Station: [15] The History of Prohibition

At our final stop, we’d like to talk about the history of prohibition. Prohibition derives from the Latin and is another word for “ban”. Famously, Prohibition in the US meant a ban on booze – the attempt between 1920 and 1933 to stop people drinking alcohol. As it happens, Prohibition didn’t actually reduce consumption. And that’s also true of the ban on cannabis, which remains in place in most countries to this day.

It all began in 1909 with the First International Opium Conference, which was attended by just 12 countries. Against the background of increasing opium consumption in the home countries, they recommended curbs on the consumption of intoxicants from the colonies. The conference also set the direction of travel. Regulations and bans were to be the tools to stop consumption for pleasure. 16 years later, in 1925, a revised Opium Convention was signed at Geneva, and the path of prohibition was set.

In the 1940s, disproportionately high taxes brought hemp-growing to a standstill in the US. This was followed by a smear campaign, vilifying hemp as marijuana, supposedly a dangerous "killer weed". With the end of alcohol Prohibition in the States, it seemed the machinery of persecution was looking for a new target.

Jazz musicians who sang in protest against the ban were widely ignored. But the vilification brought hemp as an intoxicant to public attention. And people were so opposed to "dangerous" (ironisch) marijuana that the hippie generation smoked it from sheer stubbornness. Advocates of the ban became ever more radical. That came to a head in 1998 at the 20th Special Session of the UN General Assembly on the world drug problem. It set itself the goal of creating a drug-free world within the next ten years by eradicating all plants from which drugs could be made...

An unachievable goal that was effectively nonsense! After a lengthy silence on the part of the United Nations, more and more countries are now reconsidering and relaxing their policies on prohibition.

And that brings us to the end of our tour. No doubt you’ve discovered plenty of interesting facts about the ancient crop plant called hemp. And we hope you’ve enjoyed your time with us.

Before you go, feel free to have another look around. This area is where we show special temporary exhibitions. There’s likely to be one on at the moment, and you may well find it interesting.

That just leaves us to say goodbye. 

Enjoy the rest of your day!

All depictions: © Dagmar Trüpschuch