David A. Guba, Jr.
Educator and Historian of Cannabis in Modern France
Taming Cannabis: Drugs and Empire in Nineteenth-Century France (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2020)
Despite having the highest rates of cannabis use in the continent, France enforces the most repressive laws against the drug in all of Europe. Perhaps surprisingly, France was once the epicentre of a global movement to medicalize cannabis, specifically hashish, in the treatment of disease. In Taming Cannabis I examine how nineteenth-century French authorities routinely blamed hashish consumption, especially among Muslim North Africans, for behaviour deemed violent and threatening to the social order. This association of hashish with violence became the primary impetus for French pharmacists and physicians to tame the drug and deploy it in the homeopathic treatment of mental illness and epidemic disease during the 1830s and 1840s. Initially heralded as a wonder drug capable of curing insanity, cholera, and the plague, hashish was deemed ineffective against these diseases and fell out of repute by the middle 1850s. The association between hashish and Muslim violence, however, remained and became codified in French colonial medicine and law by the 1860s: authorities framed hashish as a significant cause of mental illness, violence, and anti-state resistance among indigenous Algerians. As the French government looks to reform the nation's drug laws to address the rise in drug-related incarceration and the growing popular demand for cannabis legalization, there is no better time than now to explore the largely untold and living history of cannabis in colonial France.
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"My final prayer: Oh my body, make of me always a man who questions!"