David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

Drug, Alcohol Policies Reveal Our Hypocrisy

Brandon Sun, January 10, 2009 - David McConkey

Recent news items about restrictions on shopping for liquor in Manitoba reveal yet again our society’s hypocrisy about alcohol and drug use. Plus the failure of our "War on Drugs."

In Thompson, individual shoppers are now restricted to a limit of six bottles of booze a day.

Meanwhile, the Island Lake Regional Youth Council – a group of aboriginal youth leaders in northern Manitoba – has asked the provincial government to ban First Nations customers from buying brewer’s yeast used to make home brew.

Of course, a racially-based prohibition on the sale of any product in the province would be offensive and illegal. But Manitoba Liquor Control Commission restrictions based on locality are OK? As a recent Brandon Sun editorial pointed out, while the MLCC limits sales in some locations, in places like Brandon, it "offers free samples of products in an effort to increase sales that are already at record levels."

Manitoba Human Rights Commission, get investigating!

But such restrictions – from Prohibition in the last century to the global War on Drugs today – are doomed to fail. I am not surprised that illegal drugs and alcohol are widely available. But I am astounded at the way we continue to hide our heads in the sand.

We extol the virtues of the free enterprise system in matching supply and demand of goods and services on a global basis. Why, then, are we at all surprised that alcohol makes its way into "dry" Manitoba reserves? Or that marijuana, cocaine, and crystal meth make their way into every corner of the land?

Supply is simply matching demand. The only way that drug and alcohol abuse can be stopped is to reduce the demand. We don’t want people wasting their lives by abusing drugs or alcohol. Of course there aren’t easy answers. But we won’t find the answers if we insist that shopping restrictions or making some drugs illegal are solutions.

Our War on Drugs is based on hypocrisy. Legal drugs like alcohol and many pharmaceuticals are often as problematic as illegal ones. But our failure to look realistically at drug use and abuse prevents many logical approaches, such as safe injection sites to reduce the spread of disease.  

The War on Drugs not only has failed to stop the abuse, but also has soaked up tremendous resources in law enforcement and made violent criminals rich and powerful.

We can start by looking at the issues, including our own history. Did you know that Prohibition was in force in this province from 1916 to 1921? That Manitoban Nellie McClung was an important national anti-alcohol campaigner? (In a future column, I’ll review a new biography of McClung, who had Westman roots.) 

The proposal to restrict the sale of yeast to First Nations people is unrealistic, but it does highlight a real concern that alcohol and drug use varies from culture to culture. Manitoba is home to people of a great variety of backgrounds and researching the differences in alcohol and drug use and abuse might open up some avenues to reducing the problems.

The fascinating book A History of the World in Six Glasses points out that alcohol use in different cultures is rooted in practices that date back hundreds and sometimes thousands of years.

People in wine-drinking countries of southern Europe, for instance, have appreciated the tasting and sipping of wine for centuries. Ancient Greeks mixed their wine with water and compared wine from different regions.

People in beer-drinking countries of northern Europe, however, were much more apt to drink to get drunk. One can observe these divergent patterns of drinking today in countries like France and England.

Although cultural patterns are deeply-rooted, they can, and do, change. We live quite differently today than our parents or grandparents did. For one thing, we smoke a lot less now, even though tobacco is still legal.

Legalizing all drugs would reduce enforcement costs, make the world safer, and make all drug profits available to be taxed. The additional taxes could then be used to address the root causes of the attraction of drug abuse by expanded research, education, and prevention programs.

Incidentally, I don’t buy the argument that just because something is legal, it necessarily will be abused. It Is legal now in Brandon to buy booze in any quantity. What stops everyone in the city from rushing down to buy as many bottles of liquor as they can carry out of the store? 
Legalizing drugs could win approval from both sides of the political spectrum.

Right-wingers should approve of the government becoming less involved in telling people how to live their personal lives.

Left-wingers should approve of the government becoming more involved in promoting public education and health.

* * * *
See also:  

Remembering Nellie McClung

Manitoba History – A Citizen Appreciation

War and Remembrance

We Can Forge a New Drug Policy

Other Reviews



David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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Some Reviewed Books:

The War on Drugs:
A Failed Experiment

War on Drugs

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The Atheist Muslim:
A Journey from Religion to Reason


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Stranger Than We Can Imagine:
An Alternative History of the 20th Century


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Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now


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Islam and the Future of Tolerance:
A Dialogue

Islam Future

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Extraordinary Canadians:
Nellie McClung

Extraordinary Canadians Nellie Mcclung

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The Greatest Show on Earth:
The Evidence for Evolution

Greatest Show on Earth

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