Cannabis Nation: Control and Consumption in Britain, 1928-2008

ISBN : 9780199283422

James H. Mills
304 Pages
163 x 240 mm
Pub date
Nov 2012
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Cannabis has never been a more controversial substance in Britain. Over the last decade it has been reclassified twice, has been the subject of a range of official investigations and scientific studies, and has provoked media campaigns and all manner of political gesturing. Cannabis Nation seeks to understand this period by placing it back into the historical context of the long-term story of cannabis and the British. It takes up where its predecessor, Cannabis Britannica: Empire, Trade, and Prohibition, 1800-1928 (2003) left off. James Mills traces the story back into the last days of the Empire, when Britain controlled cannabis-consuming societies in Asia and Africa even while there was little taste for the drug back home. He shows that cannabis was caught up in control regimes established to deal with opium and cocaine consumption, while it fell out of favour as a medicine. As such, when migration after the Second World War brought the Empire's cannabis-consumers to the UK, they faced hostile attitudes towards their favourite intoxicant. From that time on a growing number of groups and agencies took an interest in cannabis. Ambitious bureaucrats in the Home Office saw in it an opportunity to draw resources in to the Drugs Branch, while the police began to use laws related to it for a number of other purposes. Experts ranging from pharmacologists to sociologists formed committees on the subject, and its association with colonial migrants lent it an exotic aura to the politically-minded of the 1960s counter-culture and the working-class youth of Britain's inner cities. Since the 1970s governments were content to devolve responsibility to the police for working out the best legal approach to the substance, and efforts to wrestle this back from them proved difficult a decade ago. Cannabis Nation considers all of these trends, details the often eccentric characters that have shaped them, and concludes that current positions and arguments on cannabis can only be properly assessed if their historical origins are clearly understood.


1. Introduction
2. 'Frost is the only thing which kills it'. Lascars, the Drugs Branch and Doctors, c. 1928-c. 1945
3. 'Egypt was taking strong action against the traffic in hashish'. 'Loco-weed', the League of Nations, and the British Empire, c. 1928-c. 1945
4. 'The prevalence of hashish smoking among the coloured men'. Migration, Communism and crime, 1945 to 1962
5. 'Considered to be without medical justification'. Science, Medicine and Committees, 1945-1961
6. 'Cannabis was spreading to white people'. New consumers, new controls, 1962-1971
7. 'The British Compromise'. Devolved power and the domestic consumer, 1971-1997
8. 'I have decided to reclassify cannabis, subject to Parliamentary approval'. Legislators, law-enforcers, campaigns and classification, 1997-2008
9. Conclusion

About the author: 

Professor James Mills has been publishing on the history of drugs for over a decade. His work has been funded by the Wellcome Trust, the AHRC and the British Academy, and this book is primarily the outcome of awards by the ESRC. Previous publications include Madness, Cannabis and Colonialism: The 'native-only' lunatic asylums of British India, 1857-1900 (2000) and Cannabis Britannica: Empire, trade and prohibition, 1800-1928 (2003). The latter was shortlisted for the History Today Book of the Year Prize and 'highly commended' by the panel.

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