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Colonial Cases

Opium Smuggling [1878]

[smuggling, opium]

Opium Smuggling

Consular Court, Japan

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald, 31 August 1878


The Tokio Times reports the following case: - A dealer in drugs attempted to introduce twenty catties - that is, about 27 lbs. weight of opium into Yokohama, concealed in a case which was entered at the Customs as containing scurvy grass and cochineal. The Japanese discovered the opium, and prosecuted the importer in the British Consular Court for an offence against a regulation of the treaty between Japan and Great Britain which provides that

"the importation of opium being prohibited, any British vessel coming to Japan for the purpose of trade and having more than three catties weight of opium on board, the surplus quantity may be seized and destroyed by the Japanese authorities, and any person or persons smuggling or attempting to smuggle opium shall be liable to pay a fine of 15 dollars for each catty of opium so smuggled or attempted to be smuggled."

It was pleaded for the defence that the object of the treaty was to protect Japan against opium smuggling; that opium prepared for smoking is different from that used in medicine, and that the smuggled opium was medicinal.  The Judge, Mr. Wilkinson, accepted this plea.  "Smoking opium," is, he held, one thing, medicinal opium another.  The treaty, not specifying which is meant, must be interpreted according to the well-known intent of its authors.  Therefore medicinal opium is not alluded to in the treaty, and on this ground the Judge dismissed the case.

The Society  for the Suppression of the Opium Trade say that evidence was tendered in Court, that the difference between smoking opium and medicinal opium is in form rather than in substance, and that medicinal opium could easily be prepared for the pipe.  They add that the decision given is am alarming one, because if it is confirmed, the whole value of the treaty regulation which excludes opium from Japan, will be annihilated.  The case has been brought to the attention of the Marquis of Salisbury by the society, and his lordship has replied that her Majesty's Minister in Japan will be instructed to report on the subject.

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School