CBD and History: Why France made Cannabis illegal

A historical account of Cannabis Prohibition in France

Have you ever wondered why France made Cannabis illegal? When you discover the effects of CBD on the brain or that many celebrities have praised its benefits throughout history, it seems legitimate to wonder where this Cannabis Prohibition in France comes from. At Cakespace, we did some digging and we realized that this whole thing had, in the end, nothing to do with health... settle down, we'll explain everything.

Cannabis: the perfect culprit

The History behind the turbulent relationship between hashish and colonialism

Pack your bags, we're taking you to Egypt. At the very beginning of the nineteenth century, the country was under French domination, and more precisely, under the control of Jacques-François Menou, a general appointed by Napoleon to administer the territory. In fact, many believe that it was Napoleonic soldiers who brought Cannabis back to France from the Egyptian campaigns.

And it’s dear old Menou who put in place the very first prohibition of Cannabis in the history of France, on October 8th, 1800. More precisely, he banned hashish and what were called "cafés maures", where it could be obtained and consumed.

Okay. But seriously, why this ban? Well, dear old Menou didn’t do much didding. For him, hashish made people violent, and pushed them to resist colonization. Which is funny, we would have spontaneously thought that it was the violent abuses of the French army which annoyed them, but well... keep telling yourself that... 

Especially since, if Menou had actually made the effort, he would have realized that it was the Greeks of Alexandria, and not the Muslims in Egypt, who controlled the hashish market at that time.  

From where we stand, it looks like this ban was motivated by a desire for political repression and not by a concern for public health.


Hashish: the assassin’s resin?

Besides, Menou was not the only one to assume a connection between hashish and violence. He is suspected of dipping into the theories of another Frenchman, Baron Silvestre de Sacy, who popularized the idea that the word "assassin" came from the Arabic ḥašāšīn or "hachachin," which referred to hashish users. 

According to him, the term hachachin originally referred to the members of a Muslim sect, the Nizârites, which was particularly active in the eleventh century. According to the legends, their leader, Hassan ibn al-Sabbah, made his followers drink a hemp-based decoction to either keep them under his control or to give them the courage to carry out deadly missions.


So, yeah, it's a very good starting pitch for an Assassin's Creed, but in fact... it's mostly rumors and fiction. Especially since the use of hashish was not as widespread as we think in the arabic world, and many cultures and faiths condemned its use, just like alcohol. 

But there too, were not many people to look further, and Sacy's speeches largely contributed to spread the idea that hashish would incite to murderous madness among North african Muslims. Wow, such a mood.

Cannabis and Criminality

The case of French Algeria also offers a very good example of this absurd mentality.

Towards the end of the 1850s, several violent crimes were committed by Muslims in Algiers. Since Menou and Sacy, the amalgam between Cannabis and criminality had largely had time to spread. Thus, one attributes these acts to an excessive consumption of hashish.

The case of Soliman ben Muhammad, a Muslim who attacked a crowd of Jews on the Sabbath, is particularly noteworthy. The result? One dead and seven injured. The man was sentenced to five years in prison. 

The investigation reveals that he would have smoked for fifteen cents of kiff the morning before his crime. Strangely, everyone gets stuck on this detail, but not on the bottle of wine and the six glasses of anisette that Soliman drank right after... but that does not prevent the doctors dispatched on the case to declare that "hashish can lead to commit acts dangerous to public health" and to demand that "something is done to prohibit the sale of all preparations of Cannabis indica in all French Algeria". 

So many speeches that lead to a decree regulating the sale and consumption of hashish in the famous “cafés maures”, and prohibiting the sale to minors.

This goes even further, because in order to justify the creation of the Code de l'indigénat in 1881, many reports on hashashins terrorizing the population were broadcasted...

Again, all we can remember, personally, is that hashish was a very good culprit to justify restrictions of freedom.

New laws… and still the same cliché

Cannabis legislation in the rest of France

In the years that followed, the French authorities collected measures of prohibition and regulation for Cannabis, in metropolitan France as in the colonies. And each time, the principal reason advanced is the threat that the plant represents for the public order. 

And this cliché is not completely gone: during the debates in the National Assembly to vote the law of 1970 - which defines the legal framework we know today - a deputy dared to put Sacy's theories on the table! 

CBD: a victim of ignorance

As you can see from this little historical account, when it comes to the prohibition of Cannabis in France, it has never been about the dangers to health. If you put these laws in their colonial context, the substance appears rather as a convenient scapegoat to justify restrictions of freedom. 

And it is partly because of this type of mentality that we are just beginning to discover all the benefits of CBD...  

On our side, we’re not done keeping you informed of all its progress and we would be delighted to help you understand CBD and Cannabis more! Join us on Instagram to stay tuned!

Cake it easy, 

Cakespace Team