In the mid-nineteenth century, the British government of India was the world’s largest and most powerful drugs cartel, controlling the sale of opium and cannabis to Asian markets. British scientists extolled the virtues of cannabis and colonial officers clashed with smugglers to maintain a grip on the trade in the substance. Yet by 1928 cannabis had been condemned in Parliament and banned in the UK.
What powered these changes in the drug’s status? In this lively study James Mills traces the story into the early twentieth century, arguing that the drive towards prohibition in Britain grew out of the politics of empire rather than scientific assessment of cannabis’s use and effects.