Read the rest of the articles in the The History of Cannabis in Canada series.
Cannabis wasn’t smoked much in Canada during the early 1900s, but extracts and elixirs were widely used and sold at pharmacies as treatment for many ailments.
Cannabis smoking was more widespread in the US, mostly among Mexican immigrants and the black population. By 1922, ten American states had banned cannabis, mainly so they could harass and deport the Mexicans and other ethnic minorities who used it.
One of the loudest voices to fan the flames of drug panic and racial fear in Canada was Emily Murphy, who wrote for Maclean’s magazine under the patriotic pen name “Janey Canuck.” Her columns were compiled into a book called The Black Candle.
Murphy’s writings portrayed opium and marijuana as tools used by Chinese and blacks to snare white women and dominate the white race.
Emily Murphy was Canada’s first female police magistrate judge, and an ardent supporter of forced sterilization for genetically inferior women. She used overblown fears of opium and cannabis to promote racial hatred.
In one chapter of the Black Candle, she quotes a Los Angeles chief of police explaining the effects of cannabis:
“Persons using this narcotic smoke the dry leaves of the plant … Which has the effect of driving them completely insane!”
“The addict loses all sense of moral responsibility. Addicts under this drug’s influence are immune to pain, and could be seriously injured without having any realization of their condition.”
“While in this condition, they become raving maniacs, and are liable to kill or indulge in any form of violence to other persons, using the most savage methods of cruelty.”
“When under the influence of this narcotic, these victims present the most horrible conditions imaginable. They are dispossessed of their normal willpower, and their mentality is that of idiots. If this drug is indulged to any great etxent, it ends in the untimely death of the addict!”
White Fear of Racial Domination
Although it was originally the British who had forced China to buy their opium through military might, Emily Murphy reversed history and claimed that it was the Chinese who were trying to force opium onto Europeans.
Murphy also blamed blacks for using cannabis and jazz music to seduce and enslave white women. She helped popularize the new word “marijuana” which portrayed cannabis as something Mexican and foreign. Many people didn’t realize this was the same plant as cannabis and hemp.
Emily Murphy claimed that opium and marijuana were being pushed onto whites by Chinese and blacks as part of their secret plan to take over the world.
“An addict who died this year told how he was jeered at as a ‘white man accounted for.’ The Chinese pedlars taunted him with their superiority at being able to sell the dope without using it, and by telling him how the yellow race would rule the world. They would strike at the white race through dope and when the time was ripe they would command the world.”
“Some of the Negroes coming into Canada – and they are no fiddle-faddle fellows either, have similar ideas, and one of their greatest writers has boasted how ultimately they will control the white men.”
These same themes of Chinese and blacks dominating the white race with opium and marijuana were also regularly repeated by major campaigns in newspapers across Canada. A popular novel called The Writing on the Wall told the story of wealthy whites who became drug addicts and were driven to help their Chinese masters to take control of Canada.
When The Black Candle was released in 1922, its sole purpose was to arouse public opinion and pressure the government into creating stricter drug laws. The RCMP used this racial fear and panic to increase its power, along with making cannabis use illegal under the name “marihuana” in the Opium and Narcotic Act of 1923.