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Famous Prohibitionists Of History: Napoleon Bonaparte

When you think of anti-cannabis crusaders, names like former President Richard Nixon and former First Lady Nancy Reagan immediately come to mind. But Napoleon Bonaparte - the French emperor and general who was tastefully portrayed by Verne Troyer on TV's Jack of All Trades - is also among the ranks of history's prohibitionists.

According to historian Lukasz Kamienski - author of Shooting Up: A Short History of Drugs and War (2016) - Napoleon - who was born 247 years ago today - had an incursion with hashish during his military expedition in Egypt (1798-1801). Because alcohol was banned in the Muslim country, French soldiers found it difficult to unwind with a drink as they liked to do in their downtime. So when soldiers stumbled upon cafes selling hashish - a foreign substance to them - they quickly dabbled with cannabis resin along with the locals.

Napoleon wasn't happy when his commanders reported that the army's new recreation was undermining morale. So he outlawed hashish - and not just for his soldiers. He declared cannabis prohibition law throughout Egypt, undermining the centuries-long local tradition of manufacturing and consuming cannabis resin. His proclamation contained three articles about cannabis:

Article 1. Throughout Egypt the use of a beverage prepared by certain Moslems from hemp (hashish), as well as the smoking of the seeds of hemp, is prohibited. Habitual smokers and drinkers of this plant lose their reason and suffer from violent delirium in which they are liable to commit excesses of all kinds.

Article 2. The preparation of hashish as a beverage is prohibited throughout Egypt. The doors of those cafés and restaurants where it is supplied are to be walled up, and their proprietors imprisoned for three months.

Article 3. All bales of hashish arriving at the customs shall be confiscated and publicly burnt.

So as with America's War on Drugs, Napoleon tried to criminalize cultural traditions and customs. And as with America's War on Drugs, Napoleonic prohibition failed. When the defeated French army retreated from Egypt in 1801, their spirits were still high because they brought hash back to France with them. And toking became fashionable among intellectuals like Victor Hugo and poet Charles Baudelaire, who were members of the secret Club des Hashichins (a.k.a. The Hash Club) in Paris.

Baudelaire even once praised hash, saying the resin "opens up vast perspective, full of brilliant new possibilities" because it makes "the most trivial ideas assume a bizarre new appearance."

Sounds like he got high and noticed how awesome fingers are. But don't count Baudelaire among early cannabis heroes. In the essay On Wine and Hashish (1851), Baudelaire praised alcohol and called hash "a suicidal weapon" that is "useless and dangerous."

Or maybe he was just one of the first public figures to hide in the cannabis closet. 

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