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Prohibitionism is a legal philosophy and political theory often used in lobbying which holds that citizens will abstain from actions if the actions are typed as unlawful (i.e. prohibited) and the prohibitions are enforced by law enforcement.[1] This philosophy has been the basis for many acts of statutory law throughout history, most notably when a large group of a given population disapproves of and/or feels threatened by an activity in which a smaller group of that population engages, and seeks to render that activity legally prohibited.[1]


Acts of prohibition have included prohibitions on types of clothing (and prohibitions on lack of clothing), prohibitions on gambling and exotic dancing, the prohibition of drugs (for example, alcohol prohibition and cannabis prohibition), prohibitions on tobacco smoking, and gun prohibition. Indeed, the period of Prohibition in the United States between 1920 and 1933 due to the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act often is referred to simply as "Prohibition", as is the "War on Drugs" that succeeded it.
An additional example, called nettle war: Since 2002 in France the sale of nettle liquid manure was prohibited, and since 2006, unauthorized plant protection products (such as nettle liquid manure) to sell, own and operate. Even advertising and recommendations for these products were not allowed. Only since 2011, it was legalized again.[2] The film by Arte about it was completed in 2010 (Nettle-war, mysterious plants - Nettle, 42:04 minutes)[3]


The success of a measure of prohibitionism has been criticized as often depending too much upon effective enforcement of the relevant legislation. Some people[who?] have argued this is because the majority of the targets of prohibitionism are in the category of victimless crime, where they claim the harm that comes from the crime is non-existent, questionable, or only to the person who performs the act and even then the magnitude of the harm being relatively small.[citation needed] Under this interpretation enforcement becomes a conflict between violation of statue and violation of free will.[why?] Since the acts prohibited often are enjoyable, enforcement is often the most harmful choice to the individual. This sometimes results in laws which rarely are enforced by anybody who does not have a financial or personal motivation to do so.[citation needed]

The difficulty of enforcing prohibitionist laws also criticized as resulting in selective enforcement, wherein the enforcers select the people they wish to prosecute based on other criteria, resulting in discrimination based on races, culture, nationality, or financial status. For example, American philosopher Noam Chomsky has criticized drug prohibition as being a technique of social control of the "so-called dangerous classes".[4]

Prohibitionism based laws have the added problem of calling attention to the behavior that they are attempting to prohibit. This can make the behavior interesting and exciting, and cause its popularity to increase. This is essentially in relation with the Streisand effect.

See also


  1. ^ a b C Canty, A Sutton. Strategies for community-based drug law enforcement: From prohibition to harm reduction; in T Stockwell, PJ Gruenewald, JW Toumbourou, WLoxley W, eds. Preventing Harmful Substance Use: The Evidence Base for Policy and Practice. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 2005. pp. 225-236.
  2. ^ Decree 2011: Nettles were legalized again (fr) Retrieved 16 June 2014
  3. ^ nettle-war in France Retrieved 16 June 2014
  4. ^ Noam Chomsky, "On the War on Drugs", Week Online, DRCNet, February 8, 2002

External links

  • Peter Cohen, Re-thinking drug control policy - Historical perspectives and conceptual tools, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, 1993
  • Simon Lenton, "Policy from a harm reduction perspective", Current Opinion in Psychiatry 16(3):271-277, May 2003
  • Harry G. Levine, "Global drug prohibition: its uses and crises", International Journal of Drug Policy, 14(2): 145-153, April 2003 (journal article)
  • Should cannabis be taxed and regulated?[permanent dead link] (journal article)
  • Learning from history: a review of David Bewley-Taylor's The United States and International Drug Control, 1909–1997 (journal article)
  • Shifting the main purposes of drug control: from suppression to regulation of use
  • Setting goals for drug policy: harm or use reduction?
  • Prohibition, pragmatism and drug policy repatriation
  • Challenging the UN drug control conventions: problems and possibilities
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