“The Adventurous Tasters,” a Story for Fat Tuesday

Editor’s Note: Today’s timely Mardi Gras-themed post comes from contributing editor Sarah Brady Siff, a visiting assistant professor at the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University, in affiliation with the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC).

The place: Paris. The year: 1850. “It was mardi-gras, and copious libations of flaming punch had prepared the natives for anything or everything.” So began a tale reprinted widely by newspaper editors across the globe. 

(Here in the United States, Mardi Gras 2021 surely will be the soberest on record, New Orleans itself having condemned “superspreader” crowds, called off parades, shuttered bars, and banned most alcohol sales.)

An illustration of Fat Tuesday revelers from the 1859 book Les Rues de Paris [Streets of Paris].

In 1850, though, the local Parisians were the type to spend a lot of time hanging out at a café. So that’s where they were on Mardi Gras, drinking punch (likely made of rum) at a café just up the block from an apartment where a physician lived with his family. 

This physician had received an excellent imported shipment of cannabis extract, and he was keen to share it for recreational use on this most celebratory and hedonistic day. The drunken revelers were willing participants—”adventurous tasters”—living in the same city at the same time as that famous literary circle, the Club des Hashischins. The doctor showed up with 15 grains, or about 1 gram, to distribute at the café. “Not more than a single grain was given to each,” read the article. Some swallowed it like a pill, while others smoked it or smeared it on a cigarette paper to smoke with tobacco. One grain was dissolved in a glass of Curaçao for the “master of the house; [but] his two young and handsome daughters were forbidden to taste of the drug.” 

Of course one of the daughters found a way to sample the cannabis; it would hardly have been a story otherwise. After about 45 minutes, the girl shrieked and “was suddenly struck with delirium and hysterical movements of a very alarming appearance,” according to the article, which went on to describe her ordeal:

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Taming Cannabis in France

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. David A. Guba, Jr., of Bard Early College in Baltimore. His new book, Taming Cannabis: Drugs and Empire in Nineteenth Century France, will be released by McGill-Queen’s University Press next month.

The push to legalize cannabis in France, where the drug is widely consumed but prohibited, is gaining momentum.

The grassroots pro-grass activism of NORML France has, in the past decade, been bolstered by growing popular demand and public calls for cannabis legalization by French entrepreneursfarmersphysicians, economists, politicians, and even police unions. In June 2019, seventy public figures signed and published an open letter in the popular news magazine L’Obs decrying the nation’s “costly,” “ineffective” and “repressive” prohibitionist policies and calling for the “supervised legalization” in France in the name of public health and violence prevention. 

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Incomparable? George Floyd, Adama Traoré, and the War on Drugs in the Sister Republics

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. David A. Guba, Jr., of Bard Early College in Baltimore.

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In late May massive protests erupted in the U.S. and France in response to police brutality against people of color. The murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on 25 May, which compounded tensions already heightened by the murders of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery weeks earlier, prompted demonstrations in dozens of cities across the U.S., many of them met by militarized police units deploying flashbangs, tear gas, and rubber bullets in the name of “law and order.” In France, the government’s official denial on 29 May of an appeal for justice by the family of Adama Traoré, murdered by French police in July 2016, sparked a protest at Porte de Clichy in northwest Paris, where 20,000 people chanted the shared last words of Floyd and Traoré in French, “Je n’arrive pas à respirer.” A key organizer of the protests, Assa Traoré (Adama’s sister), declared in a speech, “Today, when we fight for George Floyd, we fight for Adama Traoré (…) What is happening in the United States is an echo of what is happening in France.”

Though the similarities between the lives and deaths of Traoré and Floyd are many and striking, the French government, through its spokesperson Sibeth Ndiaye, officially declared that the men’s deaths and resulting mass demonstrations were “not exactly comparable, neither in terms of history nor in terms of the organization of society.” In France, Ndiaye argued, “there is no instituted state violence.” President Emmanuel Macron also chimed in, arguing on 10 June that universities were to blame for “ethnicizing the social question” for financial gain, radicalizing students, and “breaking the Republic in two.” 

While there have been comparably fewer deaths in police custody in France in recent decades, drug policing in the Hexagon, as in the U.S., is deeply rooted in the nation’s colonial past. And the cases of Floyd and Traoré, and 1000s of others who suffered similar fates, are unfortunately the latest chapters in the still-unfolding histories of colonial policing in both republics.

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“A Sovereign Remedy”: Grimault & Co’s Asthma Cigarette Empire

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. David A. Guba, Jr., of Bard Early College in Baltimore. 

Introduction

Most today agree that smoking is, medically speaking, bad for you. From the Surgeon Generals’ first warnings in 1964 through the anti-tobacco media campaigns of the Truth Initiative to the growing and controversial trend of vaping, Americans since the 1970s have, as Sarah Milov recently wrote, “increasingly identified themselves by their rejection of smoking.”[1] This shift in public perception has not been isolated to the U.S. Warning labels with explicit images of cancerous lungs, increasing sales taxes, and near blanket prohibitions of smoking in public spaces are now all commonplace in many nations across the globe.[2]

But across much of the world during the much of the 19th and early 20th centuries, public and medical opinion on cigarettes and their impact on health was more or less the opposite. Starting in the middle 1800s, for example, dozens of brands of “medicinal cigarettes” appeared on pharmacy shelves in nations across the West, many marketed as an effective treatment for asthma, congestion, and fever.[3] One of the most successful brands was Grimault & Co. of Paris, who produced, marketed, and sold “Cigarettes Indiennes” as a “sovereign remedy” for asthma between the 1850s and 1930s. Grimault made their Indian cigarettes from a mixture of tobacco, cannabis, datura, and belladonna, and distributed them across the world, from their pharmaceutical factory in the Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine to distributors and pharmacies in over two dozen countries, for nearly a century. 

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SHAD Interview: “The Making of a Hero: Maria Legrain (1863–1945), a French ‘Temperance Apostle,'” with Victoria Afanasyeva

Editor’s Note: Today marks our last interview with an author from the newest issue of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs. The current issue deals with the topic of radical temperance–the act of not drinking alcohol in booze-soaked eras. Today we hear from Victoria Afanasyeva, a doctoral student at the University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. She is the author of “The Making of a Hero: Maria Legrain (1863–1945), a French ‘Temperance Apostle.'” 

Tell readers a little bit about yourself.

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Victoria Afanasyeva

I’m a Russian girl passionate about the French language and the archives. I started learning French when I was 15 and continued in the Kaluga State University, in my hometown. After finishing my studies, I started to work as a university French teacher and in parallel, I entered the French University College in Moscow to expand my horizons in sociology and history. Thanks to my history teacher, who was very invested and encouraging, I fell in love with archives papers and investigation process. I got a scholarship to come in France to finish my Master 2 degree in history, with a study project about Frenchwomen in the temperance movement during the Belle Époque. And today, I’m on the last line of my PhD dissertation about the history of Frenchwomen engaged in the temperance movement since 1835 until 2013. 

What got you interested in alcohol (and its history)?

In 2013, I was in my hometown library, thinking about a subject for Master 1 degree. I was looking through annual directories of Kaluga of the last 19th century when I found advertising for French alcohol. Literally amazed at the quantity and quality of wines and cognacs imported in my small city, which had about 50,000 people at this period, I thought that it would be interesting to analyze the evolution of the alcohol question in my region. 

One year later, I was looking for a scholarship project. Alcohol history in wine-drinking France attracted me, then I became particularly interested in the temperance movement. There were meager mentions about temperance women – especially about Maria Legrain – in academic studies (Nourrisson, Prestwich, Dargelos, Fillaut), whereas on-line archives revealed important and unexamined female activity.

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Reefer Madness in France: Part II

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. David A. Guba, Jr., of Bard Early College in Baltimore. 

One of the earliest cases of “arab aliené: folie hasishique” I’ve found thus far in my research is from Algiers in the summer of 1857. On August 22 of that year, a twenty-year-old Muslim man called Soliman-ben-Mohammed attacked a crowd of Jewish Algerians gathered in the city’s central market for the Sabbath, wounding seven and killing one. Eyewitnesses described the killer as being “crazed by a fury” and “prey to unspeakable exasperations” as he wildly clubbed the fleeing crowd of men, women, and children. It was only when a group of nearby Frenchmen, “hearing the cries of the victims, seized the madman and disarmed him,” bringing the violent scene to a close.[1]

Screenshot 2019-06-27 09.13.57The most comprehensive record of the event and trial is found in a series of articles published in the Medical Gazette of Algeria in September of 1857 by Dr.’s Alphonse Bertherand and Noël-Eugène Latour, both with the French army and Civil Hospital in Algiers.[2] During his interrogation Soliman stated that he neither remembered the attack nor recognized his victims. He recalled leaving work earlier that day, smoking kif and drinking wine and anisette for several hours at a café in Algiers. He even recalled getting into a small altercation with several Jewish patrons at that café.  But, “visibly regretful and shedding tears,” Soliman again and again claimed he never intended to kill anyone and remembered nothing of the fatal attack.[3] 

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L’Affaire Sarah Halimi and “Reefer Madness” in Postcolonial France: Part I

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. David A. Guba, Jr., of Bard Early College in Baltimore. 

In early April 2017, Kobili Traoré, a 27-year old Malian immigrant, murdered an elderly Orthodox Jewish woman named Lucie “Sarah” Attal-Halimi in the Belleville neighborhood of northeastern Paris. Neighbors who witnessed the attack told police that Traoré appeared “crazed,” repeatedly called Halimi a “Jewish devil,” and shouted “Allahu Akbar” and Koranic verses as he violently beat her, then threw her from a 4-story window to her death. After his arrest Traoré claimed he remembered nothing from the night in question and felt “possessed by a demonic force” after “smoking too much cannabis” throughout the day leading up to the assault.

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Sarah Halimi, from The Times of Israel

In the now over two years since Halimi’s murder, the French court has wavered in its official opinions on Traoré’s sanity and thus criminal culpability. Initially, François Molins, prosecutor in Paris’s second district, argued that the attack did not constitute an anti-Semitic hate crime and declared Traoré unfit for trial as a result of an acute episode of cannabis-induced psychosis, a decision he largely based on an initial and somewhat ambiguous psychiatric evaluation produced by Dr. Daniel Zagury, the same psychiatrist who established the legal culpability of Salah Abdselam, mastermind of the November 2015 Paris attacks, and dozens of other ISIS-inspired and -trained terrorists detained in France.[1] In his report, Zagury wrote, “Today, it is common to observe, during delusional outbreaks…in subjects of the Muslim religion, an anti-Semitic theme: The Jew is on the side of evil, of the devil. What is usually a prejudice turns into delusional hatred.” Traoré’s murder of Halimi, he thus concluded, “constituted a delusional if anti-Semitic act.”[2]

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Hemp and Heritage in France

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. David A. Guba, Jr., of Bard Early College in Baltimore. 

Screenshot 2019-02-20 20.37.21On 5 February 2019, growers, manufacturers, and distributers of “chanvre industriel,” or hemp, from across the globe met in Paris for the “AllHemp – Congrès international du chanvre,” the first international conference of its kind held on French soil. Organized by the French hemp-growers union, InterChanvre, the conference assembled industry professionals and researchers in France, the current epicenter of European hemp cultivation, to “bring notoriety to the industry and to this virtuous plant in terms of the economy and eco-responsibility.” In 2016 just over 1,400 French farmers cultivated over half of the EU’s total hectarage of hemp, nearly 17,000 ha of 33,000 ha, which was three times the amount of hemp cultivated in the United States during the same year.[1] The French farmers and manufacturers of InterChanvre thus organized the conference both to highlight France’s domestic hemp farming and promote hemp-based products, such as building materials, plastics, textiles, cosmetics, oils, and dietary supplements, on the international market.[2]

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