Friday, February 26, 2021

New Film Explores Canada's 1970s Experiment with Women and Weed

"The Marijuana Conspiracy" cast 
Coming to the US on 4/20 is a Canadian film titled "The Marijuana Conspiracy" about a bizarre experiment that happened in 1972 in which 20 women were confined in a Toronto hospital for 98 days while they were supplied with increasingly potent marijuana to smoke. 

Then-Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's government was reportedly considering legalizing pot, and the experiment sought to discover whether smoking it would make workers unproductive. The women were paid to weave belts or assemble stools with sea grass seats, as a measure of their motivation. According to an article in The Toronto Star, when their wage increase from $2 per stool to $2.75, the women's output increased. “Evidence shows that the inability or unwillingness to earn following high cannabis consumption can be overcome by an economic incentive,” researcher C.G. Miles wrote. 

Women from Canada's 1972 pot experiment
Filmmaker Craig Pryce interviewed several of the women who took part in the experiment for the film. Expecting a sort of fun "hippie camp" where they were paid to smoke marijuana, the subjects' isolation and the effects of too-potent weed they were required to smoke (or else not be paid at the end of the experiment) reportedly had a detrimental effect on some of the women.  Many were disturbed by the fact that the results of the experiment were buried, apparently due to political reasons. 
Canada's Le Dain commission had just issued a report recommending that Ottawa decriminalize marijuana, having found no evidence to support the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s "gateway" theory (that using marijuana leads to hard drug use). However the Canadian Medical Association responded that legalizing marijuana “would be tantamount to legalizing ignorance,” and The Council on Drug Abuse raised the specter of “another thalidomide disaster” with “thousands of deformed babies.”

At its debut in January at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, Pryce remarked on the irony of Trudeau's son Justin legalizing marijuana in Canada nearly 50 years later. 
Former Canadian First Lady Margaret Trudeau
Another irony is that the Toronto experiment took place just after Canada's soon-to-be First Lady Margaret Trudeau was strip searched when she tried to enter the US after Customs officials found hashish residue in the locket of one her friend. An officer told Margaret, who was due to be married in a few weeks' time, “Spread your cheeks, honey.” A few years later, at a White House dinner, Jimmy Carter asked her, “What happened to the student activists of your generation, and the great hippy push?” Trudeau told him of her Customs experience as “just one example of the hostility that we met with every day,” she wrote in her 1979 book Beyond Reason.
Before the 50-year-old Pierre would marry the 22-year-old Margaret, he insisted she give up grass. She undertook a six-month pot-free reformation, during which time she studied French, improved her skiing, sewed a trousseau, and converted to Catholicism. After her marriage, she bore three sons and stayed “straight” until a 1976 trip to Mexico. “It was like coming home—magic and drugs, all my old stomping grounds,” she wrote. In Palenque, some old friends slipped her “a little plastic sack of peyote mushrooms. That night at Cancun I allowed myself a secret taste. It made me look forward to more.” 
In 1976 Margaret traveled to California to hear Krishnamurti, began taking an interest in issues rather than in her wardrobe, and studied photography. Unhappy with her life, while weaning herself off tranquilizers, she started using marijuana again. “I smoked not one but two strong joints before setting out for one of my [psychiatric] appointments. No sooner was I settled in his office than I began to talk. I told him about my dreams, my childhood, my marriage. A look of profound self-satisfaction spread across his face. ‘You see,’ he said at the end of our hour, ‘you can do it, you know, without drugs.’ I laughed. I never went to see him again.” 
Pierre started to greet her after work, “not to kiss me, but to sniff me” for marijuana. The couple separated. She read Carlos Castaneda, smoked hash with the Stones, and partied at New York’s Studio 54 while looking for photography or acting jobs. Although she was apart from her children, she wrote that her relationship with her family was healthier when she exercised her freedom. 
Margaret with her son Justin Trudeau
Apparently still seeking approval, Trudeau said quitting marijuana helped her mental health at a press conference for the Canadian Mental Health Association's March 2007 Bottom Line Conference. She said she has been “recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder” and announced, "I loved marijuana. I was a hippie in the '60s. I started smoking at a young age. I took to it like a duck to water. Strawberry Fields Forever and all that." Trudeau said it is not uncommon for mental health sufferers to self-medicate with alcohol or marijuana, claiming, "Marijuana can trigger psychosis," she said, adding, "Every time I was hospitalized it was preceded by heavy use of marijuana." 
Trudeau was hospitalized three times for mental illness. Her first was post-partum after the birth of her second child, and her most recent one followed the deaths of Pierre and her son Michel. Trudeau says she has completely given up the use of marijuana, something she once thought made her feel "wonderful...I miss it." She stands behind her's son's legalization policy.
It will be interesting to watch "The Marijuana Conspiracy" and find out how other Canadian women of the 1970s fared following their mistreatment by an ignorant and unforgiving government. 

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