Prohibition of drugs  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
illegal drug trade, recreational drug

The prohibition of drugs through sumptuary legislation or religious law is a common means of attempting to prevent drug use. Prohibition of drugs has existed at various levels of government or other authority from the Middle Ages to the present.

While most drugs are legal to possess, many governments regulate the manufacture, distribution, marketing, and sale of some drugs, for instance through a prescription system. Only certain drugs are banned with a "blanket prohibition" against all use. However, a continuing problem remains in effect, as the prohibited drugs continue to be available through illegal trade, see illegal drug trade, also known as the Black Market. The most widely banned substances include psychoactive drugs, although blanket prohibition also extends to some steroids and other drugs. Many governments do not criminalize the possession of a limited quantity of certain drugs for personal use, while still prohibiting their sale or manufacture, or possession in large quantities. Some laws set a specific volume of a particular drug, above which is considered ipso jure to be evidence of trafficking or sale of the drug.

Islamic countries mostly prohibit the use of alcohol. Many non-Islamic governments levy a sin tax on alcohol and tobacco products, and restrict alcohol and tobacco from sales or gifts to minors. Other common restrictions include bans on outdoor drinking and indoor smoking. The United States (1920–1933), Finland (1919–1932), Norway (1916–1927), Canada, Iceland (1915–1922) and the USSR (1914–1925) had alcohol prohibition .

Contents

History

The cultivation, use, and trade of psychoactive and other drugs has occurred since prior to civilization's existence. Religious governments probably began to criminalize drugs' possession and trade in the Middle Ages, and such legislation has continued until the present day, by both religious and non-religious governments. In the 20th century, the United States led a major renewed surge in drug prohibition called the “War on Drugs”. Today's War on Drugs bears many similarities to earlier drug laws, particularly in the motivation to prevent drug use.

Motivations claimed by supporters of drug prohibition laws across various societies and eras have included religious observance, allegations of violence by racial minorities, and public health concerns. Those who are not proponents of anti-drug legislation characterize these motivations as religious intolerance, racism, and public healthism.

Drug Laws (Early)

Perhaps the earliest recorded example is the prohibition of the use of alcohol under Islamic law (Sharia), which is usually attributed to passages in the Qur'an dating from the 7th century. Like other Sharia laws, alcohol prohibition is enforced by Mutaween, the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. Some Muslim scholars assert that this prohibition actually addresses only the abuse of alcohol, but they do not have sufficient numbers or authority to override the familiar total prohibition. Although Islamic law is often interpreted as prohibiting all intoxicants (not only alcohol), the ancient practice of hashish smoking has continued throughout the history of Islam, against varying degrees of resistance. A major campaign against hashish-eating Sufis was conducted in Egypt in the 11th and 12th centuries resulting among other things in the burning of fields of cannabis.

Though the prohibition of illegal drugs was established under Islamic law, particularly against the use of hashish as a recreational drug, classical jurists of medieval Islamic jurisprudence accepted the use of hashish for medicinal and therapeutic purposes, and agreed that its "medical use, even if it leads to mental derangement, remains exempt" from punishment. In the 14th century, the Islamic scholar Az-Zarkashi spoke of "the permissibility of its use for medical purposes if it is established that it is beneficial."

Religious intolerance was a motivation for drug prohibition in Christian Europe. In Meso-America and South America, peyote (péyotl), ololiúqui, toloáche, teonanácatl and other sacred plants of the Mexican culture were prohibited as works of the devil.

In Northern Europe, the Protestants were also responsible for passing drug laws motivated by religious intolerance, according to Stephen Harrod Buhner. Buhner argues that the 1516 Reinheitsgebot, which stipulates that beer may only contain water, barley and hops was a "reflection of Protestant irritation about 'drugs' and the Catholic Church". Unlike the typically nuts blends widely used at the time (e.g. gruit), hops cause sedation and reduce libido. The exclusive use of hops had been compulsory in France since 1268.

A serious gap in Buhner's approach, though, is that Protestant Reformation was—largely involuntarily—kickstarted by Martin Luther in 1517, that is the year after the Reinheitsgebot edict (for one year only, and in a part of Germany that never switched to Protestantism), and two centuries and a half after hops became compulsory in France. Besides the religious motivation there was also a political one: Martin Luther's criticism of the Catholic Church, merely focusing on Indulgences turned into a full-scale revolt against Papal power from 1521 on (after the Diet of Worms) because he was unexpectedly backed by German princes such as Frederick III, Elector of Saxony who strongly objected to the Catholic Church meddling in their affairs and finances. Those princes had been seeking ways to undermine Papal Rome's influence and fundraising on their territories for quite some time when the Reformation actually started. Local monopolies on gruit being a cash cow for many a monastic community, they were an obvious target to undermine their financial power. Which means edicts to impose hops instead of gruit in beer were probably politically motivated, and also explains why many of those edicts did indeed come long before the Reformation even started.

Coffee almost followed the same fate as cannabis as its use spread from Ethiopia through the Middle East to Europe. Coffee, regarded as a Muslim drink, was prohibited to Orthodox Christians in its native Ethiopia until as late as 1889; it is now considered a national drink of Ethiopia for people of all faiths. In the Ottoman Empire, Murad IV attempted to prohibit coffee drinking to Muslims as haraam, arguing that it was an intoxicant, but this ruling was soon overturned after his death. The introduction of coffee in Europe from Muslim Turkey prompted calls for it to be banned as the devil's work, though Pope Clement VIII sanctioned its use in 1600, declaring that it was "so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it." Its early association in Europe with rebellious political activities led to its banning in England, among other places.

In late Qing Imperial China, opium imported by the British East India Company was vastly consumed by all social classes in Southern China. Between 1821 and 1837 imports of the drug increased fivefold. The Chinese government attempted to end this trade, on public health grounds. The effort was initially successful with the destruction of all British opium stock in May 1839. However, to protect this trade, the British declared war on China (First Opium War). China was defeated and the war ended with the Treaty of Nanking, which protected foreign opium traders from Chinese law. A related American treaty promised to end the smuggling of opium by Americans. It took until the next Opium War for the trade to be legalized.

In the northern provinces of Ningxia and Suiyuan in China, Chinese Muslim General Ma Fuxiang both prohibited and engaged in the opium trade. It was hoped that Ma Fuxiang would have improved the situation, since Chinese Muslims were well known for opposition to smoking opium Ma Fuxiang officially prohibited opium and made it illegal in Ningxia, but the Guominjun reversed his policy, by 1933, people from every level of society was abusing the drug, Ningxia was left in destitution In 1923, an officer of the Bank of China from Baotou found out that Ma Fuxiang was assisting the drug trade in opium which helped finance his military expenses. He earned a sum of $2 million from taxing those sales in 1923. General Ma had been using the Bank, a branch of the Government of China's exchequer, to arrange for silver curreny to be transported to Baotou to use it to sponsor the trade.

US prohibition of opium

The first law outright prohibiting the use of a specific drug in the United States was a San Francisco ordinance which banned the smoking of opium in opium dens in 1875. The reason cited was "many women and young girls, as well as young men of respectable family, were being induced to visit the Chinese opium-smoking dens, where they were ruined morally and otherwise." This was followed by other laws throughout the country, and federal laws which barred Chinese people from trafficking in opium. Though the laws affected the use and distribution of opium by Chinese immigrants, no action was taken against the producers of such products as laudanum, a tincture of opium and alcohol, commonly taken as a panacea by white Americans. The distinction between its use by white Americans and Chinese immigrants was thus based on the form in which it was ingested: Chinese immigrants tended to smoke it, while it was often included in various kinds of generally liquid medicines often (but not exclusively) used by people of European descent. The laws targeted opium smoking, but not other methods of ingestion. As a result of this discrepancy, some modern commentators believe that these laws were possibly racist in origin and intent.

The most important reason for the increase in opiate consumption during the 19th century was however the prescribing and dispensing of legal opiates by physicians and pharmacist to women with ”female problems” (mostly to relieve painful menstruation). Between 150,000 and 200,000 opiate addicts lived in the United States in the late 19th century and between two-thirds and three-quarters of these addicts were women.

This was followed by the Harrison Act, passed in 1914, which required sellers of opiates and cocaine to get a license. While originally intended to require paper trails of drug transactions between doctors, drug stores, and patients, it soon became a prohibitive law. The law’s wording was quite vague; it was originally intended as a revenue tracking mechanism that required prescriptions for opiates. It became legal precedent that any prescription for a narcotic given by a physician or pharmacist – even in the course of medical treatment for addiction - constituted conspiracy to violate the Harrison Act. In 1919, the Supreme Court ruled in Doremus that the Harrison Act was constitutional and in Webb that physicians could not prescribe narcotics solely for maintenance. In the decision Jin Fuey Moy v. United States, 254 U.S. 189 (1920) the court upheld that it was a violation of the Harrison Act even if a physician provided prescription of a narcotic for an addict, and thus subject to criminal prosecution. The initial proponents of the Harrison Act did not support blanket prohibition of the drugs involved.

This is also true of the later Marijuana Tax Act in 1937. Soon, however, licensing bodies did not issue licenses, effectively banning the drugs.

The American judicial system did not initially accept drug prohibition. Prosecutors argued that possessing drugs was a tax violation, as no legal licenses to sell drugs were in existence; hence, a person possessing drugs must have purchased them from an unlicensed source. After some wrangling, this was accepted as federal jurisdiction under the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Prohibition of alcohol

The prohibition of alcohol commenced in Finland in 1919 and in the United States in 1920. Because alcohol was the most popular recreational drug in these countries, reactions to its prohibition were very different than to the prohibition of other drugs, which were commonly perceived to be associated with racial and ethnic minorities. Public pressure led to the repeal of alcohol prohibition in Finland in 1932, and in the United States in 1933. Residents of many provinces of Canada also experienced alcohol prohibition for similar periods of time in the first half of the 20th century.

In Sweden, a referendum in 1922 decided against an alcohol prohibition law (with 51% of the votes against and 49% for prohibition), but starting in 1914 (nationwide from 1917) and until 1955 Sweden employed an alcohol rationing system with personal liquor ration books ("motbok").

Marijuana Tax Act

In the middle of the 1930s all member states in the United States had some regulation of cannabis. In 1936 the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) noticed an increase of reports of people smoking marijuana, which further increased in 1937. The Bureau drafted a legislative plan for Congress, seeking a new law and the head of the FBN, Harry J. Anslinger, ran a smear campaign against marijuana. During this particular time frame, the media was swarmed with propaganda regarding the effects of marijuana. Harry J. Anslinger, a dominant leader in the prohibition against drugs, devised advertisements and commercials to inform the public of the believed side effects of marijuana. Citizens who were high on marijuana were crazy, insane, suicidal, had murderous intentions, etc. according to the propaganda. Disregarding the scientific research on the subject and the falsified claims, the Marijuana Tax Act passed in 1937 quickly and with little debate and no opposition in Congress. The American Medical Association (AMA) supported a federal law, but recommended that marijuana to be added to the Harrison Narcotic Act.

Counter-culture and the War on Drugs

In response to rising drug use among young people and the counter-culture movement, government efforts to enforce prohibition were strengthened in many countries from the 1960s onward. Support at an international level for the prohibition of psychoactive drug use has been a consistent feature of United States policy during both Republican and Democratic administrations, to such an extent that US support for foreign governments has often been contingent on their adherence to US drug policy. Major milestones in this campaign include the introduction of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs in 1961, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances in 1971 and the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances in 1988. A few developing countries where consumption of the prohibited substances has enjoyed longstanding cultural support, long resisted such outside pressure to pass legislation adhering to these conventions — such as Nepal, which did not do so until 1976.

In 1972, United States President Richard Nixon announced the commencement of the so-called "War on Drugs." Later, President Reagan added the position of drug czar to the President's Executive Office.

In 1973, New York State introduced mandatory minimum sentences of 15 years to life imprisonment for possession of more than four ounces (113g) of a so-called hard drug, called the Rockefeller drug laws after New York Governor and later Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. Similar laws were introduced across the United States.

California's broader 'three strikes and you're out' policy adopted in 1994 was the first mandatory sentencing policy to gain widespread publicity and was subsequently adopted in most United States jurisdictions. This policy mandates life imprisonment for a third criminal conviction of any felony offense.

A similar 'three strikes' policy was introduced to the United Kingdom by the Conservative government in 1997. This legislation enacted a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years for those convicted for a third time of a drug trafficking offense involving a class A drug.

Large movements have grown in numerous countries proposing various policy changes such as drug relegalization and drug decriminalization. For instance, there is a movement for cannabis legalization in Canada, as well as the Marijuana Party of Canada.

Various drug liberalization policies are often supported by proponents of liberalism and libertarianism. Continued drug criminalization is more typically supported by proponents of conservatism. The latter may often promote the more general notion of individualism, but social conservatives in particular continue to support drug prohibition.

The former Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Drug Czar, John P. Walters has described the drug problem in the United States as a "public health challenge," and he has publicly eschewed the notion of a "war on drugs." He has supported additional resources for substance abuse treatment and has touted random student drug testing as an effective prevention strategy. However, the actions of the Office of National Drug Control Policy continue to belie the rhetoric of a shift away from primarily enforcement-based responses to illegal drug use.

Opium cultivation in Afghanistan

In July 2000, the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan banned opium as "against Islam." After the Taliban was ousted, opium cultivation resumed in more widespread areas and in greater yield. In April 2004, Afghan interim president Hamid Karzai declared a jihad on drugs (after opium output reached a near-record 3,600 tonnes in 2003 — equivalent to three-quarters of world supply). Over the next two years, despite the assistance of several hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign anti-drug support, Afghanistan raised opium production to 6,100 tonnes in 2006, produced on 407,000 acres (1,650 km²) of land, including nearly 30,000 acres (120 km²) of government land - a production estimated to exceed the global demand for opium by thirty percent.


Honduras President calls for legalization

On February 22, 2008 Honduras President Manuel Zelaya called on the United States to legalize drugs, in order, he said, to prevent the majority of violent murders occurring in Honduras. Honduras is used by cocaine smugglers as a transiting point between Colombia and the US. Honduras, with a population of 7 million suffers an average of 8-10 murders a day, with an estimated 70% being as a result of this international drug trade. The same problem is occurring in Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Mexico, according to Zelaya.

See also

International:

US specific:





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