I need a Goddamn sturdy assertion on marijuana … I imply one on marijuana that simply tears the ass out of them. … By God we’re going to hit the marijuana factor, and I wish to hit it proper sq. within the puss. … I wish to hit it, towards legalizing and all that form of factor.

—Richard Nixon, 37th president of the US

Earlier than the warfare on medication put marijuana farmers firmly in its crosshairs, hashish was being grown overtly and with business success on each continent on earth, a lot because it had been for hundreds of years.

This historic and intensive historical past of hashish farming has given rise to the concept that prohibitions put in place within the mid-20th century had been the primary of their variety — a whirlwind of racial, political, and financial forces that efficiently used marijuana prohibition as a pretext for suppression. By contrasting prohibition with our historic historical past of hashish farming, some historians make our modern-day drug legal guidelines seem irregular and shortsighted. In his seminal (and controversial) e book on hashish, “The Emperor Wears No Garments” (referred to by many legalization advocates as “the Hemp Bible”), Jack Herer opens with the next line:

For 1000’s upon 1000’s of years, all around the world, entire households got here collectively to reap the hemp fields on the peak of the flowering season, by no means dreaming that in the future the U.S. authorities could be spearheading a global motion to wipe the hashish plant off the face of the earth. 

But, whereas unprecedented in scope, the US’ warfare on medication was not the primary of its variety. The truth is that marijuana has been controversial for nearly so long as people have been farming it. Many societies all through historical past have banned hashish cultivation and use. What many of those crackdowns and prohibitions have in frequent is social and financial inequality, or a mistrust of the unknown. When members of a minority or decrease class embrace marijuana use, the ruling class strikes to outlaw marijuana as a type of suppression and management. Marijuana is perceived to be a menace to the order of society, and stamping it out naturally begins with a prohibition on cultivation.

A Look At The Ancients

As a living proof, the traditional Chinese language might need been the primary hashish farmers — and, so far as we all know, had been the primary to write down about psychoactive marijuana — and but they could even have been the primary to reject it as a socially acceptable drug. The rise of Taoism round 600 BCE introduced with it a cultural rejection of intoxicants. Marijuana was then seen as delinquent, and derisively dismissed by one Taoist priest as a loony drug reserved for shamans. The sentiment persevered into the trendy period — to at the present time, marijuana struggles to disassociate itself with the stained historical past of opium in China.

Muslim societies have a posh relationship historical past with marijuana. Cannabis use unfold extensively with the enlargement of Islam within the seventh century CE, and stays widespread in the present day. Early Arabic texts referred to marijuana because the “bush of understanding” and the “morsel of thought.” But conventional theologians believed Mohammed prohibited marijuana use (the Koran [2: 219] prohibits “intoxicants,” however how that phrase ought to be interpreted continues to be up for debate). One distinguished theologian related marijuana with the dreaded Mongol empire, and plenty of upper-class Muslims pushed for prohibition, for concern that marijuana use would disrupt the labor pressure. Ultimately, some societies tolerated marijuana use or turned a blind eye; others (equivalent to Damascus in 1265) embraced prohibition.

Sufi Muslims took these tensions to the subsequent degree. The paranormal Sufis believed that non secular enlightenment could possibly be reached by an altered state of consciousness, and a mind-bending drug like marijuana would appear a logical car to succeed in that state. Sufis believed cannabis was a car not solely to private enlightenment however to direct communication with Allah. These beliefs didn’t go over properly with the remainder of mainstream Islam, nevertheless. To make issues worse for the Sufis, they had been typically lower-class laborers. That marijuana use was subsequently central to a faith perceived to be a heretical problem to non secular, financial, and political order made the plant a straightforward goal for authorities.

In 1253, Sufis had been overtly rising marijuana in Cairo, Egypt. The federal government, claiming that Sufism was a menace to society, raided their farms and destroyed all their crops. Undeterred, the Sufis made offers with farmers within the Nile River Valley to develop marijuana on their farmlands. This profitable agricultural partnership lasted till 1324, when Egyptian troops raided the countryside and destroyed all of the marijuana they might discover. For Sufis and marijuana farmers, the scenario solely acquired worse. Martial regulation was imposed in 1378, and this time the authorities destroyed greater than marijuana crops: complete farms and farming villages had been burned to the bottom. Farmers had been imprisoned or executed, and cannabis customers had their tooth pulled. Regardless of this swift and harsh crackdown, the demand for cannabis remained sturdy. The cycle of cultivation, consumption, and crackdown continued in Egypt for hundreds of years.

Christianity and Hashish

Islam was not the one main world faith to really feel threatened by marijuana. Pope Harmless VIII issued a papal ban on hashish within the first yr of his papacy, in 1484. On the time, marijuana, together with different mind-altering crops, was being cultivated for medicinal and non secular functions all through Europe by pagans who had been thought of to be witches and sorcerers. The Christianity of Pope Harmless VIII, nevertheless, was predicated on a future success within the afterlife, and a rejection of momentary pleasures or enlightenment. The pagans rising marijuana profoundly challenged this premise by promising non secular enrichment within the current, with a plant grown proper right here on earth. Pope Harmless VIII thus wasted no time in addressing this existential menace, declaring hashish to be an unholy sacrament of the satanic Mass. The pagans who cultivated it had been persecuted into imprisonment, exile, or dying. 

Colonial empires, with their unfailing concern for a strong army and hard-working labor pressure, have typically seen marijuana with suspicion. Although the Spanish had been one of many first colonial empires to encourage the cultivation of hemp within the Americas, they weren’t as smitten by marijuana. The Spanish governor of Mexico issued an order in 1550 limiting hashish farming as a result of “the natives had been starting to make use of the plant for one thing aside from rope,” write Robert Clarke and Mark Merlin of their e book “Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany.” White South Africans, descended from Dutch or British colonialists, handed a sequence of legal guidelines within the 19th century designed to crack down on the cultivation and use of marijuana by indentured Indian farm employees, who had been seen by whites as societal contaminants and a menace to civil order. 

The Portuguese empire additionally struggled to manage hashish. The Portuguese needed to foster a robust hemp-producing workforce similar to these of their colonial rivals, however they thought of marijuana a pernicious vice, particularly when utilized by slaves. The Portuguese launched marijuana prohibitions to lots of their African colonies, together with Zambia and Angola. Nonetheless, explorers to the area seen marijuana being grown “almost all over the place” and utilized by “all of the tribes of the inside,” in keeping with a report printed by the Transnational Institute.

When the Portuguese introduced slaves to Brazil within the 16th century, the slaves introduced marijuana together with them, as seeds had been sewn into the clothes they wore onto the slave ships after which germinated upon arrival. No matter strains they had been utilizing should have been properly tailored to the Brazilian panorama; marijuana was quickly rising from the coasts to the Amazon and all over the place in between. For essentially the most half, marijuana cultivation was permitted throughout Portuguese rule. However when Brazil gained its independence within the early 19th century, Rio de Janeiro’s municipal hashish prohibition began a sequence response of prohibitions across the nation aimed toward curbing marijuana use amongst slave populations. 

One cause Portugal could have been lenient on marijuana farming in Brazil is the truth that the Queen of Portugal herself was utilizing it whereas stationed there in the course of the Napoleonic wars. This wasn’t the primary time Napoleon Bonaparte was concerned within the historical past of marijuana. A number of years earlier, in 1798, Napoleon had launched the French marketing campaign into Egypt and Syria, a large-scale offensive designed to chop off British commerce and liberate Egypt from Ottoman rule. After the preliminary conquest, Napoleon tried to take care of native help by embracing Islamic tradition and scientific alternate. An unusually massive share of French forces in Egypt (totaling round 40,000) had been scientists and students, and had been chargeable for establishing libraries, laboratories, and analysis facilities that went on to make vital contributions in quite a lot of disciplines.

The invention of cannabis could not have been seen as a breakthrough on the time, nevertheless it had an ideal impact on European tradition and literary thought. Previous to the French marketing campaign in Egypt, cannabis wasn’t well-known in Europe and positively wasn’t generally used. The 40,000 French troops stationed in Egypt, nevertheless, rapidly realized about it. Cannabis was ubiquitous in Egypt on the time, purchased and offered in cafés, markets, and smoking lounges. Missing entry to their customary French wines and liquors and inspired by Napoleon to embrace Egyptian tradition, many French troops took up cannabis.


Sadly, cannabis was nonetheless related to Sufi mystics and seemed down upon by the Sunni elite. After Napoleon went again to France, the final he had left answerable for Egypt, Basic Jacques-François Menou, was a noble-born French revolutionary who married into an upper-class Sunni household after taking command of Egypt. For Menou, the prospect of a cannabis ban killed two birds with one stone: It will appease the Sunni elite by cracking down on Sufis, and alleviate a perceived public well being drawback among the many French troops. The ordre du jour banning the cultivation, sale, and consumption of hashish, thought of by some students to be the primary drug prohibition regulation within the fashionable period, got here down in 1800. It opens with the next:

Article One: Using sturdy liquor, made by sure Muslims with a sure grass [herbe] known as cannabis, and smoking of the seed of hashish, are prohibited all through Egypt. Those that are accustomed to consuming this liquor and smoking this seed lose cause and fall right into a violent delirium, which frequently leads them to commit excesses of all types. 

Whether or not or not Menou’s order was the primary fashionable penal regulation on medication, it largely didn’t work (a truth that ought to come as no shock to us within the 21st century). Cannabis continued to be produced, offered, and consumed extensively all through Egypt, and it got here residence with French troops once they left Egypt in 1801. It wasn’t lengthy earlier than cannabis was being extensively utilized in France and the remainder of western Europe.

Regardless of efforts by authorities in Europe to color cannabis as an unstable and harmful substance, most of the Romantic interval’s most completed artists and writers had been brought together because of cannabis. Dubbing themselves Le Membership des Hachichins (Cannabis-Eaters’ Membership), luminaries equivalent to Théophile Gautier, Charles Baudelaire, Gérard de Nerval, Victor Hugo, Honoré de Balzac, and Alexandre Dumas would meet in Paris to take cannabis and alternate notes on their experiences. They rejected mainstream makes an attempt to affiliate cannabis with what was thought to be Oriental barbarism and, by means of their writings, normalized marijuana use and popularized the Romantic period’s bohemian creed: l’artwork pour l’artwork (artwork for artwork’s sake).

Throughout the Channel, the British Empire wrestled with the conspicuous presence of hashish in India. As a local plant to the Indian subcontinent, hashish could possibly be discovered rising within the wild by hunter-gatherers, and was seemingly cultivated by the earliest agrarian settlers. Psychoactive marijuana strains featured prominently in early texts of the Hindu, Buddhist, and Tantrist religions. Because the Indian marijuana farming business matured over time, the harvested product was divided into three gradients, all of which stay obtainable in the present day.

Bhang is the most cost effective, most prevalent, and lowest-quality marijuana; it consists of crushed leaves, seeds, and/or flowers, and produces the least potent excessive. On the opposite finish of the spectrum, Charas is the highest-quality and costliest marijuana in India. It’s offered as a extremely potent cannabis produced from crops grown in essentially the most fascinating cannabis-producing farmlands of the Hindu Kush and Himalaya mountain ranges between 4,000 to 7,000 toes. It stays some of the revered marijuana merchandise on the earth in the present day. Someplace in between Bhang and Charas is Ganga. A mid-grade crop in each worth and efficiency, Ganga is cultivated from well-cared-for feminine crops, and consists of a combination of resin and hashish flower. 

One of many first Europeans to write down concerning the Indian marijuana business was a Portuguese physician named Garcia da Orta. He wrote of Bhang in 1563:

The Indians get no usefulness from this, until it’s in the truth that they grow to be ravished by ecstasy, and delivered from all worries and cares, and chuckle at least little factor. In spite of everything, it’s mentioned that it was they who first discovered using it. 

Some 200 years later, the British mulled over the opportunity of a marijuana prohibition in India. The Indian ruling class and the British governor-general of India pushed for a complete ban, fearful that marijuana would create social unrest. The British Parliament, nevertheless, had different concepts. Quick on money, the federal government noticed the marijuana business as a possibility to lift some income. They taxed hashish in 1790, and three years later, established a regulatory framework to subject licenses to farmers and sellers. 

The tax-and-regulate scheme labored to some extent. However in an enormous panorama the place hashish grows within the wild, many farmers and their crops escaped the tax. The British inspired the regulatory system to decentralize, permitting cities and states to experiment with totally different taxation schemes. The outcomes had been combined. The energy of the black market was irritating sufficient that the British Parliament thought of prohibition measures in 1838, 1871, 1877, and 1892. However in the end the measures didn’t cross, as a result of the tax revenues that did are available in couldn’t be ignored.

Temperance motion advocates persevered, nevertheless, pushed by the evils of opium use which they related to hashish. Parliament responded by commissioning essentially the most complete authorities examine of marijuana in human historical past. The seven-volume 3,500-page “Report of the Indian Hemp Medication Fee of 1894 to 1895 known as over a thousand witnesses from world wide. The findings emphatically rejected the alleged grounds for prohibition. The fee found (as its predecessors did) that marijuana cultivation is almost unattainable to eradicate, and argued that it produces no “evil outcomes” within the first place:


Complete prohibition of the cultivation of the hemp plant for narcotics, and of the manufacture, sale, or use of the medication derived from it, is neither mandatory nor expedient in consideration of their ascertained results, of the prevalence of the behavior of utilizing them, of the social and non secular feeling on the topic, and of the opportunity of its driving the customers to have recourse to different stimulants or narcotics which can be extra deleterious. 

The fee went on to suggest a tax-and-license scheme for the marijuana farming business:

The means to be adopted for the attainment of [control and restriction] are:

  • enough taxation, which may be finest effected by the mix of a direct obligation with the public sale of the privilege of vend;
  • prohibiting cultivation, besides beneath license, and centralizing cultivation. 

This will likely characterize the primary time in historical past a authorities examine has really helpful a centralized marijuana farming scheme. Complete as it’s in different respects, nevertheless, the fee’s report doesn’t elaborate on this centralization proposal; it merely means that the best manner of limiting provide is “to grant licenses for cultivation in such a manner as to safe supervision and registration of the produce.” 

Regardless of the fee’s efforts, Parliament’s endorsement of its report was lukewarm. In consequence, the marijuana farming commerce continued unchanged, with taxation and licensing of cultivators persevering with to be hit or miss. Bhang was informally grown almost all over the place; Ganga crops had been, for essentially the most half, produced on government-licensed farms; and Charas was imported from the Hindu Kush and Himalayas. This primary construction persevered into the worldwide prohibition period of the 20th century. The proposal to “centralize cultivation” was largely forgotten after the fee’s report was printed. However a century later, authorities regulators looking for their manner by means of the post-prohibition period of the 21st century would come to acknowledge its benefits.


The historical past of marijuana farming tells us that when prohibitions are imposed, they virtually all the time come from the ruling class. Marijuana’s function as a non secular, medicinal, or leisure drug of the poor working lessons stokes fears among the many elite that the political, non secular, or financial order that has served them so properly could also be disrupted. There aren’t, subsequently, many instances the place marijuana was embraced by the ruling class and persecuted from beneath. However the story of the Bashilange tribe means that marijuana customers may be focused from any angle.

Within the mid-19th century, the jap area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in central Africa was an enormous wilderness, and it was managed by the Bashilange tribe. The Bashilange had been ruthless fighters, consuming the our bodies of their victims and enslaving their prisoners. They enacted few legal guidelines, save a requirement that different tribes within the area pay tribute to their supremacy or face a sure dying. Whereas exploring these lands, nevertheless, the Governor of German East Africa noticed a outstanding shift within the Bashilange’s tradition. The tribe had found marijuana, and quickly embraced the plant as a pillar of their tribe’s identification.

Tribesmen of the Bashilange dubbed themselves the Sons of Hashish, and shortly handed legal guidelines to advertise peace and friendship. They rejected cannibalism and had been not permitted to hold weapons within the village. They stopped killing their rivals, and began having extra intercourse. Marijuana was smoked frequently and at most essential occasions, together with non secular ceremonies, holidays, and political alliances. Previously recognized for being cold-blooded killers, the Sons of Hashish grew to become tranquil marijuana-growing peacemakers.

Sadly, their rivals didn’t share the Sons of Hashish’s newfound love of peace and friendship. Many tribes misplaced respect for his or her former rulers and stopped making tribute funds. With weakening help within the area, the Bashilange tribe splintered. The Sons of Hashish, not the fearsome fighters of yore, had been overthrown by their fellow tribesmen who yearned for a return to the tribe’s dominant previous. The brand new regime reinstituted the tribe’s violent practices, and largely returned the Bashilange to its former warring nature. 

Jack Herer could have been utilizing hyperbole when he claimed that hashish farmers all through historical past couldn’t have conceived of the 20th century’s crackdown on marijuana. The historic report illustrates that whereas many areas of the world have tolerated or embraced marijuana farming up to now, loads of others have seen authorities try and exterminate farmers and their crops. Focusing on step one within the provide chain is a logical place to begin for prohibitionists, and marijuana’s function as an agent of non secular, political, or financial change has lengthy made it a menace to the established social order.

Our marijuana-farming ancestors of the previous may have informed us, primarily based on expertise, that when prohibitionists come after hashish, they may achieve this in predictable methods. They’ll use rhetoric to affiliate the plant with violence, depravity, and different extra harmful medication, because the European temperance motion did in France and Nice Britain. They’ll use a militarized present of pressure to eradicate crops, persecute farmers, and dissuade the subsequent era from rising marijuana, because the Ottomans did in Egypt. They’ll painting marijuana customers as non secular extremists or harmful minorities, as Pope Harmless VIII did in Europe, Sunni Muslims did within the Center East, or white South Africans did in South Africa. One of the best-case state of affairs, they may say, is that the authorities will flip a blind eye to the unstoppable forces of provide and demand, a lot because the Portuguese did in Brazil or the British did in India.

In telling us this, our marijuana-farming ancestors would possibly as properly have been writing the playbook for the 20th-century warfare on medication. The hashish prohibition period in the US didn’t invent this “biggest hits” assortment of techniques that prohibitionists have been utilizing for hundreds of years; it merely introduced all of them collectively in a single place, and injected them with extra monetary and army sources than any prohibition motion in historical past has ever seen.

Ryan Stoa is an affiliate professor of regulation on the Concordia College College of Regulation and the writer of “Craft Weed,” from which this text is tailored.