Throughout the 19th century opium sent to China was one of British India’s most valuable exports. In 1797, Lord Cornwallis set up an official state agency that licensed peasant cultivators to grow poppy, process it, and export it to China via Calcutta.
So valuable had this trade become to British India by the 1830s that its threatened closure by the Qing government caused the British government to send ships and troops to attack Canton and other coastal cities in the First Opium War.
The British thereby forcibly prevented the Qing government from effectively ending the smuggling of Indian opium and its illegal sale to Chinese consumers. The Qing government’s refusal to legalize the sale of Opium was among the factors that led to the Second Opium War.
In 1893 a royal commission was issued to inquire into the results of using opium in India, and the possibility of prohibiting it. This commission examined many witnesses and finally reported in 1895.
The result was as follows:
The result of Opium use in India is much less harmful than it was supposed.
Opium rarely sends any criminal to the Jails, as Alcohol sends criminals to English Jails as a cause of crime and death in England. It is used by the holy saints of India.
Opium is not associated to any disease and it is widely used as a remedy in Malaria and Fever.
The result was that the Government happily accepted the recommendation of this commission and shelved the idea of imposing a ban on Opium.
A similar parliamentary commission was asked to inquire into the impact of Bhang, Ganja and other “desi” drugs and the commissions found that if Bhang and Ganja are prohibited, the consumption of alcohol will increase in India, and that would cause more problems for their subjects in India.
At that time, Opium was cultivated by only licensed cultivators and they were required to sell all of the produce to the Government, which used to “export” it. About 90 % of this Opium was sent to China and Government earned two third of the profit. Opium was rarely smoked in India but the people of Burma were used to living in Opium Smoker’s paradise.