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The Opium Monopoly




FROM time to time, certain people in England apparently have qualms as to Great Britain's opium traffic, and from time to time questions are raised as to whether or not such traffic is morally defensible. In February, 1909, apparently in answer to such scruples and questionings on the part of a few, a very interesting report was published, "Proceedings of the Commission appointed to Enquire into Matters Relating to the Use of Opium in the Straits Settlements and the Federated Malay States. Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of His Majesty." This document may be found in the New York Public Library and is well worth careful perusal.

This Commission consisted of about a dozen men, some English, some natives of the Straits Settlements. They apparently made an intensive and exhaustive study of the subject, carefully examining it from every angle. Countless witnesses appeared before them, giving testimony as to the effects of opium upon the individual. This testimony is interesting, in that it is of a contradictory nature, some witnesses saying that moderate opium indulgence is nothing worse than indulgence in alcoholic beverages, and like alcohol, only pernicious if taken to excess. Other witnesses seemed to think that it was most harmful. The Commission made careful reports as to the manner of licensing houses for smoking, the system of licensing opium farms, etc., and other technical details connected with this extensive Government traffic. Finally, the question of revenue was considered, and while the harmfulness of opium smoking was a matter of divided opinion, when it came to revenue there was no division of opinion at all. As a means of raising revenue, the traffic was certainly justifiable. It was proven that about fifty per cent of the revenues of the Straits Settlements and the Federated Malay States came from the opium trade, and, as was naively pointed out, to hazard the prosperity of the Colony by lopping off half its revenues, was an unthinkable proceeding.

The figures given are as follows.

1898. Revenue derived from 0pium....45.9 percent

1899 44.8

1900 43.3

1901 53.2

1902 48.3

1903 47.1

1904 59.1

1905 46.

1906 53.3

There was one dissenting voice as to the conclusions reached by this Opium Commission, that of a Bishop who presented a minority report. But what are moral scruples against cold facts that there's money in the opium trade?

This Commission made its report in 1909. But the opium business is apparently still flourishing in the Straits Settlements. Thus we read in the official Blue Book for 1917, "Colony of the Straits Settlements " that of the total revenue for the year, $18,672,104, that $9,182,000 came from opium. What per cent is that?

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