Societies and sobriety
The sobriety of a society’s citizens has always served as a benchmark for its morality. Civilised societies have always held deeply averse opinions to substances that alter the natural state of sobriety.
More often than not, such averse views result in movements to combat the decadence of substance abuse in society. Sometimes, these battles are ‘won’, returning citizens to their normal, substance-free state. But more often, these victories are temporary, with users returning to their substance of choice with the slightest convenience.
Some of these movements include the prohibition period and the war on drugs, both carried out by governments worldwide.
The Prohibition Period
The 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries saw averse opinions to the consumption of alcohol in countries such as the United States of America (U.S.) and Canada.
In the U.S., the rise of prohibition laws can be linked to religious revivals that took place in the 1820’s and 1830’s. These revivals called for temperance and were centred on bringing back perfection to a morally decadent society.
In 1846, the state of Maine became the first state to pass prohibition laws, and by the time the civil war had begun in 1861, a number of states had followed suit. By 1906, a radical temperance movement called the Anti-Saloon League – established in 1893 – were launching attacks on liquor stores, and sales personnel.
Following a series of events such as World War I and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s temporary prohibition laws, the U.S. Congress passed the National Prohibition Act in October 1919. The National Prohibition Act banned the manufacture, importation, and sale of intoxicating alcohol across the U.S on a federal and state level.
Prohibition in Canada also has a long and cumulative history. There, it happened in different provinces at different time periods, all in the early 1900’s. Prohibition in Canada history is a culmination of events which occurred during the period of the First World War. During this time, the federal government mandated all provinces to pass prohibition laws in order to reserve grain. The laws were set to last a year and once the time had elapsed, provinces began reinstating laws which legalised alcohol.
The first province to reinstate these laws was Quebec in 1919. Other provinces followed suit, the last of which to reinstate these laws being Prince Edward Islands. Here, the laws were repealed in 1948.
Effects of prohibition on society and its parallels to cannabis criminalisation
In the U.S., the National Prohibition Act is said to have succeeded with its reforms. Its success is attributed to the fact that Americans consumed less alcohol during the prohibition period, but these successes were not free of steep pitfalls.
While alcohol consumption was curbed during the time, other results were negative:
- Increase in organised crime rate
The prohibition of alcohol led to a rapid increase in organised crime rates across the United States. These organised crimes were heavily centred on the production and sale of illegal alcohol – a process called bootlegging. These crimes were carried out in organised gangs where money was made from selling bootleg liquor at inflated prices. Al Capone, one of the most notorious gang leaders of the time, is said to have earned $60 million annually from bootleg sales.
- The growth and expansion of the black market
The criminalisation of alcohol in society was only upheld for a couple of months. Once the resolve of citizens began to crack, black markets were created and continued to expand up until the prohibition laws were repealed.
- Racial injustices
The growth and popularity of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), a white supremacist group, can be directly linked to the prohibitionist movement. When alcohol was banned in the U.S., the KKK flourished. When gang violence had reached an all-time high in some southern counties, these counties appealed to the group to act as an additional police force. Accepting this task transformed the group to vigilantes. As vigilantes, they took advantage of the situation and began committing hate crimes in counties they were urged to protect. The KKK was known to unlawfully raid the homes of immigrants and prosecute them based on unlawful and insubstantial evidence. At their peak, the KKK boasted of about 5 million members.
The status of sobriety in society today
Since repealing prohibition laws on alcohol in societies across the world, many communities have turned their weapons to psychoactive substances. These substances include ecstasy, acid, cocaine and of course, marijuana.
Although Marijuana does not pose up to half the threats these other illicit substances pose, it is still widely frowned upon in many conservative societies.
Marijuana, in numerous studies, has proven beneficial to treating a wide array of ailments such as cancer, sclerosis, mental health disorders and many more. Despite these facts, governments worldwide continue to fight the consumption of marijuana for recreational purposes, as well as in medical situations.
Global averse attitudes have done very little to quell the consumption of marijuana, however, especially in societies where marijuana is illegal. In such societies, the black markets thrive and the government continues to lose valuable tax revenue by not legalising the beloved substance.
Many citizens are jailed for possession of the substance. In many of these cases, individuals who are not Caucasian bear a greater brunt than counterparts who are.
With the growing movements to legalise marijuana in states and countries such as Australia, New Zealand, the UK (United Kingdom), and many other parts of the globe, it can only be predicted that the laws criminalising marijuana will be repealed on a global scale soon.
The prohibition era brought caused a lot of the same problems we see today in societies where cannabis uses and sale is illegal. Criminal enterprises take over the market, illegally trafficking cannabis by any means necessary. This results in the creation of gang organizations that use violence as a means to a profitable ends, creating even more daunting problems for society.
With the end of prohibition came a more peaceful society. Although residues of those bootleggers remained, it became easier to control and reduces their criminal efforts. The same will likely be the case if cannabis is legalised. A reduction or elimination of a thriving black market, along with the additional criminal elements that come with it, will likely be the result of a legal cannabis society.