The ongoing tragic and devastating fallacy of seeing prohibition as a way to help people

Yesterday, Canada’s Supreme Court struck down some prohibition laws as being unconstitutional. It found that the laws were overbroad, and while it agreed that the government had the authority to regulate the activity, it was not allowable for that to happen “at the cost of the health, safety and lives of” those involved.

No, it wasn’t drugs, but it certainly seems familiar.

“Parliament has the power to regulate against nuisances, but not at the cost of the health, safety and lives of prostitutes,” wrote Chief Justice Beverley McLaughlin, who referenced the case of convicted serial killer Robert Pickton. Pickton targeted prostitutes in British Columbia.

“A law that prevents street prostitutes from resorting to a safe haven such as Grandma’s House while a suspected serial killer prowls the streets is a law that has lost sight of its purpose.”

Living off the profits of prostitution, a law aimed at criminalizing pimping, was found to be “overbroad” in that it also criminalizes those who “increase the safety and security of prostitutes,” like legitimate drivers, managers and bodyguards.

While the Supreme Court would probably have been right to strike down the laws effective immediately, it actually gave the government a full year to find acceptable laws to replace these before they would be void.

And yet, predictably, some people are screaming.

Kim Pate, executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies called it a “sad day.”

“We have now confirmed that it’s okay to buy and sell women and girls in this country,” she said. “I think generations to come, our daughters and granddaughters will look back and say, ‘what were they thinking?’ ”

Really? Is it possible to get any more ridiculous in your reaction to the news than that?

It sounds a lot like some of the drug war prohibitionists here who think that legalizing and regulating drugs means we don’t care about the welfare of those who use drugs (when it’s exactly the opposite).

The true-believer supporters of prohibition laws (as opposed to the profiteers) are either too stupid to understand, or too blinded by the certainty of their beliefs to be educated about, the true nature of prohibition laws. Time and again, against all evidence, they act as if these laws are an appropriate and effective use of power to advance their pet agenda.

From the right, that often connects to a desire to use power to coerce people into acting in an arbitrarily “moral” manner, whereas from the left, it more often stems from an ironically paternalistic belief that some people (prostitutes, drug users) are incapable of making decisions for themselves and therefore must be coerced for their own good.

Not only are both extremes completely and offensively wrong from a humanistic standpoint, they are wrong practically as well.

Prohibition doesn’t save lives. It ruins them.

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14 Responses to The ongoing tragic and devastating fallacy of seeing prohibition as a way to help people

  1. Jean Valjean says:

    A consensual financial transaction between two adults…unlike in a real crime, with a prostitution arrest or a drug bust the complainant or “victim” and the arresting officer are one and the same.

  2. allan says:

    oh good lord…

    one word, COYOTE

    • allan says:

      well hell, ain’t nothing like sittin’ on the couch spinning tales…

      Anybody remember that old movie w/ Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas? Well the Chicken Ranch was very real. As a 19 year old GI a few of my barracks mates decided Allan needed to get laid and treated me to a visit there. Very cool old farmhouse out in the country. But with prostitutes…

      • claygooding says:

        What about the brothels in Juarez and every other border town,,may still have some but I imagine the decapitated bodies cut back on the Ft Bliss flood of Romeo’s.
        And if ZZ Top sang about it it prolly happened.

  3. The government or the state picks up the complaint in a victimless crime for the people.

    How can there be any “people” if no one has complained of becoming a victim? I am confused.

  4. Servetus says:

    Red light districts in Europe, and legalized prostitution in Nevada, Toronto, and many other places, all operate on the wisdom that it’s better to legalize and regulate the trade than to discriminate and incriminate. It’s the same harm reduction framework that many want to apply to drug use. The need to control STDs, human exploitation, maintain clean working conditions, personal safety, all contribute to collectively overwhelm late era Victorians with their heebie-jeebies.

    Indulgence in vice is a class distinction. Hannah Arendt wrote that organized crime exists to serve the wealthy classes. Purchasing high-dollar stolen goods, gambling, prostitution, drugs, and so forth, are expensive hobbies. When egalitarianism enters the picture and makes vice available to the working classes, the paternalists step in. Privilege has its privileges. Cultural boundaries must be kept. The souls of heretics must be saved, even at the expense of their temporal existence. That is until the prohibitionists get voted out of office, or something like the French Revolution arises. Situations always change.

  5. I think we need a new branch of the government dedicated to reviewing and correcting departures from the constitution and initiating reforms. Hopefully starting with the commerce clause and coming up to preset time. Having the citizenry regain some of its former stature in the society in relationship to its government would be a good idea. You know, we do S.A.T. tests for students, maybe we can have something similar for anyone asking to run for the congress or the senate. We need to raise the bar I think. I don’t mean the one they water at during their negotiations.

    • Jeff Trigg says:

      “You know, we do S.A.T. tests for students, maybe we can have something similar for anyone asking to run for the congress or the senate.”

      I have a real simple test for all potential candidates. If they claim to be a Republican or a Democrat, then they are too stupid, power hungry, or evil to ever be trusted with the vast government power they are trying to attain.

      Those two political parties, and the Whigs before them, have indeed perverted our Constitution beyond recognition to benefit the political ruling class at the expense of us common people. The Judicial Branch is supposed to be dedicated to reviewing and correcting departures from the Constitution, but they are nothing more than rubber-stampers for the policies of their two political parties. Our Constitution is dead and buried, replaced by the whims of Republicans and Democrats in power and those groups/corporations who’ve bought off the two parties.

      I like your idea, and I bet if we picked Supreme Court Justices out of the phone book we’d have better results at protecting and defending our individual rights guaranteed in the Constitution than we do now with the two evil parties having complete power.

  6. CJ says:

    pete you ought to blog on the ongoing heroin maintenance struggle in canada. heroin maintenance is working (no surprise) the exit strategy for some of the people on it is to continue giving them heroin, the health minister stepped in and said no way and put in laws that will stop these people from receiving the heroin after 3 months, now the heroin patients are suing the gov’t. the lawyer for the heroin people said “court stuff takes time and these people dont have time.”

    • Duncan20903 says:


      Well anyone that’s aware of Francis’ Law knew the moment a prohibitionist stated that the worst thing to give a heroin [addict] is more heroin that heroin would soon be demonstrated as exactly the very thing that should be given to a heroin [addict].

      BTW CJ, have you got a better word than addict for the way I used it above? If you’ve read more than a few of my posts you might have realized that I go out of my way to avoid words which I perceive as giving power to the prohibitionist platform. E.g. I choose to enjoy cannabis, I don’t call myself a user. States have medicinal cannabis patient protection laws, not “medical merrywanna.” I can’t think of a word that empowers prohibitionist dogma more than the word addict, and user is just a short hair less empowering of their dogma. I am very open to suggestions. At this time I’m not willing to consider using “people who choose to enjoy heroin” without substantial reflection and being convinced that it’s accurate.

      • primus says:

        It is not necessary that your term be accurate, however it should be catchy and sum things up nicely so that through inculcation (teaching by repetition) the language and the mindset may change. The language leads the mindset, so this step is critical. I feel that we have moved the discourse by inserting ‘re-legalization’ and ‘enjoy’ instead of ‘abuse’. When people view the enjoyers as just enjoying something a bit different, instead of viewing enjoyers as deviants, the mindset of the public is different. That is what is showing up in polls, just as much as the aging of the population. In that light, enjoy is about as good as any, but if something better is suggested, be quick to jump on board.

  7. Servetus says:

    “Speaking with Times columnist Patt Morrison, Kleiman stated, ‘I keep saying we don’t know nearly as much about cannabis as Pillsbury knows about brownie mix.’” – December 4, 2013. See Paul Armentano’s takedown here.

    Re Mark Kleiman: who’s “we”? Does Prof. Kleiman think himself guru of the scientific community? If Kleiman doesn’t know it, does no one? Does he frequent the hard science literature on drug chemistry, biology and neurology on a daily basis? Did he ask Pillsbury what they really know about their brownie mix? Is Kleiman a creationist?

    These questions need to be asked because UCLA and the great State of Washington have paid out big taxpayer bucks to Kleiman and his klan. “We” want a return on our investment for investing in these drug war hooligans and it’s not there. “We” must stop this wasteful spending.

    • Duncan20903 says:


      No, no, no Servetus, he’s beside himself left and right. “When I say ‘we'” “Prof” Kleiman ejaculates, “I mean me, myself and I!”

      Now don’t be to tough on “Prof” Kleiman’s forays into pondering public policy and products produced by Pillsbury. I get sick and tired when some entertainer is caught with pot and people say that this person is a roll model. If they want a roll model then those people should call the Pillsbury Dough Boy. “Prof” Kleiman could figure that out by accident if he’s in the same general vicinity.

  8. Steve Finlay says:

    We have known for a very long time that prohibition of any consensual transaction cannot work. For instance, which anarchistic revolutionary said this, in 1776?

    “In the reign of Edward VI, religious zeal prohibited all interest. This prohibition, however, like all others of the same kind, is said to have produced no effect, and probably rather increased than diminished the evil of usury.”

    Answer: Adam Smith, in An Inquiry Into The Nature And Causes Of The Wealth Of Nations

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