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Vancouver: Hippie City, Heroin City Transcript
Kate Jaimet: Welcome to Canada’s History’s Stories Behind the History podcast. I’m Kate Jaimet, senior editor of Canada’s History magazine. This episode is brought to you from the Canadian Historical Association’s 2023 National Conference. And today I’m speaking with Dave Hazzan.
Dave Hazzan: Hi.
Kate: Dave is a Ph.D. candidate at York University in Toronto, and he is completing his dissertation “Speeding toward Babylon: Subcultural Drug Use in Canada (1962–1980).” Fascinating topic, Dave.
Dave: Thank you.
Kate: So, Dave, maybe just tell me a little bit about what areas you studied and how you went about studying this topic.
Dave: Okay. Well, thanks very much for having me and really happy to be here. So when I decided that I wanted to do a Ph.D. in history, I had to obviously pick a specialty or something. And for a long time I’d been interested in the history of substances of drugs and alcohol and why people use them, what they represent, what their significances are, and so on.
There are many different ways of studying drug history, so you can study it as a policy. Certainly many people do that drug laws, why they operate in a study as a medical or a scientific issue, I chose to say is a cultural issue, and particularly as a subcultural issue in the sense that when people use drugs so whether it’s a like a bunch of regulars lined up at a bar drinking or whether it’s a couple of hippies sharing a joint or whether it’s some more seriously addicted people sharing or using heroin, these things are done in a group, and the dynamics of that group and are the drugs they use and their ideologies and outlooks are cultural or subcultural, for that matter. And so I wanted to look into what these cultures meant. Why is it that the hippies would traditionally smoke marijuana and drop LSD, and how did that affect their culture? Whereas ten years later, the punk movement would issue marijuana for the most part and go for liquor and speed.
Dave: And how did that affect them? And so what do they and how do we go from one to the other? And so these are the questions that I’m exploring. In Canada’s big cities.
Kate: Okay. So I want to riff off that because you gave a really interesting talk yesterday. So in that talk, you were looking at two different subcultures in Vancouver in that area. And one was the hippies, and then the other was a subculture that you called the junkies. So maybe you could just talk to me about those two different subcultures in Vancouver at that time.
Dave: Yeah. So the thing with Vancouver is it’s Vancouver has been for since at least the 1880s, sort of the alpha and the omega of drug drug use in Canada. Most drug users or at least a massive proportion of them, have lived in Vancouver from, you know, for example, there were the Chinese opium smokers and so on, which set off the moral panic which led to our first drug laws in 1907 and 1908.
Around the twenties, the majority of drug users started becoming white and they moved onto heroin, which was actually invented by the Bayer Aspirin Company 20 years earlier. And they went on to heroin and they formed a subculture in the Eastside of Vancouver, which I referred to not very comfortably as the junkies. And the reason I used the word, obviously the word junkie is very, very stigmatizing, it refers to someone who goes through the garbage to find junk to sell for heroin. At the same time, I simply couldn’t find another one. I looked in the dictionary. I talked to people, and in the end we decided to stick with Junkie. Despite all of its baggage that goes with it. And they’ve been there since, I guess the twenties, let’s say, in the east side of Vancouver, always trouble with the police tend to be very lower class who are and generally not much in the way of education or prospects.
Well, then what happened is that most people know that in the early sixties, the hippie phenomenon developed out of the beats and the others. And Vancouver became very, very popular with hippies. Right. And they began to settle not in the east side where the junkies were, but rather in the west side of Vancouver, particularly in Kitsilano and Fourth Avenue and Arbutus around that area, which is at the time would have been like a middle class area of mostly Greek immigrants closer to the University of British Columbia, the distance physically between where the junkies were and the Downtown Eastside and around there and where the hippies were was really several kilometres, and it was entirely possible. The two groups never actually see each other. Now they did. They would see each other. Sometimes there would be interactions, but generally they stayed apart. Right? They set apart.
The hippies in particular didn’t really want anything to do with the junkies. They tended to look down on them. I have a quote from one guy, for example, who said, you know, we look down on junkies and we look down on juicers. Juicers are people who drink look down on junkies or down juicers because they were just killing their brains. And we were expanding our minds and our consciousness with acid and cannabis and the rest of it. Now I think that’s a little silly. And I think that today I think, the guy when I spoke to him, I think he realized himself that it maybe it was a bit of an odd or a bit of a self-righteous argument, but certainly those on the West Side, the hippies were more middle class, many of them were American. They’d come up from the States as draft resisters, like, for example, Cheech Marin, the comedian. And they had their own enclave, which was cut off from the drug using population that was familiar to Vancouver for 40 years.
Kate: So the hippies, you said they said that their reason for using the drugs was to expand their minds to to have a new psychic experience or whatever. What was the reason or motivation for the junkies to use the drugs?
Dave: Okay. So one of the problems I had in my research is that in the case of Vancouver, at least, I could not find any, quote unquote surviving junkies to interview. Unfortunately, the fact is heroin kills, especially now. And whereas I was able to find some in Toronto and Montreal, I simply was not able to connect with anybody who had used heroin or drank regularly in the Skid Row areas of Vancouver 40 or 50 years ago. They’re just simply not alive. Or if they are, they didn’t come to talk to me. Now it doesn’t mean I demand their other sources. So I looked into first person sources. And what was their motivation? Was their motivation up here to be largely to kill pain? They tended to be addicted to heroin or alcohol or something else, largely in order to kill pain.So that pain might be caused by all kinds of things.
Like I said, they’re mostly white, but certainly they were Indigenous and Asian and Black junkies as well. Not very many. They’d be using it to kill a certain pain, obviously. And the other people who are there tend to be very poor, often came from abusive households. Some of them just fell into it. A lot of them were resource workers, for example, guys who would work out of the lumber camps or in the mines or something and were not able to work any longer, possibly due to an injury or exhaustion or something like that. And so they would begin using drugs, heroin, alcohol regularly in order to kill physical pain in that case, and sometimes emotional pain.
Now, just because they’re in pain does not mean they didn’t have their own subculture. I wasn’t able to penetrate that very well. However, there are other people, like, for example, Gabor Maté, the addictions doctor, or Dr. Bruce Alexander from S.F.U. A few others, they’re not historians, but these guys have really gone on over the decades, talked to people in the Downtown Eastside and seen what their views were. And again, it really seemed to be an issue of dealing with pain.
That said, there was also a vibrant jazz and rock subculture at the same time. So you’d have a guy, for example, like Al Neil. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of him or anyone. So Al Neil was a fascinating man. So he stormed D-Day with the Canadian Army. He fought all the way up through the Netherlands. He came back. He’s a piano player, an artist, a writer, quite a good one and a heroin addict. And he became a fixture in the fifties and sixties, well in the fifties and the jazz scene, then moving into the sixties. He did a bit of bridging between these two subcultures, which we can talk about later.
So some people who are using these drugs on the east side were part of a jazz subculture. And of course jazz at the time was very closely related to heroin and liquor and also cannabis. So there was that. There was a rock and roll subculture, so on. And so they used drugs as well. But the majority of what I understood was it was people dealing with pain.
Kate: It’s an interesting connection that I didn’t realize between alcohol and heroin, because of course alcohol is legal and has been legal for, I think, a long time.
Dave: Since the twenties.
Kate: Like barring a few years of prohibition kind of been legal forever almost. Whereas heroin is obviously not and wasn’t, I don’t believe was legal at the time either. So what was the connection between alcohol and heroin? Why those two together?
Dave: Well, they didn’t necessarily they weren’t necessarily used together. The heroin was illegal, made illegal in 1907 in Canada with the Opium Act. Both heroin and alcohol are drugs. Many people will use it for different reasons. But many people will use these drugs almost interchangeably. Sometimes there are stories of some heroin addicts, for example, who when they can’t get their heroin, they’ll go to the liquor store. They don’t do the same thing. One is not going to replace the other, but they will both alter you enough that you will cease to feel. Hopefully you will temporarily at least cease to feel pain that commonly they’re not used together. As far as I know, though, I might have to ask an addiction specialist on that, which I’m not, but...
Kate: But they were both part of the same subculture. Whereas the hippies you were saying we’re just not that into alcohol, really.
Dave: So the hippies disdained what they called juicers and junkies, ideologically, believes drugs for different reasons. Availability obviously is the most important. That’s why most of us drink. It’s because it’s not an available drug. Now more people are using cannabis because again, it’s available everywhere, especially if you live in this province. And then the way it makes you feel vis a vis the culture you’re in and the ideological symbolism, symbolism of it, right. So smoking a joint is symbolic of something today, maybe not as symbolic much, but in the sixties it was symbolic of saying “I dissent, I disagree”. And this is especially the case when hippies would refuse — many, not all — would refuse to drink because it was associated with the older generation and this is exemplified by the martini.
I can’t tell you how many of my interviewees said when I’d ask them, ‘Do you drink?’ said ‘No, but my father did.’ And they’d always have stories about their parents, you know, with the shaker making cocktails, you know, after World War Two, boozing went through the roof. And it just became so common for people to just really drink and to come up with. And this is the area, the era of the cocktail and the rest of it. And a lot of these guys just associated drinking with old squares. Right. This is the big generation gap in the sixties, you know, booze, you know, especially the martini and the glass of wine or these are for old people, these are the parents.
And then as far as heroin goes, it’s like, well, those are for jazz musicians. That’s for jazz musicians. We don’t use heroin. We’re not the sort of jazz where, you know, a new generation again jazz by this point is old, right? Jazz is for you know, heroin is for has-beens, alcohol is for has-beens. We’re a new generation, we’re using drugs for new reasons to expand our minds. Right now, they’re using them for many different reasons. See, but that was a big one, was the idea that what alcohol and heroin represented to them was what was antithetical to what they believed in.
Kate: So what happened? What happened to the hippies?
Dave: Good question. I asked 73 people: what happened to the hippies? I think I got 73 different answers, but well, I think what happened is that with most ideological movements and most Utopian movements, they tend to be infiltrated by people who have different motivations. You could just say bad people if you wanted. It’s funny how it repeats itself throughout history. So whether it’s, you know, the Barcelona 1936 or the Israeli kibbutz or the diggers in England in the 17th century or whatever, they often begin with the best of intentions. And things tend to go well. But then other people will get involved often who want to exploit. And really, I think this is what happened to the hippies.
Other people moved in. In Toronto it was most visibly the motorcycle gangs that came in and they started selling harder drugs in Toronto. In Vancouver, there were also motorcycle gangs, but the hippies became disillusioned. Right. Things were the promise that the hippie promise of the promise of the sixties was falling apart. The economy was starting to get very bad, not very bad yet it was starting to darken, though there were certainly much fewer jobs come around 1970. The oil shocks were less years away, but there was infighting.
People started to realize that free love often did not mean free love. It meant coerced sex, sexual assault, and people moved in who had other reasons for using drugs. Obviously, you know, to get high, just to get high and it created tensions and a feeling that this dream was dying. So a lot of people went up to the country in Vancouver that often meant only going to North Vancouver, which was right close by. And so they’d set up places there, but otherwise they sort of spread across Vancouver again.
And what you had at this point was traditionally hippies have been middle class or upper class, and they got a lot more working class and poor people joining them and they had brought their own baggage with them. They started to live in places like the Downtown Eastside, or at least around it. Chinatown, Gastown, near the Central Post Office, and then SFU, near Burnaby that just opened. It was a huge magnet for hippies and radicals and as a result, you ended up having a mixing of these two subcultures.
So whereas before you had these two subcultures that appeared to be relatively sealed from each other as the late sixties happened, they begin to converge. More junkies are moving into the West End, which is something that West End residents noticed. More hippies were moving into junkie areas. They started using the same drugs. The drinking age dropped to 18. That was a big thing. And so a lot of hippies who disdained juicers, hated juicers, you know, wouldn’t talk to juicers, all of a sudden started going to bars, now that they were able to.
Sometimes it was just to score. A lot of the bars and Gastown and stuff became basically drug markets and they sort of they the and so the groups merged into what would be sort of one large drug-using city. I don’t want to exaggerate class and still very important, certain races, things like that were important. Geography was important, but it was much more of a mix. So that, for example, by 1970, Cheech and Chong, who are famous hippie comedians, they never went to the West End. When they got their start in Vancouver, they did all their work in the East End. Tommy Chong was a musician and he owned a bunch of or he managed a bunch of bars and, you know, he met Cheech there. And then the two of them started doing this comedy act for the hippies, but they never went to this hippie enclave, you know, they just stayed downtown. People came to them. And so it was really starting to mix now, whereas in 1966, people were saying, I never went East of Cambie. Now it was I never went west of Cambie in some cases. So it was interesting how that happens in that case. Does that answer your question?
Kate: Yeah. And I’m also just wondering, I mean, so once you start mixing, though, then you start getting into the harder drugs. So there must have also been some people who just sort of kind of grew out of it in quotes or sort of, you know, decided to have an adult life that didn’t involve, you know, the drugs or the subculture or whatever, like that.
Dave: Yeah. So that’s all I feel. Just grow up. I met a lot of people. They said, you know, why did I ask them why? Why did you stop? I got a job. I got married, I had two kids. I mean, some of these were incredible. One guy that I spoke to, you know, between the ages of about 16 and 19, he became an addict, opened a bunch of businesses in Vancouver catering to hippies, was arrested, went to prison, got married, got hooked on heroin. So he was already hooked on heroin. Got hooked on heroin. And then quit because his wife was pregnant. She said it was either the baby or heroin and he quit. And according to him, he has a new set. And this all happened between about 1966 and 1870, when he was a teenager.
And so yeah, responsibility definitely comes in there. A lot of the guys I spoke to finally became advertising execs seem to be a real pipeline from hippie down to writing ads.
Kate: So let me ask you a question, though, about I mean, I’m not from Vancouver and I visited it maybe once, so I don’t know Vancouver well, but of course, what you read all the time in the news is about the Downtown Eastside. And I mean, everybody in Canada has heard that. And I’m sure we all have our impressions of what it is without even ever having been there. But I mean, the impression that one has is it’s a very big drug using area with a lot of people who are pretty down and out. Like not an affluent, not not people using recreational drugs who are otherwise affluent, but people who are pretty down and out and and homeless. And that is, can you draw a connection between the 1960s and the drug scene there and then maybe even earlier, like the 1920s? And what’s going on there now?
Dave: Oh, there are connections. All right. Unfortunately my research ends in 1980, so I don’t really have the information in front of me. This goes into the idea of what is it with BC and drugs. It continues right up until now. What I can tell you is that by 1980, the punks were living in the Downtown Eastside, many of whom are middle class, the poor people, many of them were in the West End, and there was this class mix thing.
Now, what’s happened in Vancouver from 1980 until now has been the river has been the situation has been completely reversed and then exponentially taken to the most extreme. And you can get it. So what you have now in Vancouver is this very small and it gets smaller all the time as it grows very small, very poor, very hard up section of downtown that you see on the news where people are, just this is in so much pain. I refuse to romanticize it like I know it’s a community and I know everything. To me it looks like a refugee camp and in a lot of ways it is a refugee here. These people are fleeing right through life again. Meanwhile, they are surrounded by untold billions in wealth.
It’s certainly the most expensive city in Canada. A one bedroom apartment there is apparently twice what it is in Toronto. And let me tell you, in Toronto, it’s hell.
Kate: It is.
Dave: True. I can’t imagine living there. When I lived there 20 years ago, we paid an obscene amount of money for a basement apartment and I can’t possibly imagine what it’s like now. So you have this small area that’s well, it’s fighting for survival in a sense. They want to build a community there, but because it’s so transient, it’s almost like a refugee camp that it’s hard to do.
Meanwhile, they are surrounded by obscene wealth, absolutely insane amounts of money, really just crossing the street. You can go from million dollar condos to single occupancy hotels that cost a little more than your welfare check. So that’s where we’re at now with that. I don’t know how it’s going to go forward. I do know that the new administration in Vancouver is determined to move these people and they’re not going to succeed because they have nowhere to go. The services they need are [available] in the downtown easily.
Kate: Well, what good does it do to move that? I mean, you have to move people somewhere where.
Dave: No, no, it doesn’t do any good. What they’re doing right now is they’re dismantling all the tents, just like they are in Toronto and elsewhere. They’re moving tents and they’re clearing the place and telling everyone to get lost. Where the hell are they going to go? I mean, I saw a woman on the news the other day, who said they should go to Burnaby.
Well, let’s announce, you know, that now. Burnaby Social Services deal with the services they need, what community they have is in that area. Right. Frankly, it’s amazing they’ve held on as long as they have in there. But, did I answer the question?
Kate: Yeah, yeah. No, it’s fascinating. It’s really interesting.The other thing I’m curious about and again, this is probably outside the scope of your research, but I’m just going to ask you, because you mentioned availability, right, as being one of the factors on, you know, why you use a certain drug or why you might use a drug at all.
And I find it kind of interesting because in the debate over drugs in Canada, which is a big debate, but sometimes you hear this argument, well, we should just legalize hard drugs because then it will remove the stigma and then people can get better because there’s not a stigma of dealing with it. So they can get better. They can help people. Professionals can help their addiction. Yeah.
But then on the other hand, if you legalize these hard drugs, then you make them more available. And then there’s a whole pool of people out there who might never have tried those, but who are going to become addicted, who are, you know, then become kind of victims of that policy. So I don’t know. Do you have any thoughts on that based on your historical research?
Dave: That’s much of my historical research. I can tell you this. Is that the reason why I think hard drugs should be legalized is not so that they’re free of stigma. It’s that they’re free of fentanyl. And the reason why I think we need to legalize or legalize the hard drugs, I mean, when they think they are legalized, they may not be sold at the 7-Eleven or something like that. I think heroin should be legalized and regulated and controlled by the government so they can remove the impurities that are killing people and killing people literally by the thousands.
Essentially, people die of fentanyl overdoses, thousands and thousands every year. We know what the answer is. It’s to set up a safe supply. It won’t solve every problem, but it will take the fentanyl out of the heroin because we’ll be able to test it.
Kate: But that would only be available to people as a treatment to people who are already addicted? Or how do you address this, not wanting to have new addicts?m
Dave: Right. Okay. So obviously. No, no, no system is perfect. One option for legalization, which I think is good, is that we have to draw a line somewhere. But we already do this with scheduling of drugs. But, you know, okay, so we say the soft drugs are here. We can sell those. It’s like we do with marijuana or liquor or something like that.
The hard drugs are here and these ones maybe are available only with a doctor’s prescription. Now, I understand that it still leaves a black market for people who want to use it for the first time. Okay. Recently, the National Post brought out this thing. It was a terrible article, but they said about how safe supply gets diverted.
So okay, so it isn’t perfect. Some people may get hurt when they try it for the first time at least the stuff that’s diverted, you know, I mean, unless someone cuts it, you have an idea of what’s what you’re getting. And that’s what I think we’re looking for as a solution to at least stop the deaths. Once we stop the deaths, then we can work on other programs to help people recover if that’s what they want or otherwise. Lives, better lives. But they’re not going to live better lives if they’re dead.
Kate: So let me pull you back to history, because we are a history podcast.
Kate: So you looked at Vancouver, you looked at the hippies and the junkies in Vancouver. You also looked at Montreal and Toronto. Tell me about what you found out in Montreal, in Toronto.
Dave: Okay. Well, the interesting thing about Toronto was the hippie movement was located around Yorkville traditionally.
Kate: Now a very expensive, uber ritzy area of Toronto.
Dave: If you like. You’re calling it Rodeo Drive North. Now, it’s so funny because it’s not like it’s just gentrified. It went from, you know, the Haight-Ashbury of Toronto to like the Rodeo Drive of Toronto. So with its Armani and Gucci watches. But well before then, yeah, they were in Yorkville, but we didn’t have this strict separation of classes the way they had in Vancouver. So in Yorkville, researchers who were down there would note for the fact that there were lower class “greasers” who were there, motorcyclists and then hippies and then weekend hippies and then all sorts of other groups. They were all in there together. Doesn’t mean they naturally got along, but they were all in there together.
In Montreal, there were two main areas: the McGill ghetto and Carré Saint Louis, and one was more Anglo and one was more French. So again, it wasn’t strict, but generally one was more Anglo ones were French. And again it tended to mix more. One thing that was interesting about Montreal that I discovered was that Montreal’s reputation for organized crime was something that many of the people I talked to felt. Whereas they didn’t necessarily feel it in Vancouver or Toronto.
For example, I knew a guy and in Montreal generally the people who were selling cannabis at this time, we’re just small-time dudes, you know, assigned to their friends, you know, they get it through the day. But it was very copacetic. And you didn’t make much of a profit just enough for yourself. Well, then one day this guy knocks on his door and he introduces himself as someone who likes his name, but as this person, he said, “If you don’t stop selling marijuana here, we’re coming back.” And it wasn’t to bake cookies. Right. And so he just immediately quit selling marijuana because he’s not here to join the mob.
Montreal was the import port at least since World War Two, possibly earlier until the mid-seventies. Most drugs that came into Canada came through Montreal, through the French Connection, which was a famous thing where they drew the opium in Turkey and Lebanon, shipped in to Marseilles and France, where Corsican gangsters and the Italian mafia would process it into heroin and then send it to the US, sent to the North American East Coast. Some would go to New York and Boston and the East Coast ports. A lot of it went to Montreal.
Montreal has the advantage of being only 300 some miles from New York, which is the largest drug market on the planet, or at least it was then. And so that was its advantage. And there were these big mafia families like the Risottos, and I can’t remember the other name, The Bananos and others who had a lock on this heroin and hashish importing business.
And so they controlled large parts of Montreal, they controlled many of the bars. People would open shop (32:00). One guy again opened a coffee shop, and one day this guy shows up and he says, Hi, I’m your new security. He said I didn’t ask for any security, so it wasn’t that too bad because you’ve got it. And he realized that they were trying to take over his business. So he shut it down. There was a gunfight actually inside the thing. And then that guy who was security was found garotted a few months later.
So a lot of people and not going into the punk here, there was a guy I spoke to who was essentially forced to record a single by a gangster. I don’t remember the exact details now in the interview; these people got hurt, which is what’s important. But there was definitely a feeling in Montreal that there were certain people you really didn’t want to piss off and that things were more serious in Montreal when it came to crime and when it came to the selling or buying of drugs than in Toronto and Vancouver.
And I’m not saying those places did not have violence. Of course they did. Not saying they didn’t have gangsters. Of course they did. They were worse in Montreal.
Kate: It was more organized.
Dave: Yeah, it was more organized and it was more violence, as one guy told me. Peter Edwards, who writes for The Toronto Star about organized crime, he told me, he said he never heard any stories about Ontario or British Columbia or American bikers going into Montreal and pushing people around. I mean, that just didn’t happen. But on the other hand, Montreal bikers would go to Ontario and the States and B.C. and push people around. So they were very violent and they would simply do things that were not that wouldn’t happen in Toronto, Vancouver, which again, contributes to that reputation, that Montreal has, still today, as an organized crime hub.
Kate: Yeah. And were they more interested in the heroin trade or was it where they controlling the marijuana trade as well?
Dave: It was heroin and hashish. So cannabis in the sixties and seventies, this was a big debate between my interviewees. Was it harsh or was it pot, you know, the flower? And that’s where half of them said, no, no, we only had hash. And they said, no, no, no, we only had pot and somebody else said we had both.
Montreal certainly seemed to have a lot of hash, and that would have come from the French connection because it’s again, it’s processed right. And it’s a product traditionally of the Middle East and Turkey and Lebanon and places like that. So there was hash coming into the French connection. But heroin’s the big moneymaker. I mean, it’s heroin that people can get hooked on hash, but they’re much more likely to get hooked on heroin. And that’s when you get the repeat customers.
Kate: And was the heroin associated with the jazz scene in Montreal too?
Dave: Oh sure. There were all sorts of stories that all of the earliest drug stories I have from these would have come from other sources, not people I interviewed, because it’s too long ago. But certainly if you read about the jazz scene in Montreal, in the city going all the way back to the twenties and certainly forties, fifties, sixties, plenty of heroin. When it is heroin, plenty of liquor and also what they call the reefer cannabis.
Kate: How did you find people to interview for your work?
Dave: With difficulty, it was COVID. Well, Google was my great friend, right? So I would look into the secondary literature. So I would read a book about, let’s say, Yorkville or the hippies and bankers, and I’d write down names and then I’d contact some of these names. Right now, of course, this was all anonymous, so I can’t say who it was or anything, but then they would recommend names if they trusted me.
Sometimes I wouldn’t get lucky at all. I would just get one person, that person they might talk to me and say, “Oh, do you have anyone else I can talk to?” “No, I don’t know anyone else anymore”. They were some people, you know, left the scene quite seriously. Others, though, would give me [more]. One guy gave me about ten names and they all worked out.
So that’s mostly how I did it. I would post on Facebook in different groups, especially like, you know, you have groups remembering Yorkville or, you know, like le Groupe Rock Pop de Montreal or something like that and I put it in there.
Kate: What do you think people today who are involved in looking at, I guess, drug policy or maybe that’s too narrow, but what do you think people today could take from understanding the drug cultures of the sixties to the eighties?
Dave: What I hope people can get the most out of my research at least is an understanding that drug use is a cultural phenomenon, apart from being also a medical and a legal phenomenon. It’s that as well that it is a cultural and subcultural phenomenon and that when groups of people get together and use drugs, whether they’re legal or not, they’re getting together to use them generally as a cultural community, as a group of people.
If you’re going to examine from a like for either from a policy perspective or a medical perspective or for really any perspective on why people are using drugs, why they continue to use drugs, again, it’s very bad for them. You have to look at ideas of the cultures that they’re embedded in and why they do certain things now.
But most addicts who simply can’t quit, it’s not a cultural issue. They’re in pain. They need medical help. But many people who use and maybe lose heavily, even dangerously but are non addicted do so out of a cultural milieu like that.
I find it very hard to go to a rock concert and not have a few drinks. Right? There’s nothing that forces me to do it. There’s nothing that says a but the idea of going to see one of my favourite bands and not having a beer or a bunch of beer to go with doesn’t ring out.
Kate: Yeah, it doesn’t feel like part of the real experience.
Dave: It’s right. And it’s it’s not like I’m going to be drinking alone. At least not usually. It’s like immediately alone. I’m going to be with people and we’re going to be having a cultural experience together that involves drinking or smoking pot. Or again, like in the past when I was younger and my head was on straighter, using psychedelic like mushrooms or something.
We did this as a group in order to — well I’m not sure what we were doing exactly — we were doing this together as a group. And again, it was a cultural issue. I was on the West Coast. That’s what happens out there and and I think it’s important for anyone who’s dealing with drugs as a phenomenon to look past just look past the individual, look past the medical and the political and the legal issues, and look at the cultural questions, not only as all those other things, but I think it’s something that definitely needs to be understood, talked about.
As far as the culture and subculture go, what I would say is to understand that we all use drugs, okay? We all use drugs. I’m just finishing a Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi in here. It’s got caffeine in it. That’s one of the reasons I bought it was because I’m exhausted and working 16 hour days and, you know, I wanted a pick me up and I’m going to have some coffee later. Most people I know drink, even if it’s just one or two and it’s not for taste and then otherwise think of the galaxy of pills that people take these days.
Some of them are not drugs of abuse. But how many adults today take Ritalin or Adderall? Ritalin and Adderall or Speed? Right. I’m not saying people shouldn’t take them. Take them if your doctor says you should take it, but understand that you are using a drug that is affecting your mind. You are taking a mind-altering drug.
Okay. May not make you loopy, but it is altering how you think. And almost everyone uses drugs. I said everyone, but I meant almost everyone. There are some people that don’t. Almost everyone uses drugs and I think understanding, compassion, tolerance, these are the key words that we need when we’re dealing with people who use drugs, not least because it’s all of us .
Kate: It’s good. That’s very well. Thank you very much. Thank you very much for joining me today, Dave. And best of luck and your Ph.D. finishing up and defending your thesis.
Dave: Well, thank you very much. It’s really great being here. Thank you so much.