Project E206: Locking up 20 women for 98 days and making them smoke joints

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This is Canada in 1972. The gateway theory – cannabis would lead to hard drugs – was widely believed, supported by Canadian police, and the Ontario government feared that decriminalizing cannabis would lead to “reefer madness”. “, a cannabis madness created from scratch by the American prohibitionist government of the Nixon years.

A few years earlier, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal government convened the “Le Dain Commission of Inquiry into Non-Medical Drug Use” and invested millions in studying the potential impact of decriminalizing cannabis. for personal use. Findings come out in 1973 and find cannabis-related sentences ‘grossly excessive’ and ‘completely unreasonable’ while advising repeal of ban on simple possession of cannabis and cultivation for personal use

At the time, possession of cannabis could be worth seven years in prison. If you helped out a mate, you could end up behind bars for life – and the penalties for trafficking were even tougher.

A traumatic experience

In 1971, the Addiction Research Foundation opened a research and treatment hospital where the study of Bill Miles, a British psychologist working in Toronto, Project E206 or Project Venus would take place.

The research was part of a million-dollar program, the latest in a series of experiments designed to answer one of the country’s most pressing questions, raised when then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, discussed the idea of ​​legalizing cannabis: what impact would legalization have on Ontario’s youth and consumer productivity?

Bill Miles assembles a team comprising two behaviorists, a doctor, a psychiatrist, a social worker and a full staff of nurses. The hospital welcomes 20 women to the ward at a formal dinner on January 31, 1972.

They will be locked up for 98 days in the study center and divided into two groups. Half of them – the experimental group – will have to smoke increasingly potent doses of cannabis twice a night, while the other half – the control group – will not use cannabis.

Both groups will be able to buy as many (relatively light) joints as they want for 50 cents each at a store that also sold liquor, junk food, toiletries, cigarettes and magazines.

A key part of the study was his microeconomics. Women had to cover the cost of their existence for 98 days. They could keep all the money they earned and did not spend on food, clothing or entertainment. A bonus of 250 dollars awaited those who remained until the end of the experience. Those who quit early lost their bonus and up to 75% of their savings.

They earned their living with a loom on which they wove colorful, fluffy woolen belts with tied tassels. For each belt that passed inspection – it had to contain at least two colors and be 132 centimeters long – the women received $2.50.

After a few days of practice, the task became easier. But the experience didn’t end well. The joints grew so strong that some demanded a medical certificate to escape their nightly duties, claiming they were too sick to smoke. Others left, more traumatized than thrilled by the experience. Over the past week, the women who have remained so far in the compulsory smoking unit have refused to continue.

Mixed evidence

Despite the enormous amount of data produced by Miles’ study, it has, for the most part, been swept under the rug. The experiment was so little known that it took until 2013 for Toronto Star investigative reporter Diana Zlomislic to uncover the fiasco in a gripping report. The results of the study, Zlomislic notes, were never made public.

The behaviors observed during the study, however, provided mixed evidence on the effects of cannabis use. The most motivated subjects, for example, woke up at 4 a.m. to get a head start on weaving and earn extra money. In a smaller experiment conducted earlier on men, the subjects even went on strike to demand a salary increase which, when accepted, boosted the productivity of the group.

John Kagel, an economics professor at Ohio State University who worked with the study data, perhaps best sums up the failure of the experiment.

“If you legalized cannabis, were you going to get a bunch of stoned people who just smoked cannabis all the time and didn’t do any work? [L’étude] is pretty compelling evidence that it wasn’t going to happen,” he said.

Did the conclusions go against a desire to persist in prohibition? The story does not say.

A film based on this experience

Directed by Craig Pryce (Good Witch, Dark Oracle), who bought the story rights, the Canadian film The Marijuana Conspiracy looks back on this strange experience, which disappeared without saying a word.

“Of the doctors, behaviorists and psychologists who were trying to prove their weed guesses were true, everyone [dans l’étude] had an agenda,” Pryce said, “except the girls. This film tells what they went through and how they came together and overcame circumstances. »

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