Prohibition in America: From Alcohol to Cannabis? Will We Return to the 'Rum-Runner' Days? - RxLeaf

Prohibition in America: From Alcohol to Cannabis? Will We Return to the ‘Rum-Runner’ Days?

Emily Robertson
cannabis, prohibition, legalization, medical cannabis, USA, Canada, smuggling, border patrol, Canadian sovereignty, protest

Cannabis is federally illegal in the U.S., which gives certain authority of enforcement at border crossings. Current American border policies, however, are stretching the limits. Are we going to be fighting again over prohibition?

 As Canada legalizes recreational cannabis nationwide, America seems to be compensating for the progress with regression. Recent shifts have shown that the United States is going back toward prohibition tactics. While this may not seem like it affects Canadians, American border security agents may be already overstepping their bounds and surpassing the limits of their jurisdiction. In fact, some may even argue that their harsh return to prohibition tactics may impinge upon Canadian sovereignty.

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Image credit: CBC

The first concern for Canadians needs to be the border crossing. It would seem logical to most Canadians that legalization (unfortunately) doesn’t stretch to the United States, and therefore, Canadian cannabis needs to stay in Canada. This is true even if you’re going into a legalized state, because cannabis isn’t legalized federally in America. Border officials can flat out deny you entry.

But apparently, this isn’t good enough for border officials, despite statistics that show that American cannabis is mostly grown in the United States and not imported or smuggled from Canada or Mexico, according to Eric Schlosser in Reefer Madness. So, instead, average Canadians are going to be treated as drug smugglers.

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In fact, border officials may even ask if a Canadian has ever consumed cannabis – and if so, no entry for you. Do you work in the industry in any capacity (even writers – I guess I won’t be getting into the U.S. anytime soon!)? Cannabis stocks? You may be out of luck. Though there have been some recent rumblings that the border is dialling back on this one point of absurdity.

Think that’s bad? Apparently, they’re going even further. American border agents may be able to look at your credit card history to see if you’ve ever bought cannabis with card. Based on that information, it is assumed that you consumed cannabis and they can deny you entry.

cannabis, prohibition, medical cannabis, USA, Canada, legalization, border patrol, zero-tolerance, smuggling, trade

Image credit: The Star

If it seems like an invasion of privacy, that’s because, well, it is. It’s the demonization of a plant and its consumers in a way that smells far too much like the archaic practices linked to prohibition days of alcohol.

What is most surprising is that even if you purchase cannabis based on a prescription, officials can deny you entry and even ban you for life!  With so much of Canadian and American culture and consumerism crossing over, this could mean negative things for average Canadians, as well as the economy on the American side.

cannabis, prohibition, Canada, USA, legalization, medical cannabis, border crossing, border patrol, smuggling, trade

Image credit: DesignMyNight

As mentioned, these new tactics by the border patrol are hardly new at all. Similar techniques were used during the prohibition era. American prohibition was taken further than that of Canada. In World War I, Canada had restrictions on alcohol in the War Measures Act. Yet, this was a temporary war measure, and the armistice meant the end of the federal ban on liquor. Quebec ended provincial prohibition first in 1919. Other provinces soon followed.

But, that was just the beginning for American prohibition, which lasted from 1920 to 1933 after the 18th Amendment in 1919 banned the sale, manufacturing, and transportation of alcohol. This Amendment and the ensuing prohibition was the result of groups like the Anti-Saloon League, and after the 18th Amendment, the World League Against Alcoholism. This later league sought to change alcohol laws around the world.

Canada, cannabis, rum runners, bootleggers, prohibition, USA, legalization, medical cannabis, border patrol, trade, smuggling, zero-tolerance

Image credit: Everett Historical

The United States immediately turned their attention to Canada. The concerns were similar to that of the current cannabis issues – American alcohol tourism in Canada, and Canadians bringing alcohol over. But like cannabis today, most liquor to be found in America was made in America. Prior to that, it had mainly been smuggled in from France or the United Kingdom, not Canada.

However, this didn’t stop Americans and Canadians from having little battles across the border. Americans chased smugglers into Canada, and the international tensions culminated into the sinking of a Canadian rum-running ship, the I’m Alone. Canadians were outraged. Canadians and British authorities held discussions about whether this was an act of war: If the American government had authorized the sinking, then that’s clear aggression. After six years, the issue was solved (thankfully, without a war).

But it didn’t stop there either. Americans wanted to station guards on Canadian soil. Despite Canadians’ rage at the loss of Canadian life on the I’m Alone, the government decided to allow it. This resulted in gunfire and skirmishes, with members of the American Coast Guard firing on vessels on the Detroit River that may have been carrying liquor.

This became a massive issue for Canadians, with debates in the House of Commons, and the La Salle council criticizing excessive force of American agents against Canadian citizens. Canadian independence was at risk. Besides, the Canadian government didn’t give in to American pressures for prohibition.

cannabis, prohibition, legalization, medical cannabis, USA, Canada, smuggling, border patrol, Canadian sovereignty, protest

Image credit: Sutton Hart Press

Will this happen with cannabis? Well, it’s unlikely. Times have changed, and it’s doubtful that kind of breach into Canadian sovereignty would be acceptable today.


Emily Robertson

Emily Robertson has been writing freelance and contract work since 2011. She has written on a variety of topics, including travel writing of North America and the growing legalized cannabis industry across the globe. Robertson has a master’s degree in literature and gender studies, and brings this through in her writing by always trying to explore different perspectives. Born and raised in southwestern Ontario, Robertson moved to Glasgow, Scotland in 2016 to undergo her doctorate in Scottish Literature. She lives in the West End with her dog, Henley.

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