COLUMN: What we can learn from the end of alcohol prohibition

With the end of marijuana prohibition expected to happen within the next few years, the debate is now focused on what will take its place.

With the end of marijuana prohibition expected to happen within the next few years, the debate is now focused on what will take its place.

The Liberals have promised to deliver legislation that will legalize and regulate pot, but what will that legislation look like? The end of alcohol prohibition might offer some insight. But first a little pre-history lesson.

As far as we can tell, people have been making and drinking alcohol for almost 9,000 years. For the first 7,000 years, this took the form of simple fermented concoctions like beer and wine, but around 100 A.D. we figured out distillation, which allowed us to make stronger spirits.

Alcohol production really started to take off during the industrial revolution in the 1700s, and that’s when things started to get crazy. Mass urbanization coupled with cheap, potent booze was a recipe for social chaos.

By the mid-1800s, people were starting to think that prohibition was a good idea.

In Canada, the Temperance Act was passed in 1864, which allowed any county to forbid the sale of alcohol by majority vote.

Provincial governments passed various laws that prohibited alcohol sales to the general public in the 1890s and early 20th century, and by 1918 the federal government stepped up and made prohibition nation-wide as part of the War Measures Act, but this was repealed just two years later, in 1920.

The provinces all maintained prohibition for some time after, but each one eventually fell, with the last holdout being PEI in 1948.

During this entire period, alcohol was still widely available as medicine. Bad back? Nasty cough? Nerves? Whisky was the cure-all. Interestingly, doctors noticed a massive increase in the need for prescriptions around Christmas and other holidays.

As prohibition fell across the country, silly, overbearing legislation took its place, and much of it is still in place today. Responsible adults still can’t legally enjoy a beer at the beach in most of Canada.

Ontario residents have to go to separate stores to buy beer and spirits. And it’s only been in the past few decades that anyone but a handful of large companies has been permitted a license to make alcohol.

Our parents’ generation had maybe a dozen or so choices when it came to beer and wine produced in this country.

But thanks to relaxed regulations and the evolution of independent micro-breweries, wineries, and micro-distilleries, Canadians now have considerable choice.

The culture that has grown up around this industry is not one of excess, but of connoisseurship.

So what has this to do with pot? If history is any indicator, the government will pass legislation with similar stupid and mostly unnecessary restrictions governing the sale of marijuana and other pot consumables.

But if we’re smart, and if we look at how the alcohol industry has evolved over the past century, we might be able to avoid the same pitfalls.

The advantages are obvious: we can jump right into building a strong new industry that will not only serve consumers responsibly, but also create thousands of new jobs.

With the number of dispensaries in Nelson now at eight (probably a record for shops per population), we have an opportunity to lead the way for how Canada ends pot prohibition.

John Paolozzi is a freelance writer and stay-at-home dad living in Nelson.

 

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