Prohibition was the outlawing the manufacturing, storage, sale, ownership or ingestion of alcoholic substances and could also mean the period when such a law was enforced. While prohibition is widely associated with the United States’ enforcement of the Eighteenth Amendment and later the Volstead Act, it has been in existence many centuries prior and has been seen in many countries around the world, some of which still have such laws enforced till date. Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Libya ban alcohol based on the sharia law practiced in these countries. The earliest case of prohibition is traced to the Chinese Xia Dynasty (2070 BC-1600 BC) where the first ruler, Yu the Great banned alcohol in the entire kingdom. Prohibition was also seen in the ancient kingdom of Mesopotamia with the Code of Hammurabi (dated 1772 BCE) banning the sale of beer and only allowing the barter exchange of beer for barley. However, during the early 20th century, numerous countries all over the world and specifically in Europe began what was to known as “temperance movements” which called for a total ban on alcohol consumption.
8 Countries Where Alcohol Used to be Prohibited
United States (1920-1933)
In the early 19th century, several moralistic movements swept across the United States and pushed for legislations enforcing social reforms such as the abolition of slavery. Many were quite successful in their campaigns, including the Temperance movement who pushed for the abolition of alcohol. The key players in the temperance movements were women who linked the collapse in marriage to alcoholism in families. The temperance movement may have begun in the State of Maine where the local authorities passed the first state prohibition law in 1846, setting a precedent. With the support of several evangelical Protestant churches, several other states followed suit including Ohio, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware, and New York many of whom later overturned their respective prohibition laws. The nationwide production of alcohol was temporarily halted in 1917 after the United States entered the First World War and this was enforced after a directive from President Woodrow Wilson. During the same year, Congress forwarded the 18th Amendment for ratification which called for the ban of the manufacturing, transporting and sale of intoxicating liquor. The 18th Amendment was ratified and was passed by Congress becoming law in October 1919. The enforcement of the law was met with significant resistance with the rise of bootlegging. Then in the 1930s the Great Depression set in rendering many people jobless and made the law increasingly unpopular. The Nationwide law was repealed in 1933 after the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment which was championed by the newly-elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Prior to Confederation, prohibition laws had been in existence in Canada in the mid-19th century with the Province of Canada passing the Dunkin Act in 1864 where any municipality was given authority to prohibit the retail sale of liquor through a majority vote. However, the law was only applied to small local authorities. The temperance movement lobbied the government to have a nationwide legislation banning alcohol, but the government turned down the plebiscite. During the First World War, the province of Prince Edward Island enacted a Prohibition law seen as a patriotic symbol to stand with the Canadian troops engaged in the warfare. Many other provinces later adopted their distinct Prohibition laws. However, these laws were later repealed with all the provinces having the Prohibition laws repealed by 1948.
Faroe Islands (1907-1992)
The island nation of Faroe Islands had one of the longest-standing Prohibition law in the world which stood for 85 years. In 1907, the nation’s legislature, also known as the Logting agreed to have a nationwide four- part referendum on alcohol where the questions to be voted for or against were: trading in beer and wine, serving of beer and wine, trading of spirits, and serving of spirits. After the results had been tallied, over 90% of the votes were against all the four clauses and hence beginning the Prohibition law in the Faroe Islands. The ban was attempted to be overturned in 1973 without any success but was later overturned in 1992.
Russian Empire (1914-1923)
Russian culture is famed for its consumption of hard liquor and more so spirits. However, in 1914, the Russian Empire which had just begun its campaign in the First World War banned the sale of liquor with high alcohol content which was only imposed in restaurants. The Russian government supported the decision claiming that sale of hard liquor made soldiers drunk during war engagement. The Prohibition Law which was also known as the “dry law, had notable results with the decline in crime in several notorious cities until it was repealed in 1925.
In 1908, Iceland conducted a referendum which called for the ban of all alcoholic drinks and the laws banning alcohol became effective on January 1st, 1915. The total ban was revised in 1935 only to be enforced on drinks exceeding alcohol content of 2.25%. However, as more Icelanders traveled internationally, they came back home seeking to scrap off the Prohibition law which was repealed on March 1st, 1989, a day which in unofficially known as “Beer Day.”
The Kingdom of Norway had a referendum seeking the introduction of the prohibition on spirits conducted on October 5th to 6th, 1919 where results showed that 61.6% of participants voted for the introduction. However, the law was short-lived caused by increased external pressure from France, who was an exporter of the alcoholic beverage. Norway then conducted a second referendum on October 18th, 1926 where the public rejected the prohibition law which was subsequently abolished.
Hungarian Soviet Republic (1919)
The government of the Hungarian Soviet Republic imposed a short-lived Prohibition Law on alcoholic beverages which lasted from March 21st, 1919 to August 1st, 1919.
The government of the Kingdom of Finland passed laws banning the sale of alcohol in 1919. However, the resulting public pressure forced the government to call for a referendum on the prohibition which was held on December 29th and 30th, 1931. The clauses included were: total prohibition, weak alcoholic drinks allowed and a complete abolition of prohibition. A bout 70.5% of the Finnish voters voted for a complete abolition of prohibition which actually ended the Prohibition law in Finland.
Legacy of Prohibition
The prohibition had different legacies in different countries. In the US the legacy of prohibition lives on to this day through dry states where the sale of alcohol is not permitted. The first impact felt was the change in the drinking habits and patterns that depressed the levels of consumption in comparison to the pre-prohibition era. The prohibition period was a difficult time for the habitual drinker, not because the supply was cut off, but because it was not. Those who desperately wanted liquor could easily find it. However, those who wanted help because of the destructive drinking habits could not find any help. Most or all of the inebriety asylums had closed shop, and all the self-help groups had vanished away. By 1935, these conditions had made the creation of new self-help society, the Alcoholic Anonymous (AA). Such groups took an innovative approach, though drawing some from the old self-help traditions, was overwhelmingly influenced by the experience of the prohibition.