Beginning with Pedro Quadrado, a sixteenth-century encomendero who claimed to be the first to undertake the cultivation of cannabis in New Spain, Isaac Campos traces the history of marijuana cultivation and consumption in Mexico from the colonial period to 1920 when the victors of the Revolution issued a nationwide prohibition in a legislative measure titled "Dispositions on the Cultivation and Commerce of Products that Degenerate the Race."
After opening with a thorough review of the complex and often-contradictory medical evidence on marijuana, Campos goes on to stress the importance of historical settings in influencing the impact of marijuana consumption on human behavior. His approach reminds one of the emphasis on mentalités characteristic of the Annales school. From the outset, Campos asks what validity, if any, can be found in the Mexican press reports of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century criminal mayhem due to marijuana consumption. Not atypical was the 1898 report in the Mexico City daily El Imparcial that "furious madmen and criminals" along with "the murderer, the rapist, the insubordinate, the presumed suicide, and the scandalous acted under the influence of marijuana" to disturb the public order (pp. 2-3). To the early twenty-first century ear, such reportage sounds ludicrous and would appear to be simply a reflexive denigration by the elite of the subaltern classes in an age of social Darwinism and rapid urbanization.
Yet Campos regards this as only a partial answer at best. He finds that by the eighteenth century the non-Mexican origins of cannabis had been largely forgotten, replaced by its misidentification as an indigenous cultivation associated with deviant religious practice. [End Page 120] In the mid nineteenth century, a new generation of Mexican botanists, nationalist in outlook and deeply interested in the products of their country's soil, added a presumed scientific veneer to this error. One botanical observer, Crescencio García, even claimed that the ancient Aztecs had employed marijuana to anesthetize victims of human sacrifice. Marijuana mistakenly became known as a typically Mexican plant, even appearing in the nation's botanical exhibits at the 1855 Paris and 1876 Philadelphia world's fairs. Although during the latter part of the century marijuana received far less press coverage than alcohol or other elements associated with vice, lurid journalistic accounts repeatedly emphasized its presumed public dangers. Stories of marihuanos engaging in nefarious behavior repeated common narrative lines in which smoking produced uncontrollable madness and sudden bouts of extreme violence. As Campos notes, from its origins as "an industrial fiber symbolizing European imperial expansion, cannabis had been transformed by the dawn of the twentieth century into a quintessentially indigenous, and putatively dangerous, Mexican drug plant" (pp. 3-4).
How could this transformation have taken place, Campos asks, without any challenge? The key to explaining the absence of any counter discourse, he finds, lies in the convergence of the scientific opinion of the age with popular attitudes. Mexican scholars relied on European suppositions, rife with Orientalism, about marijuana. Marijuana fit right into the local well-established social attitudes about the evil effects of alcohol. Campos reproduces several prints from José Guadalupe Posada, using their powerful depictions of the madness, violence, and family destruction associated with alcohol and marijuana to illustrate popular views.
Little divergence existed between popular and elite attitudes toward marijuana and its propagation of vice in locations of ill hygiene, violence, and injustice—army barracks and prisons in particular. Indigenous villagers and low-caste herbolarias of the city markets bore the responsibility of its cultivation and distribution. In an age in which thinkers worried about "racial stock," the concept of "degeneration" saturated social thought. Lower-class urban marihuanos contributed to the "considerable anxiety that the fundamental, almost Oriental nature of the Mexican population might undermine modern progress" (p. 154).
Were the reported outbursts of marijuana-fueled madness and violence simply fantasies stemming from attitudes of the age? Mexican medical research during the Porfiriato did at times temper popular stereotypes...