History and Historiography

The hidden history of drug criminalization

You might be inclined to think that the story of drug criminalization begins with the Reagan administration, or with the culture of substance use in the Sixties. Ismail Ali says otherwise. Ismail is this week’s guest on Krystal Kyle & Friends; he’s from MAPS [Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies], an organization that produces research on the healing and therapeutic potential of psychedelics.

The task of reframing our society’s perception of psychedelic use is a big one, but as you’ll hear in this week’s conversation, it offers a great deal of positives — which decades, and even centuries, of drug policing have fought to hide from us.

Where does the story of government control of substances start in the United States? In our conversation, Ismail traces it back to the 1800s, following a line of prohibitive legislation, but he also draws upon a history of colonialism that predates the founding of the United States. Understanding why certain substances are criminalized in the U.S. means more than understanding their chemical composition. It means understanding how different religious groups have interacted in the past centuries, how different societies have developed moral codes, and, more recently, how drug criminalization has been used to continue the legacy of colonialism into the twenty-first century.

For example, according to Ismail, it’s hard to think about the development of substance control without drawing upon the history of the Catholic Church in America. In our discussion, he links the repression of substance use within Indigenous communities to the Church’s struggle to assert social control. Challenged by the intuitive methods of healing or seeking transcendent experiences that fell beyond Catholic teaching, the Church sought to eradicate these practices — solidifying an opposition to drug usage that exists hundreds of years later, rooted in this racist colonial history.

We think you’ll enjoy Ismail’s way of revealing the unknown history of drug criminalization, and we’re grateful to him for joining this week’s show.

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