August 5, 2015

Boston University To Offer A ‘Marijuana In American History’ Course

August 5, 2015
boston university marijuana
boston university marijuana
(image via Twitter)

I was a Public Policy and Administration major (Legal Studies minor) in college, and I always loved when class discussions turned to cannabis policy. Every paper that I was able to choose the topic of had a cannabis angle on it in college. Those were very fun times for me, and it’s something that I wish every cannabis policy wonk could experience. Studying cannabis from an academic perspective is something that has been popping up on college campuses across America, usually legal or business related.

As far as I know, there has never been a major accredited public university that has taught a course on marijuana from a purely history perspective. That is until now. I received an e-mail today from Boston University which stated that BU will be offering a ’Marijuana In American History’ course taught by lecturer Seth Blumenthal. Below is an excerpt from an article that was posted about the class in BU Today, Boston University’s news and information website:

The idea for the course originated in Blumenthal’s own student days and his dissertation on youth politics in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Part of his research probed Richard Nixon’s approach to spreading marijuana use, “which he called the biggest public threat in America at the time.” Nixon, elected on a law-and-order platform in 1968, found that stance an impediment in his reelection drive four years later, when arresting young tokers and imposing draconian jail terms would alienate the voters the president needed.

Nixon commendably reduced drug sentences, but in the process gave judges sentencing discretion. That opened the door to racial bias that bedevils drug justice today, Blumenthal said; federal data show that, despite comparable marijuana use rates among whites and blacks, the latter are four times likelier to be arrested for possession.

Researching all this, Blumenthal realized that the controversy over pot has always morphed in lockstep with broader social anxieties. In the Nixon era, the drug reflected the president’s grappling with the rising youth culture and vote. Today, most Americans support legalization, which they see as a blow against racial injustice; Blumenthal himself believes decriminalization is the only way to purge injustice from drug enforcement. Yet he said some libertarian advocates favor legalization for another reason: to roll back government regulation of personal behavior. 

Though his class focuses on the American experience, Blumenthal also sprinkles in attitudes from other places and ages. Scrolling through a timeline on the classroom screen, he pointed out that one Chinese emperor extoled marijuana as a popular medicine in 2400 B.C.E.

I bet just about every TWB reader would love to take a class like that. The discussions that will take place during that course will no doubt get intense, and even though it’s a college where you would think everyone supports cannabis, that will likely not prove to be the case. I was always blown away by some of the cannabis opponents at my alma mater, some of which I would have never suspected felt so passionately about prohibition. They seemed reasonable, but once we started talking about marijuana, a lot of logical reasoning went out the door.I would love to sit in on a class to see where the discussion goes, and to see what types of assignments are handed out. If you are a BU student, and are taking the class, feel free to contact me because I’d love to hear from you.


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