Friday, August 18, 2006

Sir Cecil's Merry Narco-Ride

Greetings all! It's been some time since we last spoke. The last month and a day have been a pretty busy time, between various projects we've had and travel. We've been working on some interesting projects further afield, outside of Asia, and so it's cut out some of the time I used to be able to set aside for this blog. I'll try to maintain a new post at least once or twice a week though.

I've been doing a lot of research into drugs recently for one of our projects (sure, you're all collectively saying). Academic research, I assure you. In any case, I found a rather amusing document from the Hong Kong archives, from 1908. It was written by (later Sir) Cecil Clementi (in addition to serving as Governor of Hong Kong from 1925-1930, he was also Governor of the Straits Settlements from 1930-1934) when he was Clerk of Councils. This particular document had a very dull name, No.973 of 1908 (if the link doesn't work, just try it again) for the Executive Council. But its subject matter was slightly less prosaic: "Regulations made by the Governor-in-Council under Section 6 (f) of the Pharmacy Ordinance, 1908 (Ordinance No. 12 of 1908), for the issue of Licenses to Wholesale Dealers in Cocaine and its Salts together with the conditions on which such licenses are granted, this 23rd day of December, 1908."

It seems Christmas came early in 1908 for the narco-merchants of Hong Kong! We've described in these pages in detail how opium was the commodity upon which Hong Kong was founded, and which remained legal for consumption in the Colony until 1946. But this is the first time we've dealt with a drug that was not a derivative of the poppy - cocaine, from the coca plant.

While other countries were restricting or forbade the trade in opium by this time, Hong Kong still allowed opium to pass through its port, only regulating it within Hong Kong to maximize government revenue. While it was recognized that 'salts' like cocaine would be potentially much more injurious to the local population, the local government still adopted a very laissez-faire approach to regulating its onward traffic - and once again, China was to be the loser as a result. The fact that cocaine was classified as a 'salt' indicates that while it was illegal in Hong Kong, they felt it was justifiable to allow it to pass through Hong Kong because it could be construed in other areas as having medicinal value.

The regulations penned by Clementi basically allowed importers to bring cocaine in - as long as they did not sell any and brought it out again without any local distribution. The cocaine had to be kept in the same uniform boxes that they came in and had to be kept in a bonded warehouse awaiting onward shipping (most likely to China).

This legalized quarantine status for cocaine, a substance already regarded as dangerous throughout the British Empire, was typical for Hong Kong. The city did not only adopt a laissez-faire economic attitude, but adopted the same from an international moral perspective as well, and was supported fully by the letter (though perhaps not the spirit) of international law at that time. This character is still recognizable today, very much part of this city's personality, and has played a major role in Hong Kong's success.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

great study!