The Surprising Extinction of the Charas Traffic


Charas is the name used in India for the crude resin of Cannabis, the most potent form of the natural drug.


Pages: 1 to 7
Creation Date: 1953/01/01


The Surprising Extinction of the Charas Traffic

Charas is the name used in India for the crude resin of Cannabis, the most potent form of the natural drug.

Although much has been written about the necessity of growing Cannabis or "Indian hemp" in a very hot or even a tropical climate if a high yield of resin is to be obtained, in fact charas was never a product of tropical India, but was imported into India from Sinkiang, the westernmost province of China, in Central Asia. The centre of the trade was at Yarkand, which is situated at about 38°North latitude, and charas was produced in this region, formerly known as Chinese Turkistan.

Three types of hemp drugs were used in India: bhang, ganja, and charas. 1Their use was stated to be largely "quasi-medical", as with opium. Almost all the charas, however, was consumed by smoking, and it is generally considered the worst and most addiction-forming of the hemp drugs. Formerly, the Government of India permitted the import of 70,000 kilogrammes annually. Today, this traffic does not exist. It was voluntarily destroyed by the provincial government of Sinkiang, in furtherance of the aims proclaimed by the Government of China to reduce the world traffic in narcotics used for addiction. This surprising development took place, to a great extent, during the war years and thus it passed almost completely unnoticed by the world at large. In fact, even the Government of China, occupied as it was with the war against the Japanese, and, so far as narcotics were concerned, with the struggle against opium, paid not the slightest attention, after 1935, to events concerning Cannabis in far-distant Sinkiang. The story after that date can only be traced through the annual reports of India.


1In the annual report of India for 1949, E/NR 1949/107/ Add.2, page 2, the following is stated:

"For all practical purposes, drug addiction in India means smoking of opium, consumption of Indian hemp in the form of charas, and the improper use of manufactured drugs Oral consumption of opium, and of Indian hemp in the relatively harmless form of bhang, has always been permitted; smoking of Indian hemp in the form of ganja is still permitted in many states Consumption of charas in India is now negligible. The indigeous hemp plants do not yield any substantial quantity of resin and imported supplies of charas from Central Asia have been stopped for some years. Manufactured drugs are, generally, too expensive to be extensively put to an improper use in India. All indigenous supplies are strictly controlled and there is no evidence to suggest that diversion to illicit use takes place on any substantial scale. Consumption of ganja is still permitted in some states, but all states have now decided progressively to restrict both the consumption of Indian hemp and the oral consumption of opium".

In 1932, the annual report of China stated : "Certain wild species of hemp were reported to be indigenous in the province of Sinkiang, where the leaves of the plant are sometimes smoked by the aboriginal tribes". In 1933, the report stated: "the result of analysis by the National Health Administration indicated that the wild species of hemp indigenous in the province of Sinkiang and Cannabis indica were homogenous. Indian hemp was, after the publication of this result, included in the list of narcotic drugs and hence controlled in strict accordance with the regulations governing narcotic drugs".

In 1934, the annual report of China stated: "since Indian hemp was listed under narcotic drugs, as referred to in the report for 1933, no import certificate nor export permit for this drug was issued by the Chinese Government during the year under review". In 1935, the report stated: "Indian hemp. Only a very small quantity is grown in Sinkiang. (On each leaf, there is a coat of velvet-like substance which is scraped off, mixed with tobacco, and used by the Natives.) In 1934, the Chinese Government issued circular instructions to the provinces and municipalities for the suppression of Indian hemp".

This meagre information, which does not even mention the extensive cultivation in Sinkiang and the legal exportation of thousands of kilogrammes of charas annually to India, is all that can be gleaned from the annual reports of China. It is evident, however, that the prohibition of the export of charas, which was soon mentioned in the annual report of India, was pursuant to instructions of the Government of China of that time, and was undertaken by the Provincial Government of Sinkiang in 1934, although the full effect did not even begin to be felt for several years.

The decision of the Chinese to end this trade was a most surprising one, for not only was this action not requested by the Government of India (at least so far as the record shows), but also the trade was entirely legal under the Conventions, and that for three different reasons:

  1. The 1931 Convention, to which China acceded in 1933, did not control Cannabis (Indian hemp).

  2. China was not a party to the 1925 Convention, the only one which did control Indian hemp and its product, charas.

  3. Even if China had been a party to the 1925 Convention or wished to observe its provisions, the relevant provision (article 11, 1 (a)) merely required that "the Contracting Parties undertake: (a) to prohibit the export of the resin obtained from Indian hemp and the ordinary preparations of which the resin forms the base (such as hashish, esrar, chiras, djamba) to countries which have prohibited their use, and, in cases where export is permitted, to require the production of a special import certificate issued by the government of the importing country stating that the importation is approved for the purposes specified in the certificate and that the resin or preparations will not be re-exported". Since the Government of India had not prohibited the use of charas and, in fact, continued to use it as long as it was available, no necessity existed in the Convention to prohibit the trade. The prohibition was, however, in furtherance of the aim of the Government of China, to reduce, as far as possible, the world-traffic in narcotics used for addiction.

In taking up the story from the annual reports of India, it will be best to go back a number of years and see what the situation had been.

For 1923, India reported:

"The use of the hemp drugs is mainly an internal problem, though there is also known to be an illicit market for the drugs in Egypt. The plant grows wild in India and the use of the drugs for their narcotic effect is based upon long tradition that has been traced back as fas as the Vedas. The consumption of the drugs is controlled on lines very similar to those applied to opium. There is no government factory, but cultivation of the plant and the collection of the wild product are governed by the issue of licences. The drugs are stored after collection in government depots and issued to licensed vendors under conditions closely analogous to those under which opium shopkeepers work. The preparations known as bhang and ganja are made from the native product (bhang is the liquid strained off mature leaves and ganja consists of the female flowering tops with the resinous exudation on these). In addition to these two forms, another preparation known as charas is imported from Central Asia (Yarkand). This is a resinous substance which appears upon the leaves, young twigs, bark of the stem and even young fruits of the plant in cold climates. These imports are controlled as closely as the native production, a special warehouse having been established at Leh in which they are deposited and from which they are distributed."

The definition of bhang in the foregoing paragraph was soon changed to refer to the leaves of the plant (Cannabis sativa) rather than the beverage which is sometimes prepared from them. 2

The consumption of charas, in 1923, was reported for "British India" as 1,432 maunds (53,554 kilogrammes). In 1925 only 505 maunds were reported, but figures were not available for the United Provinces and Delhi, where 1,010 maunds had been consumed in 1923. In 1926 the consumption was 58,322 kilogrammes. This seems to have been the first printed report, and the first to give figures for the Indian States. Consumption in the Indian States amounted to 15,445 kilogrammes; thus the total consumption for India was 73,767kilogrammes.

Besides this large legal consumption, there was a considerable smuggling trade in charas, also originating in Chinese Turkistan. The 1926 annual report stated:

"With a view to stop the smuggling of charas from Central Asia via Chitral, a warehouse has been established at Chitral and the preventive staff on the North West Frontier Province has been strengthened."

In 1927 the consumption in British India was 43,595 kilogrammes, in 1928 it was 45,995 kilogrammes, and 56,510 kilogrammes in 1929.

The annual report for 1928 stated:

"The Government of India consulted the local governments as regards the desirability and practicability of prohibiting the import, possession and sale of charas in India, and their views were awaited. With a view to suppressing the wholesale illicit import of the drug into India, duty thereon has been reduced from Rs. 60 to Rs. 20 per seer in the Punjab, Baluchistan, the North West Frontier Province and Delhi. The Excise Staff in Baluchistan was also strengthened, with a view to exercising more effective control over the smuggling of opium and charas from across the foreign territories."

The annual report for 1930 gave the following information about the hemp drugs:

"The narcotic products of the hemp plant used in India are ganja, charas and bhang. Ganja and bhang are eaten as well as drunk. The former is also smoked. Charas, if medicinal uses be excepted, is almost always smoked. The simplest method of consuming ganja and bhang is to pound them with certain spices, and then swallow the paste in the form of a bolus. The green leaves of the plant are not usually chewed anywhere. Ganja and bhang are also consumed in the form of sweetmeats."


In the annual report of India for 1949, E/NR.1949/107/Add.2, page 11, the following is stated:

"Ganja includes the dry flowering tops of the female plant which have become coated with resin This form is usually consumed by smoking in a country-made pipe. Bhang denotes the leaves and flowering shoots, whether green or dried, generally prepared for consumption by pounding with sugar and spices to produce an ingredient of drinks or sweetmeats"

This report also mentioned the fact that "despite the vigorous efforts of the Excise and Police Departments, some smuggling of contraband charas from Chinese Turkistan (via Chitral) continues". Consumption amounted to 58,475 kilogrammes. This report also gave figures for imports:

"The only preparation of the hemp plant imported from abroad is charas. It is imported from Central Asia (Yarkand), under a transport-in-bond pass granted by the British Joint Commissioner at Leh, by persons licensed by the Punjab Government. Charas is also imported from Central Asia via Chitral. The quantity of the drug imported into the Punjab from the charas warehouse at Ley during the calendar year 1930 was 1,976 maunds 271/2 seers. Besides this quantity, 334 maunds 17 seers were imported in bond from Chitral into Punjab, and 134 maunds 13 seers into Peshawar (North West Frontier Province)."

The total imports were therefore 91,471 kilogrammes of charas.

In 1931 the total imports were 97,949 kilogrammes, while reported consumption in British India was 52,458 kilogrammes and in the Indian States 15,084 kilogrammes; total consumption, 67,542 kilogrammes.

In 1932, apparently the last report to state the imports, they were given as 1,668 maunds 16 seers-a drop to 62,380 kilogrammes imported. The consumption in British India was 51,721 kilogrammes.

The annual report for 1932 had this to say about the smuggling problem and the illegal traffic:

"There is a considerable amount of smuggling of charas across the Peshawar border and through the Kohat Pass. Smuggling of charas from Chinese Turkestan constitutes a serious problem and the only effective means of suppressing the traffic appears to be the assumption of complete control over the production of charas by the Chinese authorities."

The annual report for 1933 added:

"Charas smuggling in the Central Provinces continued unabated, Nagpur and Jubbulpore being the chief centres of consumption and distribution to other districts. The Punjab Government is still maintaining a special staff of excise officials in order to intercept the passage of Charas from Afghanistan and the North West Frontier Province towards the United Provinces and other adjacent parts of India."

Consumption in British India, in 1933, was 53,732 kilogrammes, and in the Indian states 20,448 kilogrammes: total consumption, 74,220 kilogrammes.

The foregoing reviews the situation up to the eve of the decision by the Chinese authorities to end the traffic, licit as well as illicit. As will be remembered, this apperantly took place in 1934.

The annual report of India for 1934 had a great deal to say about charas smuggling. The following was given in the chapter on illicit traffic:

"Charas,cocaine and opium are the principal articles of smuggling. Charas is smuggled into India from across the Peshawar border by trans-border Pathans or through the Tribal Territory in Kohat Pass. The drug is obtained by the traffickers from Kashgar in Chinese Turkistan. Distribution of illicit charas is centred in Bajaur (Tribal Territory) whither it is conveyed from Chinese Turkistan through Afghan territory. The smuggling of charas for consumption in the Punjab has considerably decreased since the reduction in duty to Rs. 20 a seer. The illicit through traffic in charas, however, still continues unabated. The imports of contraband charas into the North West Frontier Province appear to have decreased during the year. This is presumably due to the disturbances in Central Asia. But it is believed that stocks of illicit charas are still abundant in the vicinity of the external border of British India.

"Inter-provincial smuggling. The prohibition of charas consumption in certain areas and large variations in duty on charas in various provinces have stimulated inter-provincial smuggling of charas. Local governments are taking action in the matter by strengthening their preventive staffs or by allowing the use of the drug or by reducing the rate of duty on the drug. In order to discourage charas smuggling, two charas shops have been opened in the Central Provinces, one at Nagpur and one at Jubbulpore, from 1 January 1935, after the prohibition of the drug had been maintained for a period of about 91/2 years.

"((Illicit) charas is usually adulterated with foreign matter to the extent of about 20 to 25 per cent. Tobacco and catechu are frequently added to charas and opium, respectively, to increase the weight.)"

The illicit charas sold at Rs. 10 to 120 per seer wholesale, Rs. 26 to 300 per seer retail.

In other parts of the annual report for 1934 there was some further discussion of the smuggling:

"Smuggling of charas from Chinese Turkistan (though slightly slackened in the latter half of 1934 owing to the disturbed conditions prevailing in the tract between Chitral and Yarkand)... constitutes a serious problem and unless stricter control is exercised over the production of drugs in those areas it is difficult to suppress illicit traffic in them... Most of the charas stocks that had been held up by the smugglers in the Khyber and Kohat Passes owing to the preventive measures adopted by the Government of the North West Frontier Province, deteriorated by lapse of time, and information was received in the N.W.F.P. Excise Intelligence Bureau that the Tribal Territory smugglers had mixed fat, linseed oil and flesh leaves of bhang with their old stocks of charas ,so as to make it marketable by restoring its smell and oily greenish appearance. The illicit charas recovered recently in many cases was found to be of inferior quality."

The consumption of charas in 1934, in British India, was 55,128 kilogrammes, and a stock of 3,286 kilogrammes was reported. The consumption in the Indian States was 27,865 kilogrammes: total consumption 82,993 kilogrammes

In the annual report for 1935 it was stated under "International Co-operation":

"The traffic in contraband charas has somewhat declined owing to the prohibition of its export from Chinese Turkistan."

However, aside from this one sentence, there was nothing in the report to show any decline in the traffic. New rules were set up to control it, consumption remained at about the same level as before, and smuggling continued.

"The Central Charas (Import by Land) Rules, 1935, made under Section 7 (2) of the Dangerous Drugs Act, 1930, were finally notified and brought into force from 1 October 1935. The object and scope of these rules is to control the import of charas by land into British India. They supersede regulations which were made under local laws before the passing of the Dangerous Drugs Act. The import can be effected only by certain prescribed routes and also under authorizations granted by officers empowered in this behalf."

"Central Provinces. The sale of charas, which had been forbidden since 1925, was once more licensed and the limit of individual possession was fixed at half a tola. The reason for once more legalizing the sale of charas in the Central Provinces was the considerable increase in offences of smuggling of the drug into this province since the year 1930."

"North West Frontier Province In order to check the smuggling of charas, fifteen excise detectives were engaged with effect from 1 April 1935-as an experimental measure for one year-with satisfactory results."

The consumption was 50,342 kilogrammes in British India, and a stock of 8,576 kilogrammes was reported. The consumption in the Indian States was 22,041 kilogrammes: total consumption 72,383 kilogrammes.

The chapter of the annual report for 1935 on illicit traffic mentioned that, for the first time, "the garda charas, which was of inferior quality, was also smuggled from Gardez, in Afghanistan".

The annual report for 1936 stated:

"The Chinese authorities announced their intention to prohibit the cultivation in and export from Yarkand of charas. The Punjab Government had therefore to take special steps to control the issue of charas from their bonded warehouses to other provinces and Indian States. It was decided to issue charas to all consuming areas including the Punjab on the basis of the average monthly consumption during 1934-35. For the Patiala, Nabha and Sind states the supplies were based on the average monthly consumption of 1932-33."

The significance of the announcement of the Chinese authorities in 1936 is not entirely clear. Perhaps the prohibition of cultivation was carried out in stages. It was still a few years before this prohibition had any effect on the licit consumption in India. If the prohibition was not carried out by degrees, it is a mystery where all the supplies of charas were coming from, as no large stocks were reported.

The annual report of India for 1936 also stated: "The imports of contraband charas into the Punjab and the North West Frontier Province have diminished to a great extent on account of the prohibition imposed by the Chinese Government on cultivation of hemp plant in Central Asia and export of charas".

Consumption in British India was still 51,884 kilogrammes and the stock was 7,991 kilogrammes. Consumption in the Indian States was 20,799 kilogrammes; thus the total consumption in India, in 1936, was 72,683 kilogrammes.

In 1937 conditions continued to be much the same. The stock of charas in British India at the end of the year was 30,367 kilogrammes. Consumption in British India was 59,800 kilogrammes, in the Indian States 22,254 kilogrammes, total 82,054 kilogrammes. Illicit charas was priced at Rs. 20 to 80 per seer wholesale, Rs. 30 to 180 per seer retail.

By 1938 the supply of charas available to the illicit traffic had nearly ceased. The annual report stated: "The smuggling of charas from Central Asia has largely ceased owing to the prohibition imposed by the Chinese Government. but its illegal import continued out of the stocks of charas previously stored by smugglers of Tribal Territory". Another part of the report stated, however, that "trade in charas on a large scale has ceased and smugglers have diverted their attention towards illicit traffic in opium which is smuggled from Afghanistan and the adjoining trans-Indian Tribal Territory". Illicit charas was priced at Rs. 25 to 100 per seer wholesale, Rs. 50 to 240 per seer retail.

The stock of charas in British India was 808 kilogrammes. Consumption in British India was 50,431 kilogrammes, in the Indian States 19,835 kilogrammes: total consumption, 70,266 kilogrammes for 1938.

In 1939, for the first time, the licit consumption of charas was substantially affected by the shortage of supply. There was, however, still some smuggling. Under "Inter-provincial smuggling" the annual report stated, "the smuggling of charas from the North West Frontier Province and the Punjab received a set-back, partly as a result of difficulties in obtaining supplies from Chinese Turkistan, which is the main source of supply. The prohibition of charas consumption in certain provinces and the disparity in the prices prevailing in the Punjab and other provinces still make smuggling attractive. An increase in the duty on charas in the United Provinces and its total prohibition in the Central Provinces led to the smuggling of charas from the Indian States and the North West Frontier Province to these provinces". Prices had apparently not risen to any great extent; they were Rs. 30 to 150 per seer wholesale, Rs. 40 to 240 per seer retail.

The stock in British India at the end of the year was 3,798 kilogrammes. The consumption in British India was 33,884 kilogrammes, in the Indian States 14,024 kilogrammes: total consumption, 47,908 kilogrammes.

For 1940, the annual report stated, "the trade in contraband charas has almost entirely ceased owing to the prohibition of its export from Chinese Turkistan". The licit consumption in British India was now down to 25,582 kilogrammes.

The stock in British India was 6,164 kilogrammes. Reported consumption in the Indian States was up a little from the year before, to 15,367 kilogrammes: total consumption for India, 40,949 kilogrammes.

The annual report for the Indian States, consolidated for the years 1938, 1939, and 1940, included the following note:

"Charas.This drug was not much in demand and whatever quantity was consumed was obtained mostly from the warehouses in British India. The question of manufacturing the drug in Kashmir State, on account of the prohibition imposed by the Chinese Government on exports from Yarkand, was under consideration of the State Government during the year 1940."

The annual report for the Indian States for 1941 stated that manufacture of charas was under the consideration of the State Government of Kashmir during 1941 also. Consumption in British India was now down to 22,473 kilogrammes, but in the Indian States it was up to 18,203 kilogrammes: total consumption, 40,676 kilogrammes. The stock in British India at the end of 1941 was 4,683 kilogrammes.

The annual report for 1941 had the following to say concerning smuggling: "There was no smuggling of fresh illicit charas. A few cases of smuggling of garda charas of inferior quality from the Tribal Territory were detected during the year". A little inter-provincial smuggling continued from existing stocks. Prices apparently were not up to any extent-Rs. 35 to 130 per seer wholesale, Rs. 60 to 400 per seer retail-but the illicit charas was more than ever adulterated. "Charas was usually mixed with bhang made into paste to the extent of 50 per cent."

The annual report for 1942 had a number of interesting items. First concerning the illicit traffic:

"The illicit import of charas has practically ceased, though a few cases of smuggling of garda charas (which is of inferior quality) from Tribal Territory into the North West Frontier Province were detected during the year.

"Small but heavily adulterated quantities (of charas) are reported to be coming from the Afghan border... Tobacco, catechu, bhang, honey, (are the chief adulterating ingredients used) in the case of charas.

"The illicit import of ganja from Nepal continues and is on the increase on account of its cheapness. Charas not being available the smugglers have directed their attention more towards ganja."

Under "Raw materials" (i.e., in regard to the licit charas) it was stated, "Supplies of the drug have now ceased". Under "Administration": "Owing to stoppage of supplies from Central Asia, little charas was available during the year and as a result certain addicts have taken to opium and ganja".

The stock of charas in British India was 2,717kilogrammes at the end of the year. The consumption was 11,891 kilograrmmes in British India, 8,145 kilogrammes in the Indian States: total consumption 20,036 kilogrammes.

The report for the Indian States contained the statement: "CharasSince the stoppage of supply of this drug from Central Asia the demand for the drug has gone down and whatever quantity was required for consumption was obtained from warehouses in British India".

The 1943 annual report contained much the same information on illicit traffic as that of 1942. Illicit prices were given as Rs 25 to 250 per seer wholesale and Rs. 65 to 360 per seer retail and were said to be generally a little higher. Legitimate charas consumption was now down to 2,924 kilogrammes in British India, but ganja consumption had gone up from 151,225 kilogrammes in the preceding year to 212,764 kilogrammes, an increase of 61,539 kilogrammes; and bhang consumption had gone up from 274,414 kilogrammes in the preceding year to 343,657 kilogrammes, an increase of 69,243 kilogrammes. These were the first great increases since 1937 for either ganja or bhang, although the decline of charas consumption in British India had begun in 1939. As regards the quantities, it will be realized that ganja is less potent than charas and bhang very much less. 3 The stock of charas at the end of 1943 was 280 kilogrammes.

For 1944, the annual report stated: "Illicit import of charas from Chinese Turkistan has also completely stopped, on account of the reported stoppage of its production there. Garda charas (charas of an inferior quality) however continued to be smuggled, on a fairly extensive scale, into the North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan from Afghanistan and Tribal Territory where it is produced or stored after having been brought from the place of production, viz,Gardez in Afghanistan." The prices were said to be Rs. 75 to 350 per seer wholesale, Rs. 90 to 735 per seer retail.

The consumption of charas in British India was now only 565 kilogrammes and the stock at the close of the year was 105 kilogrammes. The consumption of ganja decreased just a little from the preceding year, but that of bhang again increased greatly to 439,216 kilogrammes, an increase of more than 100,000 kilogrammes.

The last year of licit consumption of charas, in India, was 1945. In fact the consumption was only 49 kilogrammes and the stock at the end of the year was nil. Ganja consumption had apparently about levelled off, but bhang consumption again showed a large increase, to 524,377 kilogrammes.

Under "Illicit traffic" the annual report for 1945 mentioned: "Garda charas. This inferior quality of charas is prepared by various artificial means from the hemp plant growing wild in mountainous regions... Cases of smuggling (it) into the North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan from Gardez in Afghanistan were quite common during the year. Some Nepali charas was also illicitly imported from the United Provinces."


3 See footnote on page 1.

In 1946 there was no longer any licit consumption of charas in British India, and the consumption of bhang dropped to about that of 1944, while the consumption of ganja remained nearly the same.

Charas consumption lingered a little longer in some of the Indian States. In 1946 it was only 146 kilogrammes; in 1947 it was 76 kilogrammes but 54 kilogrammes of this was produced locally in Indore State The production of charas in the Indian States was prohibited, and in 1948 the consumption was completely negligible·

The traffic in charas was extinct.

The following table shows the consumption of charas, ganja, and bhang in British India from 1934 to 1946; the decline of charas from 1938 to 1946; and the rise in consumption of ganja and bhang towards the end of that period.


In kilogrammes





1934 55,128 150,381 279,146
1935 50,342 150,680 207,950
1936 51,884 155,083 206,967
1937 59,800 165,752 291,637
1938 50,431 147,897 274,841
1939 33,884 133,056 253,986
1940 25,582 141,882 244,603
1941 22,473 140,948 260,047
1942 11,891 151,225 274,414
1943 2,924 212,764 343,657
1944 565 203,684 439,216
1945 49 228,847 524,377
1946 0 214,660 433,630

India and Pakistan became independent in 1947, and both prohibit traffic in charas. There is still a little inferior charas smuggled into India from Afghanistan and Nepal, but it seems fair to say that the great charas traffic is now extinct.

Consumption of bhang and ganja in British India. and of charas in British India and in the Indian States, 1923-1947

Full size image: 78 kB, Consumption of bhang and ganja in British India. and of charas in British India and in the IndianStates, 1923-1947

(Note:the graphs for bhang and ganja are not on the same scale as those for charas nor do they have the same zero point The scale are such that 50,000 kg for charas, corresponds to 150,000 kg. for ganja and 250,000 kg. for bhang. In order, however, to separate the graphs, the zero points for ganja and bhang are raised above that for charas. Thus the graphs for bhang and ganja chiefly indicate their relative rise and fall as compared to charas)