I watched a great documentary on the History Channel (see youtube video below) on drugs that talked about the connection between drugs becoming illegal when there was a connection to minority communities, specifically blacks living in the post-civil war south and asian immigrants. Here is some very enlightening info from coca.org’s “Cultural History of Cocaine”
Late 1800’s The use of tinctures, snuffs and tonics containing highs doses of cocaine becoming more and more common. Pharmacists are selling pure cocaine as well as the ‘cure alls’ over the counter. Because the poorer classes are starting to use cocaine and the cases of dependence increasing, concerns are being raised in the media and government. Cocaine use spreads to the American Black Communities where it is initially used by Dockers in New Orleans to enable them to work harder for longer. It was not long before this habit was passed along to Southern Plantation workers.
1901 AD: Public reports regarding the Black Communities use of cocaine starts to sow seeds of fear and links in with the underlying problems of White America created by the civil war and practice of slavery.
‘The use of cocaine by Negroes in certain parts of the country is simply appalling…the police officers of questionable districts tell us that habitués are made wild by cocaine which they have no difficulty at all in obtaining.’
American Pharmaceutical Journal, 1901
1901 AD: The Senate adopts a resolution, introduced by Henry Cabot Lodge, to forbade the sale by American traders of opium and alcohol “to aboriginal tribes and uncivilized races.“ Theses provisions are later extended to include “uncivilized elements in America itself and in its territories, such as Indians, Alaskans, and the inhabitants of Hawaii, railroad workers, and immigrants at ports of entry.” With alcohol and opium being prohibited to the Black community cocaine was one of the few options left.
1902 AD: The British Medical Journal put a different slant on the problem regarding cocaine use on plantations that can be linked with the Spanish use of coca back in the 1500’s:
‘On many of the Yazoo plantations this year the Negroes refused to work unless they could be assured that there was some place in the neighbourhood where they could get cocaine, and it is said that some planters kept the drug in stock among plantation supplies, and issued regular rations of cocaine just as they used to issue rations of whiskey.’
1903 AD: A well known anti-cocaine campaigner called Colonel Watson not only linked the use of cocaine to the Black Community but also linked madness and criminal behaviour as well:
‘Unquestionably the drug rapidly affects the brain and the result has been that, in the South, the asylums for the insane are overflowing with the unfortunate victims.’
He went on to conclude that:
‘Many of the horrible crimes committed in the Southern States by the colored people can be traced back directly to the cocaine habit.’
1909 AD: Fist global anti-drug conference held in Shanghai, Britain repeatedly put blocks in the way in order to hang on to their lucrative opium trade.
1910 AD: Dr Hamilton Wright testifies in front of a US Congressional Committee about the dangers of cocaine. Among the evidence he gave he said that:
‘cocaine is the direct incentive to the crime of rape by Negroes of the South and other sections of the country.’
Dr Hamilton Wright, Testimonial to Congressional Committee 1910
This type of reporting no doubt helped to justify the practice of ‘lynching’ in the USA as many Black men were lynched because of alleged rape of white women. He also reported that American contractors give cocaine to their Negro employees to get more work out of them.
1911 AD: Not only were newspapers linking crime and madness with Black people taking cocaine, they went on step further, after Wright’s testimonial and really hit White America’s deepest fears:
‘There is no doubt that this drug, perhaps more than any other , is used by those concerned in the white slave traffic to corrupt young girls’
New York Times, 12th March 1911
The Second global anti-drug conference took place in The Hague. This time the Americans had prepared themselves better and Britain was in trouble. In order to postpone things further they announced that the Hague Convention should not only cover opium but also cocaine. This was probably not born out of concern regarding cocaine dependence but was more likely based on concern regarding Britain losing its opium trade and Germany / USA being allowed to continue its cocaine trade. Agreement on the Hague Convention now had to be postponed to allow evidence to be gathered on the cocaine trade. This also allowed Britain more time to continue the opium trade.
1912 AD: British authorities actively try to stop the cocaine trade in India although the drug was still legal in the UK. The view that other races had a larger problem with cocaine than there white British and American counterparts as was demonstrated in the British Medical Journal where they reported that ‘oriental races are peculiarly addicted to nerviness.’ The Times agreed, warning that the cocaine was capable of killing the average Indian in just three months.
1914 AD: The New York Times further reports on the use of cocaine within the Southern States of America. Under the headline NEGRO COCAINE ‘FIENDS’ ARE A NEW SOUTHERN MENACE it stated in an article by Dr Edward H Williams:
‘The drug produces several other conditions that make the ‘fiend’ a peculiarly dangerous criminal. One of these conditions is a temporary immunity to shock – a resistance to the ‘knock-down’ effects of fatal wounds. Bullets fired into vital parts, that would stop a sane man in his tracks, fail to check the ‘fiend’ – fail to stop his rush or weaken his attack’
New York Times, 8th February 1914
The article went on to describe how a Chief of Police of Ashville, North Carolina tried to arrest a black man who was high on cocaine. A fight began and this was the resulting action:
‘He drew his revolver, placed the muzzle over the Negro’s heart and fired – ‘intending to kill him right quick’ – but the shot did not even stagger the man. And a second shot that pierced the arm and entered the chest had just as little effect in stopping the Negro or checking his attack.’
The incident was eventually resolved by the Chief of Police clubbing the man to death. The result of this incident was that Police all over the Southern States brought themselves bigger guns to deal with the situation.
Less prominent literary sources where also reporting cocaine use in the South, but with a little more sensationalism:
‘Most of the attacks on white women of the South are the direct result of the cocaine-crazed Negro brain.’
Literary Digest, 1914
The third global anti-drug conference met again in The Hague and this time agreed to put restrictions on the production and exportation of certain drugs, among them was cocaine. The USA passed The Harrison Act which decreed that all dangerous drugs must be handled by qualified persons. Europe, however did not have time to produce similar acts for three days after The Hague Conference ended Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated and world war broke out.
Congressman Richard P. Hobson of Alabama, urging a prohibition amendment to the Constitution, asserts:
‘Liquor will actually make a brute out of a Negro, causing him to commit unnatural crimes. The effect is the same on the white man, though the white man being further evolved it takes longer time to reduce him to the same level.’
Also in 1914 Edward Huntington William, M.D. in The Medical Record added to the developing theme:
Once the Negro has reached the stage of being a ‘dope taker’ [cocaine] . . . he is a constant menace to his community until he is eliminated . . . Sexual desires are increased and perverted, peaceful Negroes become quarrelsome, and timid Negroes develop a degree of ‘Dutch courage’ that is sometimes almost incredible. . In the language of the police officer, ‘The cocaine nigger is sure hard to kill’ – a fact that has been demonstrated so often that many of these officers in the South have increased the caliber of their guns for the express purpose of ‘stopping’ the cocaine fiend when he runs amuck.
Edward Huntington William, The Medical Record 1914
Other cultures were also under attack in the USA as a New York Times article on the cocaine “menace” during this period outlined who should be blamed for the distribution of the drug:
‘there is little doubt that every Jew Peddler in the South carries the stuff.’
New York Times, 1914