week’s meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in
Vienna once again displayed a depressing intransigence about
global drug policy reform. Canada, a willing partner in this
futile process of criminalizing increasing
numbers of drugs, shows little sign of questioning
the profound damage that prohibition is doing to us and the
world around us.
prohibition? Surely that is sacrilege, you might protest. After
all, almost every Canadian alive today has grown up with cannabis,
heroin, cocaine and a host of other drugs prohibited by the
criminal law. But prohibition is really a brief historical aberration
in Canada – and in most western countries. It’s
too bad that Canadians have such a short collective memory.
years ago heroin, cocaine and marijuana were all perfectly legal
in Canada. There was no dramatic problem with their misuse.
Those unfortunate enough to be dependent could easily obtain
a legal and relatively inexpensive supply. There was no need
to turn to organized crime or spend vast sums for a supply.
There was no violence associated with the trade. Dangerous grow-ops
did not exist.
the late 19th Century, the famed Mariani Wine, praised by Pope
Pius X and William McKinley, President of the United States,
among other notables of the time, contained cocaine. Sears Roebuck
even advertised the stuff in its 1900 consumer’s guide.
Tonic remedies contained opium, and many prescription medicines
contained cannabis – a practice that continued even into
the 1950s in Canada. Canada even imposed import duties on opium.
world did not end when there was no prohibition of these drugs.
The sky didn’t fall. Canada prospered.
prohibitionist mentality that infected many countries in the
early 20th Century, including Canada, can be traced, not to
concerns about public welfare, but to a deeply entrenched racism
against groups labelled as “Chinamen, Negroes, and Hindoos”
– along with the muddled thinking that all you have to
do is prohibit something, and people will stop doing it.
20th century should be viewed as the century that proved the
failure of drug prohibition, just as it proved the folly of
alcohol prohibition. Our support for prohibition has created
a criminal apparatus of enormous might. Our support for prohibition
makes easy-to-produce products such as heroin and cocaine a
fantastically profitable commodity for terrorist and insurgent
groups worldwide. And, just in case you haven’t noticed,
we remain awash with drugs – hardly a ringing endorsement
issue is not whether we should end prohibition. The issue is
how. Now that we have constructed this monstrous edifice, the
only issue is how to tear it down, for tear it down we must.
have had the 20th Century to see exactly how and why prohibition
doesn’t work. Let’s use the 21st to redeem ourselves
in the eyes of history.