PortandTerminal.com, January 17, 2019
HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA – On this sad day 100 years ago the era of Prohibition began. While Prohibition meant that the production, transportation, and sale of alcohol was outlawed in America it sure didn’t stop the demand for it.
Rum-running, the organized smuggling of imported whiskey, rum and other liquor by sea and overland to the United States, started within weeks after Prohibition took effect on January 17, 1920.
Many of the smugglers were enterprising Canadians who saw an opportunity to make a buck and jumped at the opportunity to supply the American’s demand for liquor.
During the prohibition era in the U.S., Canadian distillers and brewers were still allowed to export their product legally. All the Canadian rum-runners had to do was to buy alcohol from domestic manufacturers claiming it was for export to destinations where it was legal, such as Mexico. Wink, wink. In reality, they would take their cargo just outside U.S. coastal waters to await American buyers, who took the booze ashore.
In the U.S., the smuggling business was quickly dominated by organized crime, most notably Al Capone out of Chicago, and Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky in New York.
Rum-running became much more difficult after the Coast Guard obtained fast “six-bitter” patrol boats and by 1926 could block the contact boats from making it ashore, forcing many runners to dump their liquor into the ocean to avoid arrest. Rum Row, the place offshore where the boats of buyers and suppliers would meet, was pushed farther out, making it difficult to make a profit. In 1927, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that American-flagged ships with illegal liquor could be seized up to 34 miles from shore.
In 1933, after 13 bloody and fruitless years of trying to enforce Prohibition, the ban was repealed, putting gangsters across the U.S. out of the liquor smuggling game. However, organized crime’s capacity for smuggling booze was quickly converted into the traffic in illegal drugs. Just about this time, heroin, cocaine and cannabis were progressively coming under international treaty and prohibition.
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