs in North America, said we have to look at many factors when it comes to any conclusions we derive from enforcement rates. “Saskatchewan is a microcosm of wildly inconsistent enforcement rates across Canada.” Saskatoon has chosen a specific course of action on pot, Richert said.

“Saskatoon has traditionally adopted the so-called broken windows approach to enforcement of marijuana,” he said. “The broken windows approach is the idea that a visible police presence and severe crackdown on smaller infractions will deter larger crimes.” He added that resources are a large factor to consider when looking at these rates, as well as “the philosophy of a given chief.”

Dried Buds
Dried Buds

Now, the full article can be seen here: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/saskatoon-top-place-in-canada-to-be-charged-for-marijuana-possession-1.3249579

On a final note, I wanted to underline a CRUCIAL part of this tale, a part of the interview that didn’t make it to the news – Police Chief Clive Weighill has been very progressive in certain areas, but his policy vis-a-vis marijuana is perplexing. Part of the story has something to do with the fact that he is President of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP), although this deserves much more exploration in the months and years ahead.

SMOKE AND MIRRORS – MORE ON VAPING

Last year I had opinion-editorials published in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix and elsewhere. Both focused on “vaping,” Oxford English Dictionary’s word of 2014.

My take was this: we need to think more clearly about e-cigarettes in Saskatoon – as well as the wider world. The government needs to get proactive. We, as consumers, should also think about them more critically. Essentially, we need to cut through all the smoke and mirrors.

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Now, Saskatoon’s city council is voting (that is, tonight folks) on “a vaping ban” in the city.

As reported by the local paper, “If city council approves a proposed change to the local smoking bylaw, use of electronic cigarettes — also known as vaping — will be banned anywhere in Saskatoon that regular cigarettes are. The change, which will be considered at Monday’s council meeting, would expand the city’s Smoking Control Bylaw to include vaping as of Jan. 1, 2016. It would make vaping prohibited in public buildings, bus shelters, schools, businesses and other places cigarettes are currently not allowed.”

So, big changes are afoot here. And these changes could influence the smoking of traditional cigarettes at the local and provincial level. Indeed, many supporters of e-cigs make the case that the new technology deters relapses.

The Star Phoenix also quotes a local “vaping” business owner, Jim Wollf, who said he understands the argument that vaping puts unnatural chemicals into a person’s body, but argued it should be looked at as a harm-reduction strategy.

This is exactly the problem that my opinion-editorials have tackled. Here’s a taster:

“In September 2014, federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose called for more research on e-cigarettes from the Commons standing committee on health. Last month, the committee released its initial report, which called for an end to the legal grey zone that surrounds the technology in Canada and the implementation of a new set of rules that balances the benefits and risks of “vaping.”

Premier Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan government would be wise to take the committee’s advice and do the same. In their brief history, e-cigarettes have proven to be divisive products. They have raised serious challenges for consumers, politicians and health officials. It is time, however, to cut through the fog and for the provincial government to get proactive.”

 

The Canadian Election and Sask Marijuana

The federal election is going to have a profound impact on Saskatchewan’s marijuana industry. So writes D.C. Fraser in a new article for the Regina Leader-Post.

I told Fraser during an interview for the story that “Depending on what the winner suggests about medical marijuana legislation, (it will have) a direct impact on the economy, and on this sector of the economy…”

In many ways, SK has the potential for tremendous growth in the realm of medical marijuana and I’m genuinely intrigued to see what happens in the next few years.

A link to the full Leader-Post article is here.

Dried Buds
Dried Buds

Cannabis Conundrum in Canada

I recently wrote on Canada’s changing medical marijuana laws for Alternet.org and a number of other sources. See below:

On June 11, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Canadians with a valid prescription could take medical marijuana in other forms besides just a dried form.

Dried Buds
Dried Buds

In short, the Supreme Court enlarged the definition of medical marijuana, meaning restrictions on extracts and derivatives are now gone and brownies, cookies, shakes are no longer illegal.

And the Canadian government wasn’t pleased.

Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose scolded the Supreme Court and told the press she was “outraged” by the ruling.

“Let’s remember, there’s only one authority in Canada that has the authority and the expertise to make a drug into a medicine and that’s Health Canada,” she said during a press conference.

“Marijuana has never gone through the regulatory approval process at Health Canada, which of course, requires a rigorous safety review and clinical trials with scientific evidence.”

She also asserted that the Supreme Court’s decision “normalizes” medical marijuana, something that she and the Conservative government would continue to fight against.

Devil's_Harvest
A 1942 Film, directed by Ray Test

This response was not a surprise. Ambrose, who has been at the forefront of Canada’s current drug war, has overseen the passage of regulations in October 2013 that have prevented any heroin-assisted addiction therapy outside of limited trials. She has delayed the introduction of e-cigarettes into the marketplace. And she has pushed for more regulations on prescription drug abuse.

From a political perspective, the Supreme Court decision could be interpreted as a rebuke of the Conservative Party’s tough-on-crime, anti-drugs strategy. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been waging a Canadian War on Drugs since 2007 and the Safe Streets and Communities Act includes mandatory minimum sentences for possession of pot.

Considering the Conservative Party’s approach, then, Rona Ambrose’s reaction was predictable. She, along with the Tories, start from a position that regards cannabis as a “drug of abuse” rather than a drug of “potential use.”

At the same time, the Liberals, led by Justin Trudeau, have advocated an evidence-based approach to marijuana and is promoting its legalization and controlling access.

As the federal election in the fall grows nearer, the cannabis issue – and its use in the medical marketplace – will surely become heightened.

But is the story of medical marijuana purely a political issue in Canada? Not really. The medical establishment in Canada continues to grapple with the stigmatization and lack of evidence surrounding cannabis.

It’s important to be clear. Medical marijuana is not approved as a medicine by Health Canada, although there is a growing body of clinical evidence regarding its pain-alleviating effects.

As such, physicians in Canada have struggled with the science and ethics of medical marijuana. At the 147th annual meeting of the Canadian Medical Association in Ottawa last August, many doctors expressed serious reservations about prescribing marijuana.

Some doctors said they felt threatened or intimidated into signing prescriptions, whereas others felt as though patients were shopping for doctors. Worst of all, there were reported cases of malfeasance, where doctors charged their patients for a prescription.

The result of this is that the CMA remains divided on, if not outright opposed to being the gatekeepers of medical marijuana.

Just like Americans, in the years ahead Canadians are going to have to negotiate the politics of pain, pot, and pills. The fall election – a full year before the U.S. presidential election – will feature themes of consumer protection and drug regulation, the right to choose one’s medication and the government’s responsibility to protect Canadians.

The Supreme Court decision in early June made the issue of medical marijuana a lot more intriguing.

This article can also be viewed at http://www.alternet.org/drugs/canada-medical-cannabis-conundrum