Editor’s Note: Did you enjoy David Guba’s blog post on Tuesday? Here’s a video of him explaining more about his work, taken by Morgan Scott of Breathe Image at the Cannabis: Global Histories conference held April 19-20, 2018, at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. Enjoy!
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.”
Myth: Napoleon Bonaparte created the first anti-marijuana law in modern history during his military campaign to Egypt around 1800.
For nearly a century, scholars and amateur historians have told their readers, quite incorrectly it turns out, that in October of 1800 Napoleon Bonaparte passed an official ban on hashish across Egypt after personally observing rampant use of the drug among Egyptians and his rank and file. For most historians of drugs and prohibition, the hashish ban of October 1800 marks the first anti-drug law in modern history and thus the starting point for histories of drugs and prohibition in the Western world. But in October of 1800, Napoleon was neither in Egypt nor was he the ranking General in Chief of the French Army of the Orient attempting to colonize the country.
Frustrated by his repeated setbacks in Egypt, Napoleon abandoned the Army of the Orient in August of 1799 and departed for France to begin his meteoric rise to power. Command in Egypt passed to Jean-Baptiste Kléber, one of the most celebrated generals in French history, who controlled the colony until a Kurdish student from Aleppo called Suliman El-Halebi assassinated him in June of 1800. After Kléber’s assassination, Jacques-François “Abdallah” Menou, the divisional commander of Rosetta, took over as General in Chief. When Abdallah Menou passed the hashish ban in Egypt in early October of 1800, First Consul Napoleon was nearly 3200 kilometers away in Paris fending off the famous “dagger plot” and preoccupied with a growing war in Europe against Austria and the Second Coalition. And a close reading of official correspondence between Paris and Alexandria throughout 1800 reveals that Napoleon had no involvement in or even knowledge of the hashish ban in Egypt passed by Menou in October. Why, then, has this myth of Napoleon banning hashish in Egypt appeared and reappeared as an historical fact for so long, and what has this myth hidden from us about the real historical circumstances that produced the first drug prohibition measure in modern Western history?