Prohibition of alcohol came and went in the early 20th century.  In Canada liquor laws were under jurisdiction of the provincial government and lasted from 1900 to 1948 in Prince Edward Island, but for much shorter periods in other provinces.  In the US federal prohibition lasted 1919 to 1933.  Prohibition also caught on in other parts of the world:  Russia 1914-1925, Norway 1916-1927, Iran 1979-present.  Arab countries such as Saudi, Arabia, Qatar, Afghanistan, Libya, and Sudan currently prohibit import, sale and consumption of alcohol, with heavy penalties for offenders.


Temperance movements were the driving force behind prohibition worldwide.  The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was the largest and most powerful of these groups.  The WCTU had chapters throughout North America and had hundreds of thousands of members.  The main efforts prior to prohibition were suffrage and women’s rights (much like Emily Murphy).  There were many strong temperance groups in England as well dating back to 1835.  The British groups for some reason never succeeded in prohibiting alcohol.

During the first world war, while men were engaged in the war effort, the WCTU became a political force.  In 1919 the WCTU learned by a senate investigation that different Brewers associations gave money to anti-suffrage activities and they shifted their efforts towards alcohol.  The WCTU was among the first  organizations to keep a professional lobbyist in Washington, D. C.  In 1919 the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Volstead Act were passed.  The Volstead act had 3 purposes:

[1] to prohibit intoxicating beverages, [2] to regulate the manufacture, production, use and sale of high-proof spirits for other than beverage purposes, and [3] to insure an ample supply of alcohol and promote its use in scientific research and in the development of fuel, dye and other lawful industries.

The third point is very interesting.  Not only was alcohol allowed for research but it was insured to be in “ample supply”.  Under present-day law in the United States marijuana is listed under schedule 1 which means it has no medical value.  As a result virtually all public scientific research regarding marijuana is outlawed.

The law also said:

no person shall manufacture, sell, barter, transport, import, export, deliver, or furnish any intoxicating liquor except as authorized by this act.

Possession of alcohol was not prohibited by law which is very different from cannabis prohibition.  There were many similarities in prohibition’s effect though.  The once legal alcohol industry was soon taken over by criminal gangs.  The massive untaxed revenue flowed directly to the leaders of organized crime.  Gangsters like Al Capone made millions, he was rumoured to have made $60 million per year from alcohol sales in Chicago alone (that is equal to $9.5 billion today).  Corruption of police and politicians was everywhere.  A Michigan State Police raid on Detroit’s Deutsches Haus once netted the mayor, the sheriff, and the local congressman.  Gangs battled violently for a piece of the pie the same as drug gangs do today.

Public disrespect for the law became overwhelming as prohibition continued.  Prohibition in most of Canada ended before it did in the USA.  In Alberta prohibition lasted from 1916 to 1923 and bootlegging became a very profitable business.  The now ghost town of Whiskey Gap was a major bootleg route during prohibition.  During the Prohibition period in Alberta alcohol was smuggled through this area from the United States. Later it flowed in the opposite direction when the Americans declared Prohibition.  Many forts and bootleg routes are entrenched in our history as a nation.  Smugglers are often looked upon with respect and admiration for the ingenuity and risk involved.  Will future generations look the same way upon marijuana smugglers?

Crime rates soared under Prohibition as gangsters made millions of dollars on illegal alcohol sales, and corruption was rife among law enforcement agencies.  In a letter from 1932 John D. Rockefeller said:

When Prohibition was introduced, I hoped that it would be widely supported by public opinion and the day would soon come when the evil effects of alcohol would be recognized. I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe that this has not been the result. Instead, drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before.

In 1933 the Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed.  It essentially removed the 18th amendment and re-legalized alcohol.  Canadian provinces had almost all legalized by 1933 as well.  Alcohol was legalized because the public and the government recognized the problems of prohibition and decided to do something about it. There was no new science that said “Alcohol is OK” or anything like that.  People realized that legalization did nothing to curb alcohol use but put a massive dent in violent crime.

The problems of prohibition are still with us because of drug prohibition.  Marijuana prohibition is much worse.   Drug gangs make way too much money, millions of people have criminal records for possession, the pot market is out of public control and demand grows constantly.  Today’s public is shielded from these and other problems by propaganda.  The masses must un-learn the rhetoric and pay attention to the effects of the drug war or it will never stop.