Alcohol Prohibition didn’t work. Prohibition of marijuana and other drugs actually failed in much worse ways than alcohol prohibition did. I don’t always agree with The Economist, but about this I do: it’s time to end the failed War on Drugs and ramp down the expensively bloated U.S. prison system.
Uncle Sam Will Enforce Prohibition, Our September 22nd 1923 issue examined the impact of America’s experiment with alcohol prohibition. The newspaper encourages a similarly liberal approach to drug control today.
We wrote: “A law is not necessarily a good or wise law because it aims at doing something which is desirable. If it is impossible of strict administration, it will not only fail in its object, but, what is far more serious will bring both law, legislature and executive into open contempt.”
It has admittedly failed to stop drinking. It has decreased the regard in which the American constitution and American law are held abroad. It has led withing the United States to open and widespread contempt for and breach of law, which some critics have even described as the “beginning of Bolshevism.” It has proved exceedingly undemocratic, since in effect it denies to the poor anything but the most horribly debased and injurious forms of alcohol, but leaves more normal alcoholic beverages obtainable by those whose purses are better filled. It has led to a very serious outbreak of corruption, smuggling, and profiteering. Finally, its application to foreign ships entering American harbours has aroused diplomatic friction, and compelled the derisive notice of other countries to the position into which the experiment has brought the United States. Even after making the most generous allowance for the advantages which may have accrued, this is a very formidable list of disadvantages, which those who would like to impose Prohibition in the United Kingdom would do well to study.
So by that list the War on Drugs is much worse, because it also has produced a seven-fold increase in incarceration in the U.S. since 1980, and far higher than in 1923.
- 1923: about 148 (sentenced adults + juvenile detention) per 100,000 people; see page 210, Historical Corrections Statistics in the United States 1850-1984, U.S. DoJ, December 1986.
- 2011: 492 sentenced per 100,000 in 2011; see Prisoners in 2011, U.S. DoJ, December 2012, which included this note:
“Nearly half (48%) of inmates in federal prison were serving time for drug offenses in 2011”
The War on Drugs has greatly promoted militarization of police. It has led to privatization of prisons. And money from not just drug smugglers but also from private prison companies and large weapons vendors has corrupted politics, meshing with corruption fueled by the military-industrial complex.
Oh, and I don’t know of any polls on this back in 1923, but I’d wager that Congress is much less popular now than then, not in small part because of that corruption. In particular, Congress is now less popular than the Communism those Bolsheviks promoted back in 1923. Sure, there are plenty of other reasons for Congress’ current unpopularity, including bailing out banks but not mortgage holders or students, and endless warmongering with no stops on domestic spying, but the failed War on Drugs has certainly contributed to contempt for Congress.