We have covered the topic of Greece with interest over the last year here at DOPE Magazine, and in June of 2017 we were the first to break the news (in English) of the legalization of medicinal cannabis in this Southern European nation. Now, we will take you on a journey back to Greece at the turn of the 20th century, to tell you a surprising tale of a half-forgotten history—the golden years of Greek hashish.
The Land of Hash
From several key sources, we know that Greece had a thriving trade in hashish from the mid-19th to the early 20th centuries. One important source of information comes from the writings of the infamous French adventurer and smuggler, Henry de Monfreid, in his 1933 book La Croisière du Hachich (published in English in 1935 as Hashish: A Smuggler’s Tale).
De Monfreid goes into remarkably rich detail regarding the hashish industry in Arcadia, a small and unspoiled corner of southern Greece whose history and mythology stretches back to the long-distant past. He recounts the details of a journey made to the town of Steno, an hour east of the city of Tripoli, which is capital of both the regional unit of Arcadia and the wider Peloponnese region:
“All the farms in this district prepared hashish; it was their chief industry. Each estate had its brand, quoted on the market, and there were good and bad years, exactly as for wines.”
De Monfreid describes the procedure for buying hashish in Steno, as well as providing detailed descriptions of how the farmers of Arcadia grew the cannabis and made the hashish:
“In the middle of the room was a sort of table consisting of a very fine metal sieve set up on four legs. On it the hashish was being thrown in spadefuls . . . Women with their heads swathed in handkerchiefs were spreading out and sifting the powder.”
This process is remarkably close to the methods still employed by the majority of hashish producers in Morocco’s Rif Mountains today—as is the method of bagging, stamping and pressing of the hashish into blocks:
“Madame Petros was sitting before a sewing-machine, feverishly running up little white linen bags. These she passed to a woman who stamped an elephant on them with a rubber stamp. She . . . filled them, weighed them with great care, and finally tied them up. They were then put in neat piles into a great press . . . a muscular workman tightened the vice and the sacks flattened out slowly until they were like square pancakes four centimetres thick.”
From De Monfreid’s descriptions, the cultivation of cannabis was done according to strict principles:
“The fields in which the hemp grows are carefully weeded and all the male plants are pulled out. The female plants which remain cannot therefore bear seeds, and the result is that the leaves become fully charged with a resinous matter. The secretion of this sticky substance is further increased by breaking off the tops of the plants as they grow.”
It is thought that the climate of this region in Greece is particularly conducive to the cultivation of fine-quality cannabis, especially in the mountains, which enjoy abundant rainfall, hot, dry days and cold, clear nights. This combination of hot days and cold nights is well-known in growing circles to be ideal for maximizing the production of resin, so it is likely that the hashish produced in the region was indeed of very high quality.
De Monfreid’s accounts are corroborated by various other sources—here, an article written by the Greek news site Μηχανή του Χρόνου (“Time Machine”) goes into extensive detail about administrative practices related to cannabis (translated from Greek):
“In 1870, the laws of Arkadia and Argolida were favorable to the cultivation of eco-friendly cannabis and hemp. From the mid-19th century, Tripoli constituted a center for the cultivation and marketing of hashish.”
“Immigrants from the East, such as Egypt and Cyprus, taught the Orchomenos Municipality of Mantineia the methodology of its cultivation, by ministerial order . . . in 1904, the production in Mantineia was 5,000,000 oke. The hashish was exported to Egypt and the Middle East. Its reputation ranked it among the best in the world. Most seizures in Tunis, Tunisia, were stamped with seals from Greek factories.”
According to this source, the decline of the Greek hashish industry began in the 1920s, following pressure from the British—who may have pushed the issue either to reduce hashish consumption among the Egyptian workforce, or to pave the way for exports of Indian hashish to become dominant in the global market. At this point, India was a British colony, and Egypt had been occupied by British forces for several decades.
In 1925, a decree formally banned the trade for ten years; ten years later, the Greek dictator Metaxas was in power, and had already begun to crack down heavily on hashish use. In 1932, the trade was prohibited altogether.
The Greek hashish industry of the 19th and early 20th centuries was clearly one of remarkable sophistication and quality, and its eventual decline due to the spread of prohibition throughout the globe is undoubtedly a tragic loss for the international cannabis community.
Hope For Hash Is On The Horizon
However, the enthusiasm towards liberalization of cannabis laws occurring throughout much of the world is beginning to infect Greece as well, and there has been a series of positive legislative changes in recent years, with announcements on medicinal cannabis being only the latest developments.
With this in mind, perhaps it will not be so long before the workshops of Tripoli can open up once more, and Greece can resume its place as one of the world’s foremost producers of fine-quality cannabis and hashish.
 One oka equated to around 1.282kg, so 5 million oke would equate to 6.41 million kg (6,410 metric tons).