What is prohibition really about?

As I am prone to do when I am trying to understand something, my first port of call is a dictionary. Prohibition is the act of prohibiting, or state of being prohibited. An order or decree that prohibits. To prohibit is to forbid an action or activity by authority or law. Essentially prohibition is control. Control means to exercise restraint or direction over, dominate, command, to hold in check, or curb.

I’d argue prohibitions function within our society is to control. On the face of it prohibition controls the manufacture, transportation, and sale of a prescribed set of substances, namely drugs. It also controls behaviour. Prohibition controls an individuals right to make a choice, good or bad, to take a certain action, that is take a specific drug.

A question comes to mind, why do they want to control what individuals do? At this point I think it is necessary to understand who I mean by “they”. They are the government, those people we elect to represent us. But if that is the case, why aren’t the views of the drug users represented? I presume the argument would come back that we live in a democracy, and the majority think drug taking is bad. But why? Why do we think drugs are bad, when every culture I can think of takes drugs in one form or another?

Putting that to one side, another question comes to mind. If these are the same people who allow individuals to choose to smoke and drink, why can’t that same people allow individuals to choose to take drugs. Rebuttals might sight the addictive nature of drugs. I don’t think the drugs that are currently prohibited are any more or less addictive than cigarettes or alcohol. Individuals get into just as much trouble with legal substances as they do with those prohibited. If the government can allow people to make a choice, take the risk of doing cigarettes or alcohol, why don’t they allow individuals to make the choice and take drugs? Logic dictates that they can, but they don’t, so why don’t they?

The answer I keep coming back to is that it is less about what people take, and more about the act of taking. Prohibition isn’t about the substance, prohibition is about controlling what people do. While I think this is an argument for the abolition of prohibition, it doesn’t answer the question, who actually controls the machine of prohibition?

A glimpse can perhaps be found in the preface of Richard Lawrence Miller’s Drug Warriors and Their Prey: From Police Power to Police State. “People convinced of their superiority (seek to) rescue a country threatened from within.”

What is prohibition really about? I think it’s about power. It’s a machine that allows the state to control its population.


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