Why Drugs Keep Getting Stronger During Prohibition
2 min

Why Drugs Keep Getting Stronger During Prohibition

2 min
Increasing strength is often used as an argument against legalisation, yet it is prohibition that is to blame.

The way we view drugs as a society is slowly changing. The demonising arguments and scare tactics used back at the peak of prohibition are slowly being disproved and fading away. The result is a more informed population, with many wanting to see things like cannabis researched and legalised. However, for those sitting on the fence, there are concerns that continue to nag at the back of their minds: cannabis has gotten stronger over the years, won’t it continue to do so? What about things like prescription painkiller addiction, which often results in people moving on to harder drugs – wouldn’t growing strength and legalisation make this situation much more dangerous?

The answer to these questions is no. Sure, drugs are more potent today than they were 50 years ago, and more people are using them – but prohibition isn’t holding back this phenomenon, it is actively causing it. It all comes down to profits and efficiency.


To better understand the reasons for the increase in potency, you only need to look back at the prohibition of alcohol. Back in the 1920’s before alcohol was banned across the US, beer and wine were the most popular forms of alcoholic drink. Roll on prohibition, and suddenly hard liquors and moonshine are the tipple of choice. It is not because people felt oppressed and wanted harder drink, but because it was all that was available.

If you are illegally smuggling alcohol, it works out much more profitable to smuggle a distilled spirit than beer or wine. This is because of limited space and risk. Why smuggle a few hundred litres of beer that will only serve a few hundred people, when you can smuggle a few hundred litres of liquor in the same space and sell it to thousands.

Much like today, when prohibition ended, beer and wine became the drink of choice again for most – as alcohol could be traded more freely, making it more available.

It is a concept known as “the iron law of prohibition”: as laws get stricter and punishments more severe, milder forms of drugs disappear. This is because those operating on the wrong side of the law look to maximise their profits for the risks they are taking.

The same concept applies to most modern drugs. When it comes to cannabis, strength is increased so that more money can be charged. Why grow weak weed and risk getting caught smuggling it, when you can grow super weed and get more profit for the risk? As a more relatable example, think about football stadiums. A lot of people would love to enjoy a beer or two while watching the game, but it is prohibited in the stadium. So what do people do? They smuggle in hip flasks of whisky or vodka.

For those addicted to painkillers, the iron law of prohibition has devastating effects – especially in the US. In some places, doctors have to legally refuse prescriptions for painkillers to those they think are abusing them or fueling addiction. This leaves the addicts with nowhere to turn but heroin – there is no milder form available due to the nature of prohibition, despite them existing. The result is harder drug use and increased danger to the self and society. Fortunately, some nations are beginning to realise this and are putting in place schemes that help addicts break their habit using weaker drugs, helping ease down the detox process. But it is not enough.

The sad thing is, even the most diehard prohibitionist has no intention of seeing drugs get stronger, but their arguments cause it none the less. Legalisation opens up the market for the risk-free production of milder forms of drugs, making things safer. People do not automatically seek out the strongest substance they can for regular use; a casual stoner has no more desire to be in a permanent couch lock than a social drinker has to be constantly smashed. However, when it comes to drugs, prohibition leaves little alternative. If you truly want a safer society – where harder drugs are not abused like they are today - then it is time to end prohibition.



Written by: Josh
Writer, psychonaut and cannabis aficionado, Josh is Zamnesia’s in-house expert. He spends his days nestled out in the countryside, delving into the hidden depths of all things psychoactive in nature.

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Luke Sumpter
Luke Sumpter
With a BSc (Hons) degree in Clinical Health Sciences and a passion for growing plants, Luke Sumpter has worked as a professional journalist and writer at the intersection of cannabis and science for the past 7 years.
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