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The New York Times April 27, 1913
OPIUM DEGRADING THE FRENCH NAVY
M. Dorcieres's Revelations of
Conditions at Toulon and
Other Ports Shock France.
FEEBLE LAWS ARE BLAMED
Wide Extent of the Scourge Known to Authorities
Who Are Helpless to End the Evil.
Special Cable to The New York Times.
PARIS, April 26--- A great outcry has arisen throughout the country over the serious revelations made by the well-known writer and duelist, Rouzier Dorcieres, concerning the hold that opium smoking has obtained on the French Navy in Southern seaports.
The facts told by M. Dorcieres who went on a special mission for Le Matin, reveal a state of things which the Nation finds it difficult to realize namely, that "opium is poisoning our navy." He states that in Toulon alone, the chief naval port, there are no less than 163 opium dens. in the same town he has seen officers in the houses of accommodating hostesses smoking as many as eighty or one hundred pipes in a single evening.
"I have seen," he says, "the degrading traffic of dealers in the drug, who infest our "Mediterranean ports, in numberless deals, combinations, and calculations, and the loathsome influence of those who having already poisoned themselves in the colonies, continue the same process in France, and not alone, since these are officers in command with power to lead other human beings to ruin."
All along the Mediterranean, on both sides, he says, at Marseilles, Hyeres, and the Gulf of Juan, at Nice and Villafranca, at Ajaccio and Algiers, as well as at Toulon, and also at the Northern ports, flourishing opium dens are found with victims whose numbers are increasing with a rapidity that menaces the National life.
The police and civic authorities. it is stated, can do nothing. Under the present laws only dealing in opium is a penal offense. To smoke it, to induce others to smoke privately or for money, or to possess a large stock of the drug is perfectly legal.
"When one thinks," says Dorcieres, "that the Chinese Republic, by a new law, puts to death any person smoking opium in that country, and, we Frenchmen, who regard ourselves as the most intelligent and best policed Nation of the West, allow with folded arms French brains to be ruined by this drug, one is rendered speechless.
"A customs official can make a search in any house for a bottle of spirits that is undeclared, or for a smuggled 1-cent box of matches, but the French code is impotent before the importation of narcotics. Against opium, ether, morphine, hashish, and cocaine, manufactured and consumed indoors, nothing can be done. All the police are able to do is to arrest some waiter or messenger boy who is caught selling the stuff."
At Toulon, he says, a town which was formerly bright and happy, social life is rapidly coming to a standstill. The Mayor of the city says that it is no longer what it was.
"The whole outward life of the town seems to be dying. Trade and manufactures, fashion and luxury, all that goes to make the wealth of a city, have gone under in the crisis brought about by the introduction of opium. In place of the gayety which Toulon formerly possessed, under the influence of innumerable officers and soldiers returned from distant campaigns to enjoy themselves on French soil, there is now an alarming torpor and general uneasiness.
"Sailors who disembark nowadays shut themselves up in dens, which have more to do with the pathology of nervous diseases than our radiant climate and hospitable life."
M. Dorcieres points out as an extraordinary paradox that this terrible scourge is actually one of the principal State manufactures in France's greatest colony, Indo-China, where it is sold under a State guarantee as freely as tobacco is here and contributes more than one-sixth of the entire revenue of the country.
According to the latest figures, he says, the annual production of opium in that colony is over 260,000 pounds, bringing an average revenue of $2,102,000. Through smuggling, however, the consumption is, at least, double that shown by the official figures. M. Dorcieres says that the dens of Marseilles, Toulon, and other towns are supplied by a syndicate of smugglers, who even pay the fines of their agents when caught redhanded.
Owing to the strong public feeling in this matter, it is thought certain that the government will be compelled in a short time to take definite steps to penalize not only the traffic but the practice of opium smoking, together with the consumption of other drugs, now fashionable in the fast quarters of Paris.
Other authorities at Toulon are adding their testimony to that of the Mayor regarding the evil that is corrupting this leading French port. Admiral Beltue, the Maritime Prefect of the city, says that the effectiveness of the Navy as a national defense is menaced by the drug, and cost what it may, a curb must be put on the pernicious influence which is spreading through the younger portion of the navy.
He says he constantly receives reports of unabashed opium smoking on board ship, while most of the members of the training ship Jeanne d'Arc, which contaIns the pick of the cadets of the navy, are now habitual visitors to the Toulon opium dens. Meanwhile, he adds, the naval authorities are powerless to restrict the evil as long they are not backed by the law.
These views are indorsed by the Civil Sub-Prefect of Toulon, who, says that many times there has been brought to the attention of his superiors the terrible danger that menaces not only the naval and military, but also the civilian population. The sole remedy, he says, is an act of Parliament making it a penal offense to allow opium to be smoked in private homes.
The traffic which now goes on is so profitable to smugglers, he states, that the conviction of an occasional waiter or messenger who is discovered passing the forbidden drug has not the smallest effect on discouraging others in the same trade.
Deputy Charles de Bouce announces that on re-opening of Parliament he will interpellate the Minister of Marine as to what steps he purports "to take to wipe out the evil which threatens to make the habit of opium smoking contracted by officers general throughout the navy."
That not a moment may be lost, M. De Bouce is also preparing a bill which he hopes to rush through to stamp out the evil by making all who deal in opium, have it in their possession, or carry on smoking dens liable to two years imprisonment for the first and five for the second offense. The bill adds that when the offender is a civil, naval or military official conviction shall deprive him of his position.
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