Editor’s Note: After bringing Points readers a fantastic write-up of the event itself, Dr. David A. Guba Jr. (Bard Early College, Baltimore) now presents a blog post on the research he presented at the Cannabis: Global Histories conference, held from April 19-20, 2018, at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. In it, Guba explains how, in the wake of the 1968 social uprisings, Orientalist fears and a longing for isolationism worked their way into France’s new drug policy. Enjoy!
On 17 October 1968, the French National Assembly met to discuss the nation’s efforts to combat international drug trafficking and the urgent need to enact new laws within France to address a recent surge in drug-related arrests among university-age youths. Alarmed by the student rebellions of May and June, politicians across the ideological spectrum moved to strengthen the nation’s commitment to the U.N. Single Convention of 1961, and many believed that in such a time of crisis, the French government should go beyond the Convention’s protocols and harden its own legal system against the growing scourge of drug use among the nation’s rebellious youth. After a series of discussions lasting until December of 1970, the Assembly passed the Droit de la Drogue, then the most comprehensive legal measure taken in modern France against the traffic, sale, and use of illicit substances and the basis of French drug laws today.
During the debates leading up to the passing of the 1970 Drug Law, French politicians and consulting medical, public health, and legal professionals described the nation’s social unrest and drug problems as a single, foreign-born “plague,” spread to France by Arab drug traffickers and provocateurs set on undermining the health and moral constitution of the body politic. In his address to the Assembly at the first open debate in October 1969, Gaullist Pierre Mazeaud, a French jurist and professor of law, urged the French government to do all it could to catch and expel “undesirable foreigners” engaged in drug smuggling, including “hippies” and “persons who travel excessively to the Middle or Far Orient.”(1) Daniel Benoist, a socialist deputy in the Assembly, echoed Mazeud, arguing that the student rebellions and the rise in drug-related arrests both stemmed from “the introduction of foreign elements into our country that brought with them radical philosophies and at the same time drugs.”(2) These alien ideas and drugs, Benoist concluded, had duped France’s youth with promises of “artificial paradise” and thus caused the current state of crisis in French society.(3) Driving the point home, fellow socialist deputy René Chazelle reminded the Assembly that the word “assassin” shared an etymology with word “hashish,” both deriving from the name of an ancient cult of cannabis-smoking murderers in the Islamic world, the Hachichins. Pointing to the recent student rebellion and spike in drug-related arrests (and especially hashish-related arrests), Chazelle warned his audience: “This filiation of drugs and crime is not simply assonance, it is today a reality.”