Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

Mimsy Review: Cannabis Britannica

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, March 30, 2009

“Despite Warnock’s frank admissions that he had very little idea of what was going on upon his arrival in Egypt and indeed had no reliable means of remedying this situation beyond hazarding a few guesses of his own and trying to interpret the lunatic translations of his delusional clerk, it seems that he was happy to jump to conclusions about the cause of illness among a large proportion of his patients…”

Subtitled “Empire, Trade, and Prohibition”, this is an in-depth history of how prohibition came about in Britain, and ends up describing how marijuana prohibition came to the forefront of international attempts to ban opium.

RecommendationSpecial Interests
AuthorJames H. Mills
Length239 pages
Book Rating7

James H. Mills has written a fascinating book about the origins of marijuana prohibition in the United Kingdom. What began as a taxable cash cow ended up an easy scapegoat for empire politics and law enforcement laziness.

Some things never change, and the scapegoating of marijuana in India mirrors that by Harry Anslinger later in the thirties, and by DEA lobbyists today. The Indian Hemp Drugs Commission’s review of crime and insanity caused by marijuana initially showed that almost all of India’s crime and insanity were marijuana-derived. This came from reports by law enforcement that,

…when challenged, went entirely without any supporting evidence. H. C. Williams, the magistrate of Darbhanga in Bengal, was called in front of the IHDC to flesh out his claim that cases of homicidal frenzy as a result of cannabis use were ‘innumerable’. he was forced into a confession: ‘my remark about cases of homicidal frenzy being innumerable is merely based on newspapers’. Similarly, the Inspector-General of Police in the Central Provinces declared in his written statement that ‘running “amok” is, I should say, always the result of excessive indulgence’. However, when hauled in front of the Commission and questioned on this declaration he had to concede that ‘I have never had experience of such a case. I only state what I have heard.’

In the final chapters, Mills outlines an international play by former colonies—mainly Egypt—to embarrass their former masters by showing them as unwilling to address drug issues. What was meant to be a conference on opium prohibition ended up with a sub-conference on marijuana after an impassioned plea by Egypt.

This is a fascinating story; if you’re interested in the history of empire in the UK, or in the history of prohibition, it’s well worth reading.

Cannabis Britannica

James H. Mills

Recommendation: Special Interests