If Queen Victoria and Moses Were Cannabis Users Is It Really That Bad?; POTTED HISTORY OF MARIJUANA: 2737BC - 2000AD

By Davies, Barbara; Merrett, Jo | The Mirror (London, England), October 10, 2000 | Go to article overview

If Queen Victoria and Moses Were Cannabis Users Is It Really That Bad?; POTTED HISTORY OF MARIJUANA: 2737BC - 2000AD


Davies, Barbara, Merrett, Jo, The Mirror (London, England)


THOUSANDS of years before Ann Widdecombe declared war on it, the ancient world was smoking it, eating it, making clothes from it and trading in it.

Indeed, the enduring popularity of cannabis makes tobacco look like something of a new craze.

As far back as 2737BC, the Chinese Emperor Sheng Nun proclaimed that cannabis was a "superior herb".

Just over 1,000 years later, a cannabis-smoking tribe known as the Scythians swept through Europe and Asia, leaving as its legacy a useful tool for harvesting the crop.

The plant evens merits a mention in the Bible. In Exodus, Chapter 30, God tells Moses to take sweet "kineboison" as one of several ingredients to make holy oil.

The Romans, too, were impressed with cannabis with one of Emperor Nero's surgeons, Dioscorides, praising its medicinal properties.

By the 13th Century, the fibres of the plant were being used to make Italian linen, often mixed with flax. Here, in the 16th Century, Elizabeth I encouraged its cultivation .

In 1794, George Washington, first president of the United States, told his gardener to "sow it everywhere".

More recently, Queen Victoria took it to relieve the discomfort of her period pains. And in the year she died, 1901, a Royal Commission report concluded that it was relatively harmless and certainly not worth banning.

Only in the last century has the the drug found disfavour, its popularity becoming its downfall.

The First World War was the biggest nail in its coffin. Political leaders believed that intoxication through narcotic drugs or alcohol had to be controlled.

The Defence of the Realm Act 1916 introduced controls on possessing cocaine and the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1920 put controls on the importation and manufacture of cannabis.

This banned the drug throughout the British Empire, except India where cannabis has been used as a spiritual aid for thousands of years.

COME the Swinging Sixties, the pendulum swung back. Pressure here to relax the law gathered pace, backed by high-profile demonstrations.

In 1967, Paul McCartney, convicted four times of possessing cannabis, paid pounds 1,800 for a full-page pro-pot advert in The Times denouncing the law as "immoral and unworkable". It was signed by 66 other celebrities, including the other three Beatles and novelist Graham Greene.

Figures from the world of arts, politics and medicine called for jails to be cleared of those who had been imprisoned for possession of the drug or permitting its use on their premises.

Jonathan Aitken, David Bailey, David Hockney and David Dimbleby joined the cry.

In the same year, some 3,000 people met in Hyde Park, Central London, for a "smoke-in". Mick Jagger and his fellow Rolling Stone Keith Richards were jailed on drug charges, but later released, with their convictions quashed.

But while the public mood seemed to be turning, the Government's was not.

In 1968, the Labour Government rejected the report of an investigative committee which found that "consumption of cannabis in moderation has no harmful effects" and urged reduced punishments.

More pressure to legalise cannabis came from members of the Rastafarian movement, which enjoyed a surge in popularity in the Seventies thanks to black musicians, notably Bob Marley. Jazzman Louis Armstrong trumpeted pot's praises, too.

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