29 April 2008
The horrors of legal drugs

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Chinatown in London
One of the things my library membership allows me to do is to read old editions of the Times online.  This is fantastic.  I especially like looking through articles from before the First World War.  Things were so different in those days.

One of the ways things were different was that drugs were legal.  Though that was about to change.  In 1912 the Hague Convention (strangely enough opposed by Germany, Austria and Turkey) committed the signatories to banning the opium trade.  This process was halted by the First World War but the leading states re-committed themselves to the ban in the Treaty of Versailles.

The really weird thing was the motivation.  It emphatically does not seem to have been worries about the dangers of opium to the civilian population.  At least, not in the West it wasn’t.  The whole concern seems to have been with China and the prevention of its use there.

This is a point underlined by this article from the 25 November 1913 edition of the Times in which the author tours the opium dens of Limehouse.

We may call these places “dens” for all that they are so clean and orderly and so little withdrawn from public gaze.  We may deplore the injurious physical effects which follow overuse of the drug however small the proportion of cases of definitely traceable injury may be either to the number of smokers or the Chinese population.

...all the “dens” in these two streets together will not furnish from one month’s end to another any such spectacle of “degradation” or rowdyism as may be seen nightly in almost any publichouse.

Not exactly a problem was it?

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