Summer 2020 Kreminar: Cannabis

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The American Institute of the History of Pharmacy and the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy was pleased to host the inaugural Edward Kremers Seminar in the History of Pharmacy & Drugs. The 2020 Summer “Kreminar” explored the theme of Cannabis and featured presentations and discussions by five scholars researching and writing about the history of cannabis.

The 2020 Summer Kreminar was a virtual seminar with streaming online presentations from 1:00–2:30 Eastern time (12:00–1:30 Central time) on five Thursdays in May or June. Participants were required to preregister for each presentation.

Download a .pdf poster for the Summer 2020 Kreminar or a .jpg poster for the Summer 2020 Kreminar.

The Schedule of Presentations for the 2020 Summer Kreminar was:

May 28, Dr. Lina Britto: “Marijuana Boom: The Rise & Fall of Colombia’s First Drug Paradise.”

Lina Britto

Abstract: In Marijuana Boom: The Rise and Fall of Colombia’s First Drug Paradise (University of California Press 2020), Lina Britto tells the forgotten story of the first explosion of illicit drugs in the Greater Magdalena region of Colombia. Arguing against traditional explanations that have attributed the rise of illicit economies to either the absence of the state or the moral degeneration of US consumers and smugglers, Britto sees the bonanza marimbera and cannabis as part of a history of nation-state formation, agrarian modernization, and interstate relations in the Americas. Drawing from her book, Britto’s presentation will touch on cannabis, nation state formation, illicit economies, and the history of the “war on drugs” in the Americas.

Bio: Lina Britto teaches Latin American and Caribbean History at Northwestern University. Her work has been published in the Hispanic American Historical Review, Social History of Alcohol & Drugs, NACLA, and El Espectador.

Presentation Recording:


June 4, Dr. Chris Duvall: “The African Roots of Marijuana.”

Chris Duvall

Abstract: In The African Roots of Marijuana (Duke University Press, 2019), Chris Duvall traces marijuana’s African past, and argues that better awareness of this history would improve how cannabis is managed nowadays.

In this presentation, Prof. Duvall sketches the drug plant’s dispersal from South Asia to Africa to the Americas, and discusses how European perceptions of these places affected 19th- and early 20th century commerce in pharmaceutical cannabis. Based on market data from five continents, he shows that British colonial policies in India, racist attitudes toward Africa, and ignorance of cannabis pharmacology altogether drove up pharmaceutical prices and simultaneously brought down the plant drug’s value in Western medicine. These pressures removed governments’ political-economic interests in sparing cannabis from legal control, and helped close the global pharmaceutical market. Had European pharmacists and merchants learned from African (and South Asian) societies, the plant drug’s value would have been higher and more stable in global pharmaceutical markets.

Bio: Chris Duvall is a geographer who studies people-plant interactions. Most of his work has focused on western Africa and the Atlantic World. His recent publications include Cannabis (Reaktion Books, 2014), The African Roots of Marijuana (Duke University Press, 2019), and cannabis-related articles in EchoGéo, Space and Polity, and Oxford Research Encyclopedia of African History. He is currently Chair of the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of New Mexico.

Presentation Recording:


June 11, Dr. Emily Dufton: “Grassroots: A History of Marijuana’s Ups and Downs in America.”

Emily Dufton

Abstract: As legalization initiatives continue to expand across the United States, many of its proponents believe that full federal legalization is inevitable. But pro-marijuana activists believed this in the 1970s too, when decriminalization spread to over a third of the country, only to see their work rolled back by a wave of powerful anti-cannabis parent activism. Marijuana’s legal status has shifted from criminalization to legalization and back again multiple times over the past fifty years, and may continue to change long into the future. This talk will discuss the role grassroots activists have played in changing marijuana’s public perception and legal status from the 1960s to today, and what we might expect in the years to come.

Bio: Emily Dufton is the author of Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America (Basic Books, 2017). Her writing has appeared in outlets like The Atlantic, the Washington Post, TIME and CNN. She is the editor of Points, the blog of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society.

Presentation Recording:


June 18, Dr. Adam Rathge: “Cannabis Cures: Medical Jurisprudence and the Origins of the War on Drugs.”

Adam Rathge

Abstract: Cannabis Cures: Medical Jurisprudence and the Origins of the War on Drugs examines the emergence of legal regulations on the use of cannabis in the United States during the late nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Often considered the golden age of cannabis medicine, Adam Rathge argues this largely understudied period was critical in categorizing cannabis as a potentially dangerous drug and establishing the cultural and legal basis for a bifurcated drug market that ultimately became the foundation for the war on drugs. In contrast to oft-cited paradigms, Rathge contends that marijuana prohibition in the United States was not solely a swift or sudden byproduct of racism and xenophobia toward Mexican immigrants, but instead, contingent on broad evolutions in public health and drug regulation coupled with a sustained concern about the potential dangers of cannabis use dating to the mid-nineteenth century.

Bio: Adam Rathge holds a PhD in American history from Boston College and has written extensively on the history of cannabis in the United States. His article, “Mapping the Muggleheads: New Orleans and the Marijuana Menace, 1920-1930,” is a digital humanities project that deploys interactive scholarship. He is currently the Director of Strategic Operations and Projects for Enrollment Management at the University of Dayton, where he also teaches undergraduate courses in the Department of History.

Presentation Recording:


June 25, Dr. David Guba: “Taming Cannabis: Drugs and Empire in Nineteenth-Century France.”

David Guba

Abstract: Throughout the nineteenth century, dozens of French pharmacists and physicians developed and prescribed cannabis-based medicines, generally in the form of tinctures but also as pills, edibles, lozenges, and even cigarettes, to treat maladies ranging from the plague and insanity to asthma and migraines. They published numerous dissertations and articles on their research into and the use of these drugs in peer-reviewed medical journals in France and across the West. A close examination of these publications reveals that cannabis-based medicines figured prominently in the early professional development of French medicine during the middle nineteenth century. Most pharmacists at this time believed that cannabis, though a dangerous exotic substance, could be “tamed” by the developing chemistry-based pharmaceutical sciences and—once refined—could be used by physicians to treat a variety of ailments both physical and mental in nature.

After cannabis tincture proved ineffective against cholera during an outbreak in Paris in 1848, many medical practitioners in France published articles condemning the drug as more dangerous than effective. And by the 1860s doctors and especially psychiatrists working in French Algeria increasingly published articles on cases of “hashish poisoning” and “hashish-induced insanity” among Muslim North Africans, further adding to the negative swing in perceptions of cannabis as medicine. This paper charts this rise and fall of cannabis as medicine in France across the nineteenth century and argues that, with greater engagement with their colonial history, the French might again play a major role in the medical marijuana movement currently unfolding across the globe.

Bio: David A. Guba, Jr., earned his doctorate at Temple University and currently is Assistant Professor of History at Bard Early College in Baltimore City and Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Maryland Global Campus. His first book, Taming Cannabis: Drugs and Empire in Nineteenth-Century France (McGill-Queen’s University Press) examines France’s first foray into medical cannabis during the 1800s and the ways in which the country’s imperial ventures in North Africa shaped popular and official perceptions of the drug both then and now. His work on the colonial history of intoxicants in France has also appeared in Salon, Slate, The Conversation, Quartz, Religion News Service, and the Washington Post.

Presentation Recording:



Edward Kremers (1864-1941) was the second Director of the University of Wisconsin Department of Pharmacy (later the UW–Madison School of Pharmacy) and a co-founder of the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy. Throughout his career, he strongly believed in the importance of history and the value of humanistic research in pharmacy and the health sciences. Kremers also encouraged critical thought about drug consumption and control in the United States, encouraging the news media, political leaders, and pharmacy leaders to think about the meanings associated with words like “drug,” “narcotics,” and “medicine.” He opposed prohibitionist impulses and groups, arguing that that restrictive measures would not solve the misuse of certain substances. Kremers also resisted language and policies that placed blame on foreigners for drug addiction or crime.

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