Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 4, No. 3, 2005
  Current Issue  
  Back Issues  
Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Mark Goldfarb
  Contributing Editors
Bernard Dubé
Phil Nixon
Robert Rotondo
  Music Editor
Emanuel Pordes
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Contributors
  Noam Chomsky
Robert Fisk
Michael Moore
Richard Rodriguez
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Mark Kingwell
Arundhati Roy
Naomi Klein
Jean Baudrillard
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
David Solway
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein



Eugene Oscapella is an Ottawa lawyer and a founding member of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy. He lectures on drug policy at the University of Ottawa.


Five years of Prohibition have had, at least, this one benign effect: they have completely disposed of all the favorite arguments of the Prohibitionists. None of the great boons and usufructs that were to follow the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment has come to pass. There is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.
H. L. Mencken

Last 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.

Question 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.

100 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.

In 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.

The world did not end when there was no prohibition of these drugs. The sky didn’t fall. Canada prospered.

The 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.

The 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 of prohibition.

The 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.

We 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.

E-Tango: Web Design and lowest rates for web hosting
Care + Net Computer Services
Couleur JAZZ 91.9
Available Ad Space
MCC Marchande d'Art at:
Armand Vaillancourt: sculptor
Valid HTML 4.01!
Privacy Statement Contact Info
Copyright 2002 Robert J. Lewis