War On Drugs 3.3
January 25, 2018
War On Drugs 3.5
March 2, 2018
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Part four of War on Drugs series, still looking at the history of cocaine up until 1930.


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Show Notes:

  • Back to our discussion about cocaine.
  • In London in 1916, during WWI, the deparment store Harrods were selling a kit described as “A Welcome Present for Friends at the Front” containing cocaine, morphine, syringes and needles.
  • The Times in London started worrying the use of cocaine would undermine the combat effectiveness of the British Army.
  • In the February 12, 1916, issue, its journalist expressed no doubt that:
  • [t]o the soldier subjected to nervous strain and hard work cocaine, once used, must become a terrible temptation. It will, for the hour, charm away his trouble, his fatigue and his anxiety; it will give him fictitious strength and vigour. But it will also, in the end, render him worthless as a soldier and a man.”
  • And who was supplying the British soldiers with cocaine?
  • Harrods?
  • After all, they invented the bloody stuff.
  • It was all a secret plot by ZE Germans to ruin British combat performance, undermining military discipline, and ultimately causing a rapid decay of the army.
  • Politicians and the media used drugs as an excuse for why the British army hadn’t been able to defeat ze Germans already.
  • So on May 11, 1916, the Army Council issued an order banning any unauthorised sale or supply of psychoactive substances — mostly cocaine, but also codeine, hemp, heroin, morphine, and opium — to any member of the armed forces, except for medical reasons and only by prescription.
  • Of course, if I was in a trench in WWI, I’d want to be on as many drugs as possible.
  • This was all part of the DORA – Defence of the Realm Act.
  • Which also ushered in a variety of authoritarian social control mechanisms, such as censorship:
  • “No person shall by word of mouth or in writing spread reports likely to cause disaffection or alarm among any of His Majesty’s forces or among the civilian population”
  • The great British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, was sent to prison for being an outspoken pacifist.
  • Things included flying kites, starting bonfires, buying binoculars, feeding wild animals bread, discussing naval and military matters or buying alcohol on public transport, were all no longer permitted.
  • And I don’t know about you, but I *always* by my liquers from guys dressed like hobos on railroad cars.
  • They tell me it’s really limoncello and who am I to question them?
  • But anyway, the talk about the soldiers taking drugs was all hype.
  • A report done by the Select Committee on the Use of Cocaine in Dentistry – or the SCUCD – debunked the myth that cocaine addiction was hitting hard in the British forces:
  • We are unanimously of opinion that there is no evidence of any kind to show that there is any serious, or, perhaps, even noticeable prevalence of the cocaine habit amongst the civilian or military population of Great Britain. There have been a certain number of cases amongst the oversea troops quartered in, or passing through, the United Kingdom, but there is hardly any trace of the practice having spread to British troops, and, apart from a small number of broken-down medical men, there is only very slight evidence of its existence amongst the general population.
  • Why did the dentists care?
  • Well because cocaine was the number one drug for the lower classes to take during dental surgery.
  • And now it was illegal.
  • And it stayed that way after the war as well.
  • But In America you could still buy it in your local drugstore until 1916.
  • At the time, the soda fountains of Atlanta pharmacies had become fashionable gathering places for middle-class whites as an alternative to bars.
  • Various forms of cocaine-laced cola were mixed with soda water, and the drink quickly caught on as an “intellectual beverage” among well-off whites.
  • The cola was distributed in bottles, and was accessible not only to wealthy whites, but also to African Americas who had been barred from soda shops due to segregation.
  • From the New York Times:
  • “Middle-class whites worried that soft drinks were contributing to what they saw as exploding cocaine use among African-Americans. Southern newspapers reported that “negro cocaine fiends” were raping white women, the police powerless to stop them. By 1903, manufacturers had bowed to white fears (and a wave of anti-narcotics legislation), removing the cocaine and adding more sugar and caffeine.”
  • At the time, cocaine addiction was associated with negroes.
  • “Negro Cocaine ‘Fiends’ Are a New Southern Menace,” read a New York Times headline at the time
  • Now anyone who has seen SCARFACE knows this is actually true.
  • This was not the only headline of this type during the early 1900s.
    The Baltimore Sun, 1906:
  • “Baltimore’s Negroes Are In The Thrall Of Cocaine”
  • Section: The Curse Of The Negroes
  • The practice of cocaine using is confined at present almost exclusively to the colored population and to degraded white women. To narrow it down more, it may be said that the practice is confined to the criminal element, but when this is asserted it practically means exactly what the first sentence did, for the effect of the drug is to convert a law-abiding person into an unscrupulous lawbreaker. This faculty of destroying the moral sense is at once its most proiminent characteristic and its greatest menace to the community.
  • A cop quoted in the article claims that “I believe that the indulgence of cocaine by uneducated blakcs is responsible for half of the assaults of these beasts upon white women.”
  • The same article claims that “one young man” in Baltimore made $100,000 selling cocaine in one year.
  • In 1906!
  • Many claimed that cocaine was making black men violent, and that the white population would be targeted.
  • Especially “degraded white women” who would fuck black men when high on cocaine.
  • Like D’angelo.
  • I can’t imagine any other reason white women wanted to fuck a black man other than she must be high off her head on coke.
  • Further down the line, the racial disparities in drug laws became even more evident.
  • There were also issues that came up when the U.S. took control of the Phillipines after the war with Spain.
  • At that time, opium addiction constituted a significant problem in the civilian population of the Philippines.
  • Thanks to the British – as we’ll see in our episodes on opium and heroin.
  • Charles Henry Brent was an American Episcopal bishop who served as Missionary Bishop of the Philippines beginning in 1901.
  • He convened a Commission of Inquiry, known as the Brent Commission, for the purpose of examining alternatives to a licensing system for opium addicts.
  • The Commission recommended that narcotics should be subject to international control.
  • The recommendations of the Brent Commission were endorsed by the United States Department of State and in 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt called for an international conference, the International Opium Commission, which was held in Shanghai in February 1909.
  • A second conference was held at The Hague in May 1911, and out of it came the first international drug control treaty, the International Opium Convention of 1912.
  • Then in the U.S. a couple of years later, they introduced the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914 which effectively made it more difficult to get cocaine and opium
  • It was “An Act To provide for the registration of, with collectors of internal revenue, and to impose a special tax on all persons who produce, import, manufacture, compound, deal in, dispense, sell, distribute, or give away opium or coca leaves, their salts, derivatives, or preparations, and for other purposes.”
  • The courts interpreted this to mean that physicians could prescribe narcotics to patients in the course of normal treatment, but not for the treatment of addiction.
  • The drafters played on fears of “drug-crazed, sex-mad negroes” and made references to Negroes under the influence of drugs murdering whites, degenerate Mexicans smoking marijuana, and “Chinamen” seducing white women with drugs.
  • Dr. Hamilton Wright, America’s first drug czar, testified at a hearing for the Harrison Act.
  • He alleged that drugs made blacks uncontrollable, gave them superhuman powers and caused them to rebel against white authority.
  • He also said that “it has been authoritatively stated that cocaine is often the direct incentive to the crime of rape by the negroes of the South and other sections of the country,”
  • … though he failed to mention specifically which authorities had stated that, and did not provide any evidence for his claim.
  • Wright also stated that “one of the most unfortunate phases of smoking opium in this country is the large number of women who have become involved and were living as common-law wives or cohabitating with Chinese in the Chinatowns of our various cities”.
  • Dr. Christopher Koch of the State Pharmacy Board of Pennsylvania testified that “Most of the attacks upon the white women of the South are the direct result of a cocaine-crazed Negro brain”.
  • Despite the extreme racialization of the issue that took place in the buildup to the Act’s passage, the contemporary research on the subject indicated that black Americans were in fact using cocaine and opium at much lower rates than white Americans. Helmer, John, and Thomas Vietorisz. Drug Use, the Labor Market and Class Conflict. Washington: Drug Abuse Council, 1974
  • As of 1911, an estimated one U.S. citizen in 400 (0.25%) was addicted to some form of opium.
  • The opium addicts were mostly women who were prescribed and dispensed legal opiates by physicians and pharmacist for “female problems” (probably pain at menstruation) or white men and Chinese at the Opium dens.
  • Between two-thirds and three-quarters of these addicts were women.
  • The use of the term ‘narcotics’ in the title of the act to describe not just opiates but also cocaine—which is a central nervous system stimulant, not a narcotic—initiated a precedent of frequent legislative and judicial misclassification of various substances as ‘narcotics’.
  • a narcotic is a drug which induces drowsiness, not something cocaine is known for
  • Cocaine possession for anyone other than medical personnel was made a crime in 1916, following newspaper reports of ‘drug crazed soldiers’ fighting in the First World War
  • But use of it persisted through the 20s and 30s.
  • As late as 1934, Cole Porter wrote I Get A Kick Out Of You
  • Of course Cole Porter was apparently a huge coke head.
  • I remember when I first really listened to that song in my early 20s I was shocked that he mentioned cocaine.
  • Of course by then, in the early 90s, cocaine was totally demonized.
  • To sing about it so openly in a song would have been opening yourself to all sorts of trouble.
  • Of course musicians still did it, but they had to use allegory.
  • How many songs can you name that talk about cocaine?
  • On Wikipedia I could find 232 songs about booze, 94 songs about weed, 30 songs about heroin – but only 12 songs about cocaine.
  • Most songs about coke are anti-cocaine songs or protests about the different ways white people and black people are penalised.

Theme music: Holy Deep by The Passion HiFi

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