Dagga and Prohibition: Markets, Animals, and the Imperial Contexts of Knowledge, 1893–1925

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Following a petition by the South African Union government of Prime Minister Jan Christiaan Smuts to the League of Nations in 1923, cannabis or dagga became entwined in diplomatic negotiations over an international schedule of habit-forming drugs. The resulting Dangerous Drugs list and the Geneva Convention, signed in 1925, fixed the whole cannabis plant into place as a scheduled substance subject to criminal prohibition, fastened its association with opium and cocaine, and set in place a rigid Linnaean nomenclature that eschewed the taxonomical, commercial, and cultural diversity of cannabis. The resulting history of prohibition has centred on an antagonistic relationship between states and consumers of cannabis. This article returns to the historical conjuncture before the Geneva Convention to highlight how state bodies in an imperial context sanctioned experiments to validate, not prohibit, cannabis products. Threading together unnoted histories of experiments conducted by the Union of South Africa and the British colonial state in India reveals how concerns of profit underlay state efforts to access imperial markets and define the psychoactive effects of cannabis. Such histories show the incertitude of scientific knowledge, the role of animal surrogates in colonial science, and the dichotomous relationship between state authority and cannabis use that paralleled and preceded the Smuts government’s international campaign and the Geneva Convention.




Chattopadhyaya, U. (2019). Dagga and Prohibition: Markets, Animals, and the Imperial Contexts of Knowledge, 1893–1925. South African Historical Journal, 71(4), 587–613. https://doi.org/10.1080/02582473.2019.1641738

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