Just say no to Prohibition

How many years now has the Inquirer written about drug busts? Have your reporters or your readers noticed that seized quantities have grown? Have they noticed that drug busts continue, year after year, decade after decade?

I’ve noticed. I started my lifetime career as a policeman nearly 40 years ago, and my profession allows me to witness the drug war from the front lines. President Richard M. Nixon declared the War On Drugs in 1971 and here we are 36 years later with more drugs than ever on our streets. Does anyone believe this is a war we have won? That we can ever win?

When our grandparents began their experiment of Prohibition in 1920 with the enactment of the 18th Amendment, their underlying intentions were noble. They sought to end the travesty that can accompany the misuse and abuse of alcohol.

In the end, however, Alcohol Prohibition was a bad public policy, and there were many unintended consequences, including an increase in public violence because gangsters competing for territory and control of bootleg booze distribution fought open gun battles on our streets. Police and public officials fell into corruption, swayed by the wealth offered by criminals who controlled the manufacturing and distribution of alcohol.

An increased production of more potent alcohol caused an upswing in deaths and injury. Consumption by young people became a problem. Finally enough people recognized the failures of Prohibition, and in 1933 the 18th Amendment was repealed with the enactment of the 21st Amendment. When Prohibition's repeal went into effect, organized crime's control of alcohol was lost because they could not compete with the lower prices of controlled sales.

At Prohibition's end, industrial magnate John D. Rockefeller, Jr. wrote, ... drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before.

Could those words be spoken today about the drug war? Could we end the monopoly that the gangs and cartels have on the black market in illegal drugs? Could we slay the drug dealers' golden egg-laying goose by the re-legalization of all drugs?

In real life terms Drug Prohibition has wrought upon our population all the same harms that alcohol Prohibition created. Each year we gift the cartels some 500 billion dollars in untaxed cash money. Money that allows them to adapt to each new strategy of law enforcement in the War On Drugs.

Because of the drug war's failures we must take a different path. No matter how far down Prohibition's road we have traveled it is not too late to turn back. We need to take control of these substances away from criminals and focus our attention on ending the harms that drug abuse create. We need to spend our time and money dealing with the problems that Drug Prohibition has created.

Re-legalization of drugs does not mean we are saying yes to or encouraging people to use drugs. By re-legalizing drugs, we will free up law enforcement to focus on real crime. We can leave addiction and its treatment to those professionals who have the appropriate medical skills. We can leave education about the harms of drugs to professional educators. The campaign against tobacco use has been demonstrably successful by using truthful education outreach. And those successes have come without the firing of a single weapon, without SWAT teams breaking down doors, without our elected representatives making grandstanding, get-tough speeches.

There is an alternative to the drug war IF we truly wish to succeed in reducing the ravaging effects drugs are having on our communities and our children. The alternative is to just say NO to Prohibition.

Tim Datig
LEAP etc

Big Think
Sponsored by Lumina Foundation

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