Re: Marijuana and Vietnam

S. Graw (
Sat, 31 Aug 1996 22:58:55 -0400

John Baky wrote:
It was always my impression that the
>Vietnamese treated pot much like the French citizenry still treat wine and
>sex. The culture imposes regulations for use, sale, and protocol, but by
>and large it is a cultural given that commands no inherent sense of
>"illicitness" (SIN!) as is the case in the USA, Germany, Korea, Japan, and
>south American countries. The Vietnames seem to simply accept pot like
>alcohol is accepted in France and Italy. It was only when the American
>presence caused pot to become outrageously profitable and puritanically
>obsessed over by American status of force agreements that the indiginous
>acceptance that had existed became twisted into a characature of somebody
>else's concept of morality, legality, etc.

I've just returned after a month of interviewing farmers in the Mekong
Delta. John Baky's reflection on pot in Vietnam leads me to comment:
To my knowledge, marijuana use in the past did not suffer any
sanctions in Vietnamese culture. In fact, until at least 6 years ago one
could buy marijuana openly at the Dong Xuan market in Hanoi (most VNese
marijuana was grown in the north and central parts of the country and not in
the lowland delta areas). However, times change (John I'm sure unwittingly
does what so many of us tend to do: freeze VNese culture into a timeless,
unchanging, 'classic' form that at the least exoticizes that people) and
with it popular acceptance of a vice now widely (if erringly) perceived as a
public nuisance.
As Vietnam (its government and most of its people) have become
committed to fast, even violent economic development and "modernity," pot
smoking is now widely written of and spoken about as an impediment to
productivity and a symptom of sloth or social irresponsibility. The
government stringently applies narcotics laws against smokers and the
agricultural people I spoke with, while always snickering or smiling when I
raised the topic in a lighthearted way, invariably emphasized that grass is
now quite illegal.
I first noticed this trend in 1989 when several letters to the
editor in the newspaper "New Hanoi" complained about teenage smokers who
lazed around small alleys and had "bad attitudes." I'm sure anti-pot
sentiment has gotten worse since then. Moreover, in the eyes (and on
occasion, the experience) of the government, grass and other dope are
attractions to the backpacking "Dharma Bum" crowd, not exactly the types who
will book $100 a day rooms in new hotels built by Singapore and Taiwanese
The war is indeed over for the Vietnamese, just another case of
abortive foreign intervention for those few young Vietnamese who now
self-cultivate the 'classic' historical sense of the Vietnamese people. The
older generation in general decries the youth who know and care nothing
about the war(s). North Americans with memories must realize that, along
with the fact that most of what the people there fought for is now forgotten
in the world of policy makers. There are of course legacies of the colonial
and neo-colonial times in Vietnam, but I argue that they are not understood
today with the knowledges we carry from the time of the various pro and
anti-war movements.
Respectfully, steve graw
* From: Steve Graw
* at Cornell U./Field of Development Sociology *
* Warren 133B/ (607) 255-7684 *
* "What are we if not our memories?" *