Schaffer Online Library of Drug Policy Sign the Resolution for a Federal Commission on Drug Policy


Contents | Feedback | Search | DRCNet Home Page | Join DRCNet

DRCNet Library | Schaffer Library | Historical Research




In a book shop in Shanghai, we came upon a small book with an arresting title, "Drugging a Nation," by Samuel Merwin. It was published in 1908, eight years before we chanced upon it, shabby and shop worn, its pages still uncut. The people of Shanghai, the great International Settlement of this largest city and most important seaport of China, did not have to read it. They knew, doubtless, all that its pages could disclose. We, however, found it most enlightening. In it there is this description of the British Opium Monopoly:

"In speaking of it as a 'monopoly' I am not employing a cant word for effect. I am not making a case. That is what it is officially styled in a certain blue book on my table which bears the title, 'Statement Exhibiting the Moral and Material Progress of India during the year 1905-'6,' and which was ordered by the House of Commons to be printed, May 10, 1907. . . . Now to get down to cases, just what this Government Opium Monopoly is, and just how Goes it work? An excerpt from the rather ponderous blue book will tell us. It may be dry but it is official and unassailable. It is also short.

"'The opium revenue'-thus the blue book-'is partly raised by a monopoly of the production of the drug in Bengal and the United provinces, and partly by the levy of a duty on all opium imported from native states. . . . In these two provinces, the crop is grown under the control of a government department, which arranges the total area which is to be placed under the crop, with a view to the amount of opium required.'

"So much for the broader outline. Now for a few of the details: 'The cultivator of opium in these monopoly districts receives a license, and is granted advances to enable him to prepare the land for the crop, and he is required to deliver the whole of the product at a fixed price to opium agents, by whom it is dispatched to the government factories at Patna and Ghazipur.'

"The money advanced to the cultivator bears no interest. The British Indian government lends money without interest in no other cases. Producers of crops other than opium are obliged to get along without free money.

"When it has been manufactured, the opium must be disposed of in one way and another; accordingly: 'The supply of prepared opium required for consumption in India is made over to the Excise Department . . . the chests of " provision " opium, for export, are sold at monthly sales, which take place at Calcutta.' For the meaning of the curious term, 'provision opium' we have only to read on a little further. 'The opium is received and prepared at the government factories, where the out-turn of the year included 8,774 chests of opium for the Excise Department, about three hundred pounds of various opium alkaloids, thirty maunds of medical opium; and 51,770 chests of provision opium for the Chinese market.' There are about i4o pounds in a chest. . . . Last year the government had under poppy cultivation 654,928 acres. And the revenue to the treasury, including returns from auction sales, duties and license fees, and deducting all 'opium expenditures' was nearly $22,000,000.

As the blue book states, this opium is auctioned off once a month. At that point, the British Government, as a government, washes its hands of the business. Who buys the opium at these government auctions, and what afterwards becomes of it? "The men who buy in the opium at these monthly auctions and afterwards dispose of it are a curious crowd of Parsees, Mohammedans, Hindoos and Asiatic Jews. Few British names appear in the opium trade to-day. British dignity prefers not to stoop beneath the taking in of profits; it leaves the details of a dirty business to dirty hands. This is as it has been from the first. The directors of the East India Company, years and years before that splendid corporation relinquished the actual government of India, forbade the selling of its specially-prepared opium direct to China, and advised a trading station on the coast whence the drug might find its way 'without the company being exposed to the disgrace of being engaged in illicit commerce."'

"So clean hands and dirty hands went into partnership. They are in partnership still, save that the most nearly Christian of governments has officially succeeded the company as party of the first part."

You will say, if the British Government chooses to deal in opium, that is not our concern. It is most emphatically our concern. Once a month, at these great auction sales, the British Government distributes thousands of pounds of opium, which are thus turned loose upon the world, to bring destruction and ruin to the human race. The buyers of this opium are not agents of the British Government. They are merely the distributors, through whom this drug is directed into the channels of trade.' The British Government derives a certain portion of its revenue from the sale of opium, therefore depends upon these dealers to find a market for it. ' They are therefore, as distributors, the unofficial agents of the British Government, through whom it is sold legitimately, or smuggled around the world. In seeking to eradicate the drug evil, we must face the facts, and recognize clearly that the source of supply is the British Government, through whose agents, official and unofficial, it is distributed.

America, so they tell us, is now menaced by the drug evil. Now that prohibition is coming into effect, we are told that we are now confronted by a vice more terrible, far more deteriorating and dangerous. If that is true, then we must recognize our danger and guard against it. Some of the opium and morphia which reaches this country is smuggled in; the rest is imported by the big wholesale drug houses. There is an unlimited supply of it. As we have seen, the British Government encourages poppy production, even to the extent of lending money without interest to all those who are willing to raise this most profitable crop. The monopoly opium is sold once a month to the highest bidders, and some of these highest bidders are unscrupulous men who must find their markets how and where they can. That fact, of course, is of no moment to the British Government. It is of deepest concern to Americans, however. To the north of us we have the Dominion of Canada. To the south, the No-Man's Land of Mexico. At the present moment, the whole country is alarmed at the growing menace of the drug habit, which is assuming threatening proportions.


Contents | Feedback | Search | DRCNet Home Page | Join DRCNet

DRCNet Library | Schaffer Library | Historical Research