Archaeology Odyssey 2:1, Winter 1999

Opium for the Masses

How the ancients got high

By Robert S. Merrillees

The King David Hotel in Jerusalem has witnessed many historical scenes, some violent, others diplomatic. One of the more curious incidents took place in April 1974, when a security guard accompanying U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on an official visit to Israel happened to look out a window of the hotel; a former customs officer, he was surprised to see familiar, exotic blooms down in the garden below. On closer inspection he confirmed that the flowers were opium poppies, whose cultivation in Israel was and is strictly forbidden. Although the poppies posed no threat to his distinguished charge, the security guard alerted local authorities, who discovered that hotel gardeners were cultivating poppies and selling opium on the side—confident that no one could possibly imagine the gardens of the illustrious King David Hotel as an opium field.

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