Thursday, March 25, 2010

Prohibition and the War on Drugs

NOTICE: This is not the same blog as my previous, even though it opens with the same paragraph.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a Libertarian, although I like much of what they believe. I am a Constitutional Conservative.

In 1920, 37 states ratified the 18th Amendment to our Constitution and it became law. That Amendment started the Prohibition era of American History. It may have been a noble endeavor to restrict the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States, but it did not work. During the next 13 years, Prohibition proved that sometimes even good intentions have bad consequences. Not only did Prohibition ruin many good businesses (it devastated the entire city of St. Louis), it gave the Mob, or organized crime, the economic power to grow into a organization almost as powerful as our Government. In addition, many otherwise upright and model citizens (the moonshiners and rum runners) became criminals in the eyes of the government. (On a side note, it also gave us what was to become NASCAR.) One of the families rumored to have gotten rich off of illegal booze during the Prohibition was named Kennedy. In 1933, after thirteen years of such flagrant disregard for the law that the government was simply unable to enforce it, the 21st Amendment to our Constitution nullified Prohibition. It is estimated that before the law was struck down, there were more than 100,000 illegal "speakeasies" in New York City alone.

The repeal of Prohibition did several good things for our country. 1. It allowed the government to tax and regulate the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. 2. It took the "booze" economy out of the hands of organized crime and other lawbreakers and put it into the hands of legitimate businesses. 3. It created what has become one of the most robust industries in the United States. 4. It proved that local laws and regulations are better for our country than trying to make everything a national issue (as is shown by the number of counties and cities nationwide who to this day still enforce Prohibition on a local level.)

I do not like illegal drugs. I do not use illegal drugs, or smoke marijuana. I have had personal experience with the devastating effects of illegal drugs on people I know and my community at large.

HOWEVER, I think the current "War on Drugs" has failed, continues to fail, and will always fail. Why do we continue spending billions of dollars trying to win a war that has cost more and that we have been fighting far longer than the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Viet Nam? Why do we continue fighting a war that has taken more lives than all of these wars combined? Why do we overburden our court and prison systems with people who could be better served by given them help instead of handcuffs?

I think recreational drugs should be taxed and regulated, just like alcohol. This will remove the criminal incentive to illegally import and distribute drugs, just like alcohol. It will make the government money, rather than cost it money, just like alcohol. It will create a new above ground industry that will employ thousands of Americans, just like alcohol. It will enable the government to assure the quality and relative safety of the drug (no more battery acid in the moonshine), just like alcohol. It will make it much easier for the government to control who has access to the drugs, just like alcohol.

The Drug Wars in Mexico are starting to spill over into the United States. Thousands are dying. Hundreds are being kidnapped. Yet there is no solution because there is so much money involved. As long as it is profitable for the Drug Cartels to keep shipping drugs into the United States, it will continue. Legalizing these drugs will immediately take away the economic incentive to use violence to get their goods into the United States. We can then import the drugs, regulating and taxing. As long as the legal price is close  to the "street" price, why would anyone (except those prohibited from buying) choose the illegal? They wouldn't. An added benefit of decriminalizing recreational drugs might be a economic boom in Mexico, as that country would immediately start to legitimize the drug industry with taxes and regulation. It might even slow down illegal immigration as more legitimate jobs are created south of our border.

There will be law-breakers, just like alcohol. There will be underage users, just like alcohol. There will be differences in local laws, just like alcohol. But at least we will be able to say that we are no longer spending billions on drug law enforcement, but instead are making money that can be used to help those who need help (and most likely siphoned off to help support Obamacare.) You can bet that the drug cartels do not want us to change our tactics, because they know how to beat us at that game. They have proved it time and time again.

We cannot win the war on drugs by continuing to do what has been failing for the past 50 years. Lets change tactics. Lets liberate and then regulate the thousands who are prisoners of the underground economy called illegal drugs.


  1. Great posting. I definately agree, but couldn't articulate it as well as you just did. Good job!

    The question will be posed: Should everything be legal on a federal level then and then let states and cities enforce their own laws? How would you respond? How far do you take it (Murder, Abortion, Drugs, etc.? They all can take life don't they?

    That is my struggle with it.

  2. I am not a Constitutional expert, nor an attorney. However, the Federal Government should only be involved in interstate and international matters. Congress has used the Commerce Clause to greatly expand their powers beyond that intended by the Constitution. Maybe there should be a Department of Agriculture because a good amount of our agricultural output is grown to be sold beyond state and and national borders. I can't find anything that would make Education subject to the Commerce Clause. There are many other examples of Congressional excess. State rights should prevail in murder and abortion laws, unless the crimes are committed across state lines (making them a Federal offense.) The importation and distribution of drugs certainly make them subject to the commerce clause, although the laws regulating their use should be local or state laws.