CANNABIS CULTURE – Thinning of the muscles, emaciation of the skin, weakness of mind, in coordination, loss of appetite, convulsions, loss of strength, and idiotic offspring seem, in all probability, to be the united result of prolonged use of this drug.
– Dr. H. H. Kane, on the hashish habit, in Drugs that enslave, 1881, p. 218.
A few weeks ago I received an email from my friend and colleague, drug historian Michael Horowitz. Enclosed was an old copy of the Marijuana Review from 1971 – the year I was born.
Marijuana Review is an album through which Michael Aldrich – the first person in the United States to earn a degree in marijuana history – will share interesting historical facts about cannabis and other drugs. This issue contains an article from Harper’s New Monthly of November 1883: Hashish House in New York – The curious adventures of a man who indulges in various doses of the drug hemp. Harper’s article was interesting for two reasons: 1) it contained a rare and detailed description of the inner workings of a hashish saloon in New York in 1883, and 2) it mentioned that the saloon also served other drugs, including cocaine tea. It immediately caught my attention because I had just started working at Dana Larsen’s Coca Leaf Café on Hastings Street in Vancouver, and we serve Coke tea there, among other things. (1)
The photocopy of Harper’s article in the Marijuana Review zine was hard to read in places and a page was missing, so I searched online to see if I could buy a copy of the original article. It appeared to be available, so it took about a week and it arrived in the mail. I read it immediately and was impressed with both the description of the beautiful surroundings and the way the tea party was served:
An unharmonious detail disturbed the symmetry of the whole. Under my feet I sank into an almost velvety carpet – a sea of muted colours. On closer inspection, I discovered it was a garden design: Beautiful flowerbeds, stars and crescents, square and diamond shaped plots that consisted of thousands of naturally exotic plants and colorful foliage. Here was a brook lined with moist greenery, from which sprouted shy violets and tiny bells; there was a winding gravel that snaked between exquisite plants, and everywhere a thousand bushes in bloom or bud. Above him hung a magnificent chandelier, composed of six beaten golden dragons, whose eyes and throats cast out a flame, the light of which, through a series of strangely placed prisms, fell in splinters and sparkled in a thousand twinkling rays, illuminating every corner of the room. Rows of transparent, multicolored glass prisms and slowly rotating dragons give every object in the room a strange, changing hue. … My friend pulled aside the tassel of a cord hanging over our heads and spoke a few words to a vulgar turbaned servant, who, at his request, entered the room softly, disappeared, and returned a few moments later with a tray, which he placed between us. On top of this was a small silver filigree lamp, two spherical bowls, also of silver, from which a long silver pipe and a spoon-shaped instrument protruded. The latter, I soon learned, was used to clean and fill the pipes. A friend put a bronze hash box on a tray and let me put my pipe next to it and suck the liquid through a long tube into a silver cup. I made this and loved it. This, he says, is tea made from real coca leaves. The cup is a real help and the pipe is a real bomb from Peru. Now give us a cigarette. The dried bush, known here as gunjeh, is the dried upper part of the hemp plant. Take some tobacco in this jar and mix it, otherwise it will be difficult to keep it in the air. The ones frozen here are made from the best non-leaf hemp resin, mixed with oil, sugar, honey, flour, crushed datura seeds, a little opium and henbane or hyoscium. I’d rather take them than smoke them, but to keep you company, I smoke at night. Don’t be afraid. Smoke four of the five pulses of the tube and enjoy the effect. I’ll make sure nothing happens to you.
Image by Keefe T.W. Coakley, 1897.
Although the author, Dr. Harry Hubbell Kane, took no pills (beware of those datura and henbane, kids, as they are highly toxic and potentially deadly) and limited himself to a few drops of gunjeh, he stumbled (or pretended) to have consumed a heroic dose of hashish, just like the American Fitz Hugh Ludlow in his 1857 book. Hashish eater. After a long and strange journey, Dr. Kane was swallowed up by the earth and found himself in a deep cave above a sea of fire – in other words, he was going to hell:
Out of that mist a thousand plaintive faces on burnt and broken wings rose up to me, whining and wailing as they came. Who the hell are these poor people? These, says a voice addressed to me, are spirits still embodied in people who have sought happiness in various drugs during their lives. Here, after death, far below, they lead a life of torture, exquisite, for this is their lot, each suffering from the lack of moisture, forced day after day to give their blood to form the juice of the poppy and the resin of the hemp, that their dreams, joys, hopes, pleasures, pains and torments of the past and present may be tasted again by mortals.
I suspect that Dr. Kane exaggerated the effect of marijuana to moralize the disadvantages of cannabis use, since he was both a prolific anti-drug author and a practitioner of modern medicine. The entire article is available online to read for free, if anyone is interested. (2)
In addition to translating a book on France into English in 1902, Dr. Kane was responsible for many books on drugs during his lifetime: Hypodermic injection of morphine: Its History, Benefits, and Dangers (1880), Drugs That Enslave (1881), Smoking Opium in America and China (1882) – read for free online every. (3)
In Drugs That Enslave, Dr. Kane did his best to portray cannabis intoxication in a bad light:
There are those who consistently use hash all year round, as do many of our countrymen who use alcohol; but this has more to do with moral depravity than with any particular pathological desire for the substance used. If we were able to obtain in this country a perfectly reliable extract of cannabis, physicians would use it as freely, as carelessly, and in as large doses as opium, morphine, chloral, hashish would be more common. (p. 207)
What kind of man was Dr. Harry Hubbell Kane? A search of his name on Newspapers.com yielded more than 2,000 entries, most about his connections to horseback riding and writers’ clubs. But I was lucky enough to come across an advertisement for his medical care – Positive and long lasting healing of VARICOCELIA, HYDROCELIA, INFLAMMATE BLADDER and ANLARGED PROSTATIVE GLAND.
Here is his ad, with his portrait, from the New York newspaper The World of the 17th. November 1897:
Apparently, treating swollen testicles was a lucrative business, because Dr. Kane lived in a very nice 4-story apartment in Greenwich Village, which I put on Google Maps:
Apart from my curiosity about Dr. Kane, I wondered what I could find out about New York City pot shows.
In Harper’s, Dr. Kane describes how they took the Broadway streetcar downtown, passing it at 42nd Street. Street and walked quickly to the North River – in other words, they got off the streetcar in Times Square, walked down 42nd Street and up the street. Street westward to the Hudson River and to the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan.
The Wikipedia entry for Hell’s Kitchen has many explanations for this unusual name. This one seems to be the best of all:
(Hell’s Kitchen) first appeared in the news on22. September 1881, when a New York Times reporter in his 30s traveled west with a police guide to get details about a multiple murder that took place there. He mentioned a particularly infamous apartment building at 39th Street and 10th Avenue Hell’s Kitchen, saying the entire section was probably the lowest and dirtiest in the city. According to this version, 39th Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues became known as Hell’s Kitchen, and the name later spread to surrounding streets. Another version attributes the origin of the name to a German restaurant nearby, which was called Heil’s Kitchen after its owners. The most common version, however, is based on the story of Dutch Fred the cop, a veteran cop who, along with his rookie partner, noticed a small disturbance on West 39th Street near Tenth Avenue. The newcomer should have said: This place is hell itself, to which Fred replied, Hell is a mild climate. This is Hell’s Kitchen.
Wikipedia provides a photograph of the area, circa 1890:
Hell’s Kitchen and Sevastopol, ca. 1890, photographed by Jacob Riis.
A series of robberies of smoking saloons in New York City made headlines in 1895. Hashish was legal, but the contents of the saloon where you sold it apparently were not, and you could be charged with a general crime that included operating brothels and gambling houses: operating a house of disorder.
New York Times, 22. June 1895, p. 1
More than one Turkish tobacco shop was raided in New York City, and the addresses showed that the shops were located in different parts of the city. 225 West 25th Street is in Chelsea and 86th Fourth Avenue is in Ukrainian Village.
Evening World, 12. July 1895, p. 3
But what exactly was smoked in these smokehouses? Newspaper reports of a raid on a Turkish smokehouse on the southern edge of Manhattan reveal the answer. And Chibuk, by the way, is a kind of Turkish smoking pipe, and, I believe, a place to smoke such a pipe. The address was obtained from a single newspaper clipping:
Fort Worth Daily Gazette, 7. July 1895, p. 15
And the details were obtained in another :
Chickasaw Chief, Ardmore, Oklahoma, 22. August 1895, pp. 1
In case you’re wondering what belly dancing is, it’s the French term for belly dancing. As for hash, there were several ways to write hash in the 1800s, and this was one of them. I looked up 1210 Broadway on Google Maps, and the closest location I could find was the current location of A1 Watch and Jewelry at 1212 1B Broadway, right next to Cleopatra’s Hair at 1212 A Broadway. The building looks old and is sandwiched between two other old buildings, which leads me to believe that this building was built around 1895:
What it may have looked like inside during its use as a Turkish smokehouse, we have some clues as to that. There was an illustration from the Illustrated Police News of 1876, under the title The Secret Diffusion of the New York Bells: The interior of Hashish Hell on Fifth Avenue. Again this description of hell, while the picture doesn’t look like hell at all:
image from hashmuseum.com
Regarding the above photo, Michael Horowitz wrote in an email;
Late 19th century In the 19th century very few women smoked tobacco (the writer Georges Sand is considered the first to smoke a cigarette in public (Paris around 1860). But they are there, in Persian garb in the American hashish saloons of the 1870s and 1880s. It was only 35 years after the Paris Hash Club. The outbreak of anti-Asian racism we see today has its origins in the opium cafes of the late 19th century. Century white women were attracted to. There were no such alarms in the hash rooms, perhaps because they were festive events compared to the O-caves seeking oblivion.
Speaking of New York City During a visit to New York, Cindy and I stayed in an apartment near Gramercy Park. At the other end of the small park stood a beautiful 19th century house. Century in which James Harper, co-founder of Harper Bros, lived and had his office – publisher Fitz Hugh Ludow. We imagine Fitz Hugh walking up the stone steps to knock on the door and hand over his latest work. We also went to an address further downtown on Livingston Street (we forgot the exact street number, but it is known). The house is now a building that serves as a kind of small hospital. In front of it, however, are wrought-iron gates which certainly date from the mid-19th century. Origin century – Fitz Hugh gate was opened regularly. Our last stop was the location of Pfaff’s Restaurant and Saloon on Lower Broadway, where Gotham’s writers and journalists, such as Ludlow and his friends who appeared in the Harpers pages, hung out. Walt Whitman was there from the usual friendly court.
I then found a photo of a group of men from a French musical group, the Tam-Tam Bollenois, smoking a homemade bong in 1884 – just one year after Harper’s article was published. This photo comes from thecannachronicles.com – maintained by one of my Supreme Court of Canada colleagues, Chris Clay – at a site called Lost in Exquisite Intoxication, 1884 :
Image from thecannachronicles.com
Finally, a photo of New York City in 1895 – the year of the raids on Turkish saloons – from Jack Herer’s book, The Emperor Wears No Clothes:
Image of the emperor wearing no clothes, 11.
These cannabis lounges were undoubtedly closed as a result of the demonization and stigmatization by people like Dr. Kane and others who began their campaign of lies at that time.
A similar treatise comes from an 1885 pamphlet entitled MESS THAT TRANSFER, published by the National Temperance Society, also in New York. The brochure concentrates on tobacco, but also contains sections on opium and hashish. This is what we were told;
Whole nations have been stimulated, drugged and turned into idiots with that damn hash. The visions this drug evokes are said to be glorious and indescribably grand, but ultimately it leads body, mind and spirit to a gruesome death (L. Ron Hubbard).
MESSES THAT WAS FATHER, National Temperance Company, 1885.
In 1885, the poet Thomas Bailey Aldrich published a collection of poems, one of which was entitled Hashish. It sounds like a poem inspired by an overdose of hashish. The final measures go as follows:
Horror took hold of me… a vague feeling.
almost catastrophic. Oh, get me out of here!
I screamed, and out of the black hole ….
that opened up at my feet and crept up behind me,
At the top of the broad staircase, creatures of immense size,
Evil, bearded monsters with their lips and eyes.
Mucus-sucking leeches. –
Go away, you ugly drug! I will escape your spell,
The honey of heaven, the black dew of hell! (4)
It was also in 1885 that the term ganja, the Hindi term for sensimillia or seedless cannabis flowers, began to appear in newspapers (5). But this time, demonization, prejudice, bigotry and white supremacy are being widely applied to cannabis users:
The ganja eater is an offender we have no equivalent of in this country. It’s an Asian monster. One does hear of people going mad over alcohol, but their madness differs both in degree and in quality of mind from that which results from the consumption of cannabis juice. For ganja is the preparation of this herb, and though its prescription is punishable under the laws of India, it is unfortunately so easily obtained that crimes are constantly committed for it. Thus in the latest Indian newspapers we find the case of a man embittered by his consumption stabbing left and right in the Bombay bazaar, and we note that the judge, in pronouncing his sentence, deplored the increase of that most dangerous class, the ganja eaters. … The opium eater is harmless and innocent. He harms no one but himself; he sins, perhaps by omission, but not by commission. A ganja user, on the other hand, is always breaking the law. He becomes a criminal immediately. The evil potion seems to have the strange power to bring out all that is evil and bad in its most brutal form. In the Ghazi villages, ganja, or bah, as the various cannabis compounds are called, is used to inculcate fanatics, who are then sent out into the world to escape a-mak to kill and be killed for their beliefs. (6)
Aside from occasional derogatory mentions in reprinted articles in foreign newspapers, and Kentucky’s condemnation of anyone who, through habitual or excessive use of opium, arsenic, hashish, or any other drug, is unable to manage himself or his property with due caution and care (7), Dr. Kane’s attack on hashish – first in his book Drugs That Enslave and then in his article in Harper’s – was the beginning of the anti-cannabis movement in the United States. Kane’s attack on hashish – first in his book Drugs That Enslave, then in his article in Harper’s – marked the beginning of the anti-cannabis movement in the United States.
One might wonder whether this is the result of a genuine confusion between the acute toxic effects of cannabis and a chronic condition caused by cannabis use, combined with the sensationalist nature of the sale of books and magazines, or whether it is simply another example of demonization and scapegoating that goes hand in hand with the divide-and-conquer tactics that seem to be inherent in the state – the question is not so much how to educate the public about the true nature of the deception that underlies the demonization of cannabis. Because the injustices associated with the robberies of cannabis shops (8), the murders that result from failed robberies, the mass incarceration, the dislocated families, the destroyed lives, and many other injustices associated with the black market continue to this day.
4) THOMAS BAILEY ALREACH PUEMS, HOME Edition, WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY BOSTON AND NEW YORK, HUGHTON, MIFFLEEN AND COMPANY,
Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1885
5) History of cannabis as medicine, Ethan Russo, from The Medical Use of Cannabis and Cannabinoids, 2004, Geoffrey W Guy, Brian A Whittle, Philip J Robson, editors, Pharmaceutical Press, London, p. 9.
6) Ganja Eater, The Daily Republican, 24. August 1885, p.3
7) The Baltimore Sun, 26. March 1872, c. 2
8) Relax is part of a network of medical cannabis dispensaries that provide covered and ventilated areas for consumption of the drug. Snacks and soft drinks are also sold in the lounge. It was the target of an arson attack last summer. Under Quebec law, businesses such as restaurants, bong bars and cigar lounges may consume tobacco in an enclosed and ventilated area of the building. However, with regard to indoor cannabis use, the province’s cannabis regulation legislation only provides provisions for places such as long-term care facilities, nursing homes and palliative care clinics. The owners of Relax say they have a license to operate the cigar lounge and now plan to challenge the arrest in court. We think it’s a witch hunt and the amount of effort and money that was put into humiliating us, taking us down, was really ridiculous, Vargas told CTV News. I hope it doesn’t happen again, because the way they attacked us, it looked like a bunch of criminals.
It was a witch hunt: Police raid in Quebec City cannabis room, Emma Spears, 04. March 2020.