Dhe reason cannabis was banned, for a hundred years, in almost every country in Europe and North America, wasn’t because it’s such a powerful drug; legal poisons can also be heavily dosed. The reason was that it was a foreign drug, immigrated illegally from the East, obscure, misunderstood and unpredictable in its effects.
And the reason why hardly anyone understands the meaning of these prohibitions today is obviously that this foreignness has evaporated. The West, it seems, has understood the drug and finally integrated it. Even the “Bild” newspaper is looking forward to the first legal joints.
How and why cannabis was banned at the second international opium conference in Geneva in 1925 is, on the one hand, a complicated story. And on the other hand, it was quickly explained: the drug posed a risk that could not be measured with medical criteria alone.
The fact that hashish arouses murder and promotes violence was already being said in Europe in the Middle Ages, when, as a result of the Crusades and the writings of Marco Polo, the rumor spread about the Syrian Assassins, whose name derives from hashish and in the Romance languages became synonymous with murder.
Aesthetic turmoil and madness
And when the literary and art history of this drug began in Europe in the nineteenth century, when above all the poets, driven by the discomfort of reality and favored by colonial trade in goods, gave in to intoxication and Théophile Gautier with Gérard de Nerval, Honoré Daumier and Charles Baudelaire founded the “Club des Hachichins”: It wasn’t about containing the drug, taming it, making it socially acceptable through rituals.
It was the exact opposite. About aesthetic turmoil and madness, about poetic dissolution of boundaries, about the termination of all agreements about what is real and what is imagined, made up, hallucinated. Twenty-five years ago, Alexander Kupfer wrote in his study “The Artificial Paradises” that anyone who surrendered to the drug was a “Republic refugee from reality” – and if the refugees couldn’t be stopped with barbed wire, then there had to be prohibitions and manhunts.
“A burning herb with roots in hell”: This is how the 1936 American film “Reefer Madness” spoke of the drug, which promotes instability, insanity and unhealthy lust. And the newspapers of the Hearst group, at the same time, demonized cannabis as the drug of blacks and Latinos, of dangerous neighborhoods and dubious existences.
Which was obviously one of the reasons why, a few decades later, in the 1960s, some rebellious students also saw smoking weed as a revolutionary act. If the whole thing was wrong, then the intoxication might have helped to withdraw from the blinding capitalist contexts.
That smoking hash makes you lazy, lethargic and agrees with the prevailing conditions was already a hunch that even some stoners caught in the moments of sobriety. Anyone who has ever come into contact with notorious stoners knows that anyone who gets too much of the drug so that they don’t undermine society, only their own bourgeois existence. Forty percent of young adults have tried cannabis at least once; among the elderly it is not much less – and almost no one seems to have a sense of injustice.
This is how the drug was integrated: those who are mature enough to handle the high, disciplined enough to limit the amount, who smoke a small joint at night to relieve stress and wake up fresher in the morning than if they had drunk wine or whiskey, he will not understand why prohibitions should prevent him from doing so.
So the herb from hell has become the elixir for the high performers of capitalism: a means of regenerating labor power. No more escape from reality, just a short vacation.
Not good for thinking
Legalization is catching up with a development that society has long since behind it – but the moment you realize that cannabis is not traded the way it is today, it becomes clear that the timing is anything but perfect is the smooth, smooth drug that so many relaxation stoners crave.