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Prohibition of alcohol, often referred to simply as prohibition, is a sumptuary law which prohibits alcohol. Typically, the manufacture, transportation, import, export, and sale of alcoholic beverages is restricted or illegal. The term can also apply to the periods in the histories of the countries during which the prohibition of alcohol was enforced. Use of the term as applicable to a historical period is typically applied to countries of European culture. In some countries of the Muslim world, consumption of alcoholic beverages is forbidden according to Islamic Law — though the strictness by which this prohibition was and is enforced varies considerably between various Islamic countries and various periods in their history.In the early twentieth century, much of the impetus for the prohibition movement in the Nordic countries and North America came from Protestant wariness of alcohol.

The first half of the 20th century saw periods of prohibition of alcoholic beverages in several countries:

After several years, prohibition became a failure in North America and elsewhere, as smuggling and bootlegging became widespread and organized crime took control of the distribution of alcohol. Distilleries and breweries in Canadamarker, Mexicomarker, and the Caribbeanmarker flourished as their products were either consumed by visiting Americans or illegally imported to the U.S. Chicagomarker became notorious as a haven for prohibition dodgers during the time known as the Roaring Twenties. Many of Chicago's most notorious gangsters, including Al Capone and his enemy Bugs Moran, made millions of dollars through illegal alcohol sales. By the end of the 1920s Capone controlled all 10,000 speakeasies in Chicago and ruled the bootlegging business from Canada to Florida. Numerous other crimes, including theft and murder, were directly linked to criminal activities in Chicago and elsewhere in violation of prohibition.

Prohibition generally came to an end in the late 1920s or early 1930s in most of North America and Europe, although a few locations continued prohibition for many more years.

North America

Prohibition in the United States

Prohibition in Canada

Prohibition in Mexico

Zapatista Communities will often ban alcohol as part of a collective decision. This has been used by many villages as a way to decrease domestic violence and has generally been favored by women. However, this is not recognized by federal Mexican law as the Zapatista movement is separatist and strongly opposed by the national government.

Prescription form for medicinal liquor

Nordic countries

The Nordic countries, with the exception of Denmarkmarker, have had a temperance tradition since the early 1900s. Prohibition was enforced in Icelandmarker from 1915 to 1922 (with beer prohibited until 1989). In Norwaymarker, distilled beverages were prohibited from 1916 to 1927, and prohibition also included fortified wine and beer from 1917 to 1923. In Finlandmarker, alcoholic beverages were prohibited between 1919 and 1932. Sweden enforced a rationing system (Bratt System or "motboken") between 1914 and 1955, but a referendum in 1922 rejected total prohibition. Alcohol was prohibited in the Faroe Islandsmarker until 1992. Nordic countries today, with the exception of Denmark, strictly control the sale of alcohol. There are government monopolies in place for selling liquors, wine and stronger beers to consumers, in Norwaymarker (Vinmonopolet), Swedenmarker (Systembolaget), Icelandmarker (Vínbúðin) and Finlandmarker (Alko). Corporations such as bars and restaurants may import alcoholic beverages directly or through other companies. The temperance movement in Scandinavia (parts of which are affiliated with the International Organisation of Good Templars), which advocates strict government regulations concerning the consumption of alcohol, has seen a decline in membership numbers and activity during the past years, but has seen a recent increase (for example IOGT-NTO in Sweden had a net gain of 12,500 members in 2005).

United Kingdom

While the sale or consumption of commercial alcohol was never prohibited, throughout the first half of the twentieth century, homebrewing was circumscribed by taxation and prohibition, largely due to lobbying by large breweries that wished to stamp out the practice. One of the earliest, modern attempts to regulate private production that affected this era was the Inland Revenue Act of 1880 in the United Kingdommarker, which required homebrewers to obtain a license at a price of 5 shillings.

Russia and Soviet Union

In the Russian Empiremarker, a limited version of a Dry Law was introduced in 1914. It continued through the turmoil of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Russian Civil War into the period of Soviet Russia and the Soviet Unionmarker until 1925.

Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia

Alcohol is prohibited in some Muslim countries because of Quranic cautions against the drink:

"Shaitân (Satan) wants only to excite enmity and hatred between you with intoxicants (alcoholic drinks) and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of Allâh (God) and from As-Salât (the prayer). So, will you not then abstain?" [4110]

"They ask you (O Muhammad) concerning alcoholic drink and gambling. Say: "In them is a great sin, and (some) benefit for men, but the sin of them is greater than their benefit." And they ask you what they ought to spend. Say: "That which is beyond your needs." Thus Allâh makes clear to you His Laws in order that you may give thought." [4111]

Saudi Arabiamarker completely bans the production, importation or consumption of alcohol and imposes strict penalties on those violating the ban, including weeks to months of imprisonment, and possible lashes. Similarly, Kuwaitmarker also bans the importation or consumption of alcohol, but does not impose corporal punishment for violations. During the Gulf War in 1991, the Coalition, to show respect for local beliefs, banned its troops in Saudi Arabia from drinking alcohol.

Qatarmarker bans the importation of alcohol and it is a punishable offense to drink alcohol or be drunk in public. Offenders may incur a prison sentence or deportation. Alcohol is, however, available at licensed hotel restaurants and bars, and expatriates living in Qatar can obtain alcohol on a permit system.

The United Arab Emiratesmarker does not restrict the purchase of alcohol from a liquor store to non-Muslim foreigners who have residence permits and who have an Interior Ministry liquor license.

Alcohol was first permitted in Bahrainmarker, known to be the most progressive Persian Gulfmarker state and the earliest to prosper, popular with those crossing the causeway from Saudi Arabia. However, in February 2009, MPs voted to ban all alcohol from Bahrain International Airport.

Iranmarker began restricting alcohol consumption and production soon after the 1979 Revolution, with harsh penalties meted out for violations of the law. Repeated convictions may result in the death penalty. However, there is widespread violation of the law. Officially recognized non-Muslim minorities are allowed to produce alcoholic beverages for their own private consumption and for religious rites such as the Eucharist.

Alcohol was banned in Afghanistanmarker during the rule of the Taliban. In the wake of the ousting from power of the Taliban, the ban was lifted for foreigners, who can buy alcohol in certain shops on presentation of their passport to prove they are foreigners. Afghan citizens are prohibited by law from buying alcohol.

Libyamarker bans the import, sale and consumption of alcohol, with heavy penalties for offenders. Tunisiamarker has a selective ban on alcohol products other than wine, with consumption and sale being allowed in special zones or bars "for tourists" and in big cities [4112]. Wine, however, is widely available. Moroccomarker prohibits the sale of alcohol during Ramadan [4113]

Sudanmarker has banned all alcohol consumption and extends serious penalties to offenders.

Many other Arab or mainly Muslim countries such as Egyptmarker, Syriamarker, Lebanonmarker, Jordanmarker and Turkeymarker do not have any ban on alcohol, and production as well as consumption are legal, under the provision that people below the legal drinking age (which ranges from 18 to 21 depending on the country and the situation) cannot legally purchase alcoholic beverages. In Turkeymarker the sale of alcoholic beverages was prohibited for 24 hours during general elections.

Southern Asia

In some states of Indiamarker alcoholic drinks are banned, for example the states of Gujaratmarker and Mizorammarker. Certain national holidays such as Independence Day and Gandhi Jayanti (birthdate of Mahatma Gandhi) are meant to be dry nationally. The state of Andhra Pradeshmarker had imposed Prohibition under the Chief Ministership of N. T. Rama Rao but this was thereafter lifted. Dry days are also observed on voting days. Prohibition was also observed from 1996 to 1998 in Haryanamarker. Prohibition has become controversial in Gujarat following a July 2009 episode in which widespread poisoning resulted from alcohol that had been sold illegally. All of the Indian states observe dry days on major religious festivals/occasions depending on the popularity of the festival in that region.

Pakistanmarker allowed the free sale and consumption of alcohol for three decades from 1947, but restrictions were introduced by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto just weeks before he was removed as prime minister in 1977. Since then, only members of non-Muslim minorities such as Hindus, Christians and Zoroastrians are allowed to apply for permits for alcohol. The monthly quota depends on their income but is usually about five bottles of liquor or 100 bottles of beer. In a country of 140 million, only about 60 outlets are allowed to sell alcohol and there used to be only one legal brewery, Murree Brewery in Rawalpindimarker, Now there are more. Enforced by the country's Islamic Ideology Council, the ban is strictly policed. However, members of religious minorities often sell their liquor permits to Muslims and a black market trade in alcohol continues.

In Bangladeshmarker, foreign passport holders of non-Muslim nations can drink in some licenced restaurants and bars (and expatriate clubs) and can purchase imported alcohol from 'diplomatic bonded warehouses' at a hefty rate of sales duty (Approx 300%). Holders of diplomatic passports and some other specially privileged persons (such as U.N. employees) have 'passbooks' which entitle them to buy imported alcohol from the same 'bonded warehouses' duty free. Often duty free and duty paid prices are shown alongside one another. Bangladesh nationals of any religion may purchase alcohol from special outlets with a medical certificate. Illegal homemade liquor (known as 'Mod' or 'Bangla') is widely consumed in rural areas. The (mostly Christian) Garo tribal folk also brew a strong rice beer called 'Choo'. Christians are permitted to use wine for Holy Communion.

The Maldivesmarker ban the import of alcohol. Alcoholic beverages are available only to foreign tourists on resort islands and may not be taken off the resort.

Southeast Asia

Thailandmarker bans the selling of alcohol during the afternoon to prevent schoolchildren from buying alcohol. The electronic cashiers of supermarkets and convenience stores are programmed not to accept alcoholic beverages during this time, but cashiers frequently circumvent the register restrictions by scanning a non-alcoholic item of equal value.

In Bruneimarker, alcohol consumption in public is banned and there is no sale of alcohol. Non-Muslims are allowed to purchase a limited amount of alcohol from their point of embarkation overseas for their own private consumption. Non-Muslims over 17 years of age may be allowed to bring in not more than two bottles of liquor (about two quarts) and twelve cans of beer per person into the country.


The first consignment of liquor for Canberra, following the repeal of prohibition laws in 1928.

The Australian Capital Territorymarker was the first Australian jurisdiction in which prohibition laws were enacted. In 1910 American-born King O'Malley, the then Minister of Home Affairs, shepherded the laws through parliament to address unruly behaviour. Seventeen years later the Federal Parliament repealed the laws.

More recently alcohol has been prohibited in many remote indigenous communities across Australia. Penalties for transporting alcohol into these "dry" communities are severe and can result in confiscation of any vehicles involved; in dry areas within the Northern Territorymarker, all vehicles used to transport alcohol are seized.

Because alcohol consumption has been known to lead to violence, some communities sought a safer alternative in substances such as kava, especially in the Northern Territorymarker. Over-indulgence in kava causes sleepiness, rather than the violence that can result from over-indulgence in alcohol. These and other measures to counter alcohol abuse met with variable success. Some communities saw decreased social problems and others did not. The ANCD study notes that, to be effective, programs must address "...the underlying structural determinants that have a significant impact on alcohol and drug misuse." (Op. cit., p. 26) The Federal government banned kava imports into the Northern Territory in 2007.


In many countries in Latin America the sale but not the consumption of alcohol is prohibited before and during elections.

See also


Further reading

  • Susanna Barrows, Robin Room, and Jeffrey Verhey (eds.), The Social History of Alcohol: Drinking and Culture in Modern Society (Berkeley, Calif: Alcohol Research Group, 1987)
  • Susanna Barrows and Robin Room (eds.), Drinking: Behavior and Belief in Modern History University of California Press, (1991)
  • Jack S. Blocker, David M. Fahey, and Ian R. Tyrrell eds. Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History: An International Encyclopedia 2 Vol. (2003)
  • JS Blocker, Jr. "Did prohibition really work? Alcohol prohibition as a public health innovation." Am J Public Health. 2006 Feb;96(2):233-43. Epub 2005 27 December.
  • Ernest Cherrington, ed., Standard Encyclopaedia of the Alcohol Problem 6 volumes (1925-1930), comprehensive international coverage to late 1920s
  • Jessie Forsyth Collected Writings of Jessie Forsyth 1847-1937: The Good Templars and Temperance Reform on Three Continents ed by David M. Fahey (1988)
  • Gefou-Madianou. Alcohol, Gender and Culture (European Association of Social Anthropologists) (1992)
  • Dwight B. Heath, ed; International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture Greenwood Press, (1995)
  • Max Henius Modern liquor legislation and systems in Finland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden (1931)
  • Max Henius The error in the National prohibition act (1931)
  • Patricia Herlihy; The Alcoholic Empire: Vodka & Politics in Late Imperial Russia Oxford University Press, (2002)
  • Sulkunen, Irma. History of the Finnish Temperance Movement: Temperance As a Civic Religion (1991)
  • Tyrrell, Ian; Woman's World/Woman's Empire: The Woman's Christian Temperance Union in International Perspective, 1880-1930 U of North Carolina Press, (1991)
  • White, Helene R. (ed.), Society, Culture and Drinking Patterns Reexamined (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies, 1991).
  • White, Stephen.Russia Goes Dry: Alcohol, State and Society (1995)
  • Robert S. Walker and Samuel C. Patterson, OKLAHOMA GOES WET: THE REPEAL OF PROHIBITION (McGraw-Hill Book Co. Eagleton Institute Rutgers University 1960).
  • Samuel C. Patterson and Robert S. Walker, "The Political Attitudes of Oklahoma Newspapers Editors: The Prohibition Issue," The Southwestern Social Science Quarterly (1961)
  • Farness, Kate, "One Half So Precious", Dodd, Mead, and Company, (1995)

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