The British Empire passed a taxation act on cannabis in India in 1798, apparently for the well-being of the natives. What the most likely motivation behind the taxation act is, I don't know.

In 1838, 1871 and 1877, they tried criminalizing it (and failed). Why did they do this? If one takes their stated motivation to be true, then I guess the logical explanation would be to further decrease the purported harm of the drug on the population. This would make sense considering how they initiated a huge study on the effects of cannabis on the Indian society in 1893 (The Indian Hemp Drugs Report).

But if the taxation act was based on capitalistic motives, then I don't see why they'd try to criminalize it. It is my understanding that the British had positive experiences with their capitalization of cannabis in India.

These decades witnessed a colonial takeover; the Egyptian elite was thus facing colonial officials who doubted the usefulness of the ban, in light of their Indian experience of monopolized cultivation and distribution.

Cannabis Prohibition in Egypt, 1880–1939: From Local Ban to League of Nations Diplomacy, 2011, Liat Kozma, page 444.

This to me implies that the British saw taxed and controlled regulation of cannabis as a good thing. However, this is written within the context of the late 1870s, which might be after the Brits' last attempt at criminalizing cannabis in India. In addition, the Egyptians faced a lot of issues trying to stop cannabis consumption and reducing demand, which may mean that the British weren't necessarily against cannabis criminalization; they might've just thought that in the case of Egypt (and India, eventually), that controlled legalization was the best call.

I've been looking for the details of the attempted criminalizations of 1838, 1871 and 1877 in India, but I haven't found anything.

  • 2
    Why did Americans try to criminalize (the selling of) alcohol in the US, when they (and everyone else, for that matter) had good experience with its taxation ?
    – Lucian
    May 10, 2021 at 17:25
  • @Lucian Because of Puritan ideals, if I'm correct. Are you saying that these were the same ideals behind Britain's attempts at criminalization of cannabis in India?
    – A. Kvåle
    May 11, 2021 at 6:54
  • What do you mean by attempted criminalisation? Do you mean there was a proposal to criminalise it which was rejected by Parliament or vetoed in some way? Or was it actually made criminal but ignored or ineffectual ?
    – davidlol
    May 11, 2021 at 8:49
  • I think it cannot really be said that "Britain" or the "British Empire" attempted to criminalize it. Rather, there were unsuccessful campaigns to criminalize it. Some campaigners may have been motivated by concern for the well-being of the natives, and some of those who opposed the campaigns may have been motivated by financial considerations. Such is ever the case, for example slavery, the final abolition of which in 1838 may be connected.
    – davidlol
    May 11, 2021 at 9:53
  • 1
    I have only a vague recollection but it may jog somebody else who knows more. 1838 was the final end of slave obligations in the Carribean and Guyana (technically slavery abolished in 1834 but compulsory apprenticeship for next 4), Many Indian workers were brought in to replace slaves who chose to leave their employment. Cannabis was illegaly imported from India but the plantation owners thought it had a bad effect on productivity and wanted it banned. This may or may not be a factor.
    – davidlol
    May 11, 2021 at 18:19


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