Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Reefer Madness

Here's a Reefer Madness-style article from the Cardiff Times published in 1957. It's yet another example of the demonisation of Tiger Bay - a regular occurrence in the 1950s. You get the feeling ex-Detective Superintendent Tom Holdsworth was no Sherlock Holmes either; and that the only dope he regularly came into contact with was that bloke staring back at him in the bathroom mirror every morning:


A 999 call sent police cars racing to a house in Grangetown, Cardiff. Night detective officers found the house a shambles, the walls and floor of the kitchen spattered with blood, and next door three hysterical women - all three had been slashed with a knife.

The coloured man who had wielded the knife sat huddled in the passageway of the house. The women were taken to hospital and it was touch and go whether one would live. She managed to pull through, however, and the coloured man's defence to charges of felonious wounding was that he had been drinking wine all day and had been given a "reefer" cigarette. Under the influence of the drug and alcohol he claimed he did not know what he was doing.

The "reefer" - hashish or marijuana mixed with tobacco and rolled in a cigarette paper - was known to be peddled in Cardiff among Indian seamen before the war. The smoking of the drug, however, was confined to the Indians and seldom used by other foreigners.

With the war-time influx into this country of coloured Servicemen, both American and West Indian, the "reefer" craze grew. Illicit trading in Indian hemp and marijuana became highly profitable and widespread. The smuggling into post-war Britain of hashish and marijuana reached a scale hitherto unknown. We had no opportunity to build up an undercover tip-off system in Cardiff about trafficking in this drug.

The "reefer" craze spread rapidly among the coloured population and white people became addicted as well. Swiftly a network of supply agents had been built up throughout the country. As the demand for the drug grew so the agents took greater risks in smuggling considerable quantities of Indian hemp past Customs and anti-drug police squads.

Supplies of the drug were coming into Cardiff via other seaports - Liverpool, London and Southampton. A tea chest on its way to a house in the docks area was intercepted and found to be half-filled with cups and saucers, the other half held Indian hemp. We occasionally grabbed the small fry - unemployed Jamaican peddlers - from time to time, but never got near the big-time men who distributed the drugs and made a lot of money.

Acting on a tip-off from the City police Customs men at Southampton intercepted a likely agent as he stepped ashore after returning from a voyage to the East. In his sea-bag was a large box of chocolates neatly tied with brilliant ribbons. A customs officer broke the seals, despite many protests. He turned back the fancy wrappings inside and found 2lb of Indian hemp.

Hashish is the prepared drug from the resin from Indian hemp or Cannabis Sativa. Marijuana is really the same drug, but one plant is grown in India and the Far East, the other in South America. The "reefer" addict has no need to prepare the drug. He can smoke the dried plant, provided it's mixed with tobacco. It cannot be smoked on its own.

Even the drug smugglers had their own forms of "spiv trading." One addict was pounced on by detectives in Cardiff's dockland and in his pocket was a parcel of Indian hemp - it resembled dried weeds. Scientific tests, however, showed that the resin had been extracted, his parcel was useless and we could not take action against him, because in that form the hemp was not a dangerous drug. He was furious and told us that he had bought it as genuine Indian hemp. But though he was annoyed at being caught, he refused to say who had sold the useless weed to him. It was obvious that some smart agent had obtained a supply of the de-resinated plant, probably from a manufacturing chemist, and had sold it in 1/4 lb packets at £10 a time.

There were a few white men we suspected of indulging in "reefer" smoking, but we could never prove anything. One of them, however, was brought to justice in a most unusual way. He had been puffing the weed and returned to his council home on the outskirts of the city late at night. He was indulging in one of his favourite pastimes - beating up his wife - when her cries for help were answered by the next door neighbour. Unsuccessful in his attempts to pull the drug-crazed man away from his wife, the neighbour swiftly bent an iron poker on his skull. It was very effective, because when we arrived to collect him he was still unconscious. Doctors at Cardiff Royal Infirmary stitched his head wound and then on examining him, said he was suffering from the effects of hashish. In his pocket we found a packet of Indian hemp, which clinched the issue.

Uniformed policemen attacked by coloured men under the influence of hashish have found them a rare handful. One of the effects of the drug is to make the addict temporarily possessed of enormous strength; they also feel gay, happy and on top of the world.

With constant action by the police and Customs I am glad to say that most of the big drug rings were smashed some years ago. It is still smoked in Cardiff's dockland and there's no doubt that "reefers" are still being peddled around the streets. But compared with the immediate post-war craze the supply of the drug finding its way into the city is a mere trickle.

I am afraid that where West Indians are to be found so also will be found quantities of Indian hemp and the habit of smoking "reefers."