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The Opium Monopoly




INDIA is the source and fount of the British opium trade, and it is from Indian opium that the drug is chiefly supplied to the world. As we have said before, it is a government monopoly. Cultivators, who wish to plant poppies, may borrow money from the Government free of interest, the sole condition being that the crop be sold back to the Government again. It is manufactured into opium at the Government factory at Ghazipur, and once a month, the Government holds auctions at Calcutta, by means of which the drug finds its way into the trade channels of the world-illicit and otherwise.*

*This description of the Opium Department is to be found in Statistics of British India, Financial Statistics, Vol. 11, 8th Issue, page 159:

OPIUM. The region in which the poppy was cultivated in 1916-17 for the manufacture of "Bengal opium" comprises 32 districts of the United Provinces of Agra and Ouhd. The whole Department has, with effect from the 29th September, 1910, been under the control of one Opium Agent, with headquarters at Ghazipur. At Ghazipur there is a Government factory where the crude opium is manufactured into the form in which it passes into consumption. The cultivation of the poppy and the manufacture of opium are regulated by Act XIII of 1857, as amended by Act I of 1911, and are under the general control of the Lieutenant Governor and the Board of Revenue of the United Provinces, and the immediate supervision of the Opium Agent at Ghazipur. The possession, transport, import and export of opium are regulated by rules framed under the Indian Opium Act. Cultivation is permitted only under licenses granted under the authority of the Opium Agent. The area to be cultivated is fixed by the license, and the cultivator is bound to sell the whole of his production to the Opium Department at the rate fixed by Government.......... Advances, on which no interest is charged, are given to licensed cultivators at the time of executing the agreement and from time to time (though ordinarily no more than two advances are given) until final delivery. In March, April and May the opium is made over to the officers of the Department, and weighed and tested, and as soon as possible afterwards each cultivator's accounts are adjusted, and the balance due is paid him. After weighment the opium is forwarded to the Government factory at Ghazipur, where it is manufactured in 3 forms-(a) opium intended for export to foreign countries, departmentally known as "provision opium"(b) opium intended for consumption in India and Burma, departmentally known as "excise opium" and (c) medical opium for export to London. Provision opium is made up in the form of balls or cakes, each weighing 3.5 lbs., and is packed in chests, each chest containing forty cakes, weighing 140 1/7 lbs. It is generally of 71' efficiency. Excise opium is made up in cubical packets, each weighing one seer, 60 of which are packed in a case. It is of higher consistency than the "provision opium." Medical opium is made up into cakes weighing 2 lbs. Provision opium is sold by public auction in Calcutta. A notification is published annually, generally about the month of June, stating the number of chests which will be put up for sale in each month of the next calendar year, and the quantities so notified are not altered without three months notice. Sales are conducted month by month by the Bengal Government; 7,000 chests were notified for sale in 1917 for shipment to non-China markets. The number of chests actually sold was 4,615. In addition to this, 4,500 chests were sold to the Government of the Straits Settlements, 2,200 to the Government of Netherland Indies, and 00 to the Government of Hongkong. The duty levied by Government on each chest may be taken to be the difference between the average price realized and the average cost.

The following facts are taken from " Statistics of British India. Financial Statistics, Volume II,Eighth Issue," to be found at the New York Public Library:



1910-11 362,868

1911-12 200,672

1912-13 178,263

1913-14 144,561

1914-15 164,911

1915-16 167,155

1916-17 204,186

In the hey-day of the China trade, 613,996 acres were under cultivation in the years 1905-6, consequently this is a drop in the extent of acreage. But, as we have said before, the closing of the China market simply means that other outlets must be found, and apparently they are being found, since from I914 onwards, the acreage devoted to poppy planting is slowly increasing again.

The opium manufactured in the Government factory is of three kinds-provision opium for export; excise opium, for consumption in India, and medical opium, for export to London. It is this latter form of opium which, according to Mr. MacDonald, in his "Trade Politics and Christianity in Africa and the East" is being manufactured into morphia by three British firms, two in Edinburgh and one in London, which morphia the Japanese are buying and smuggling into North China.

The "Statistics of British India" shows the countries into which Indian opium has been exported: we will take the figures for the last five years, which show the number of chests sent out.

In some countries we see a falling off, as in China. Cochin-China, the French colony, shows a considerable increase--the little Annarnites, Tonquinese, Cambodgians and other inhabitants of this colony of the French Republic being shown what's what. Mauretius, a British Colony five hundred miles off the coast of Madagascar, in the Indian ocean, seems to be coming on. The falling off in shipments to the United Kingdom may possibly have been due to the war and the scarcity of ships. "Other countries" seem to be holding their own. With the end of the war, the increase in ships, and general trade revival, we may yet see compensation for the loss of China. With the increase of drug addicts in the United States, it may be that in time America will no longer be classed under "other countries" but will have a column all to itself.

In another table we find a comparison as to the number of chests of provision or export opium and of excise opium, or that intended for consumption in India. Thus:

Each chest contains roughly about one hundred and forty pounds.


The revenue of India is derived from various sources, and is classified under eight heads. Thus: for 1916-17-

Out of these eight classifications, opium comes fourth on the list.

But in addition to the direct opium revenue, we must add another item, Excise, which is found under the third heading, taxation. In the "India Office List for i9i8" we find "Excise" explained as follows: Page 383: "Excise and Customs: Excise duties in India are levied with the two fold object of raising revenue and restricting the use of intoxicants and narcotics." In the same book, on page 385, we also read: "Excise and Customs Revenues: The total of the excise and customs revenues on liquors and drugs in i 9 i 5-i 6 was in round figures ten million pounds. This total gives an average of rather more than ninepence a head on the whole population of British India as the revenue charge on drink and drugs during the year."

These excise duties are collected on spirits, beer, opium and intoxicating drugs, such as ganja, charas, and bhang, all forms or preparations of Indian hemp (Cannabis Indica), known in some countries as hashish. In 1917-18 there were 17,369 drug shops throughout India. The excise duties collected from these sources was pretty evenly distributed. Excise revenue for a period of years is as follows:

The "Statistics of British India for 1918" has this to say on the subject of Excise (page 218): "Revenue: During the ten years ending with 1916-17 the net receipts from Excise duties increased . . . at the rate of 47 per cent. The receipts from opium (consumed in India, not exported) being at the rate of 44 per cent. The net receipts from liquors and from drugs other than opium . . . the increase at the rate Of 48 per cent. This large increase is due not merely to the expansion of consumption, but also to the imposition of progressively higher rates of duty and the increasingly extensive control of the excise administration. The revenue from drugs, (excluding opium) has risen in ten years . . . the increase being at the rate of 67 per cent."

A national psychology that can review these figures with complacency, satisfaction and pride is not akin to American psychology. A nation that can subjugate 300,000,000 helpless people, and then turn them into drug addicts-for the sake of revenue is a nation which commits a cold blooded atrocity unparalleled by any atrocities committed in the rage and heat of war. The Blue Book shows no horror at these figures. Complacent approval greets the increase of 44 per cent of opium consumption, and the increase of 67 per cent in the use of other habit-forming drugs. Approval, and a shrewd appreciation of the possibilities for more revenue from "progressively higher rates of duty," knowing well that drug addicts will sell soul and body in order to procure their daily supply.

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