A Concise History of Both Sides on the War Against Cannabis

“I want a Goddamn strong statement on marijuana … I mean one on marijuana that just tears the ass out of them. … By God, we are going to hit the marijuana thing, and I want to hit it right square in the puss. … I want to hit it, against legalizing and all that sort of thing.”

Richard Nixon, 37th president of the United States

There is no denying that we have an ancient and consistent history of cannabis farming. It makes one think that the prohibitions placed in the mid-20th century are the first of their kind. These prohibitions brought along with them a cyclone of economic, political, and racial forces that used marijuana prohibition as an excuse for suppression. When comparing this prohibition of cannabis farming to our modern-day drug laws, our modern-day drug laws seem imprudent and lack vision, check this site for more information. In the book “The Emperor Wears No Clothes” by Jack Herer the opening lines very clearly signify the difference between modern society and times past. It started with the words:

“For thousands upon thousands of years, all over the world, whole families came together to harvest the hemp fields at the height of the flowering season, never dreaming that one day the U.S. government would be spearheading an international movement to wipe the cannabis plant off the face of the earth.”

The First War on Drugs Begins in China

Although unparalleled internationally in terms of range, the United States’ war on drugs was not the first time. The truth is that marijuana usage has been a subject of controversy for a long time. There have been many societies before us which have banned cannabis cultivation and use. These vigorous measures all have a form of economic and social inequality in common.  These crackdowns also incorporate an element of distrust of the unknown. An example of this is that the minority or lower classes persist in the usage of marijuana, the upper classes demand to outlaw marijuana as a form of oppression against the lower classes. Marijuana becomes a peril to the order of society. Getting rid of this menace to society starts with a prohibition on cultivation. 

According to the best of our knowledge, the Chinese might have been some of the first cannabis farmers. They are the first ones to record writings about the psychoactive effects of marijuana. At the same time, they are the first ones to reject it as a socially viable drug. The advancement of Taoism at 600 BCE introduced a cultural rejection of intoxicants. After that marijuana was perceived as an antisocial drug. The Taoist priests referred to it as a loony drug restricted to shamans. This same conviction has crept into modern society. You cannot discuss the history of marijuana without a mention of the history of opium in China. 

Muslim Vagabonds Question Islamic Morals 

Muslims have a much more complicated relationship with the history of marijuana. As Islam spread across many continents, the use of Hashish also spread in the 7th century CE. Pioneering Arabic texts refer to marijuana as the “morsel of thought” and the plant as the “bush of understanding.” Prominent scholars thought that Mohammed had prohibited the usage of marijuana. As mentioned in the Quran verse [2:219], that there is both a benefit and an evil in “all intoxicants,” but the evil is more than the benefit. To this day Muslims argue how the word intoxicants should be interpreted. 

Sufi Muslims took the game to the next level. The mystical Sufis believed that if an altered state of mind or spiritual enlightenment is possible, a drug like marijuana is the only logical means of transport of achieving it. Sufis believed that hashish was not just the conveyance for enlightenment but a form of direct communication with Allah. Mainstream Islam did not take these beliefs undisputedly. What made matters worse was that the Sufis were often members of the lower-class. Islam was not the only religion to ban marijuana. 

Pope Innocent Obliviously Bans Cannabis

In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII published a ban on cannabis. This was the time when marijuana and other mind-altering drugs were being researched and investigated for medicinal and spiritual utilization. Pope Innocent VIII said that momentary worldly pleasures will not guarantee a future fulfillment in the afterlife. The pagans growing the drug challenged the Pope with spiritual enlightenment and fulfillment in the present world. To this, Pope Innocent VIII declared cannabis to an unholy sacrament of the satanic Mass. The pagans who cultivated the drug were either persecuted, exiled, or put to death. 

Napoleon Bonaparte’s Alleged Conquer of Egypt and Marijuana

Napoleon Bonaparte was also involved in the history of marijuana. In 1798, Napoleon inaugurated the French campaign into Egypt and Syria. This offensive expedition was designed to cut off British trade and free Egypt from the Ottoman rule. Napoleon tried to maintain local support by becoming a part of Islamic culture and scientific exchange. An exceptionally large number of French forces in Egypt (almost 40,000) were either scientists or scholars. They become enmeshed with the local Egyptians responsible for establishing the research centers, laboratories, and libraries. 

The discovery of hashish had a huge impact on European culture and scholarly thought. Before the French crusade hashish was not very common in Europe. The French were accustomed to their French wines and liquors which were no longer available here in Egypt. A majority of the French soldiers started using hashish because it was just so much more easily available in Egypt. 

Once Napoleon returned to France, the general in charge of Egypt was General Jacques-François Menou. The General’s wife was from an upper-class Sunni family when he was commanding over Egypt. According to Menou, a hashish ban was the answer to his problems. It killed two birds with one stone. The first Sunni elite could begin cracking down on the Sufis. The health problem which was beginning to become the spotlight for the French troops would no longer be the talk of the town. According to scholars, this was the first legal prohibition of marijuana in the modern era. It began as:

Article One: The use of strong liquor, made by certain Muslims with a certain grass [herbe] called hashish, and smoking of the seed of cannabis, are prohibited throughout Egypt. Those who are accustomed to drinking this liquor and smoking this seed lose reason and fall into a violent delirium, which often leads them to commit excesses of all kinds.

Whether or not this was the first modern legal prohibition of marijuana is still a subject of debate. The fact remains that it failed to work. Hashish is still bought and sold in the Egyptian markets today.

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