Monday, September 05, 2005

DEA Nostalgic for Alcohol Prohibition?

The Drug Enforcement Agency pines away on its website for the good old days of alcohol Prohibtion, because it "worked"!

Consider the following
brilliant piece of historiography appearing on the DEA's Just Think Twice website:
A word about prohibition: lots of you hear the argument that alcohol prohibition failed---so why are drugs still illegal? Prohibition did work. Alcohol consumption was reduced by almost 60% and incidents of liver cirrhosis and deaths from this disease dropped dramatically (Scientific American, 1996, by David Musto). Today, alcohol consumption is over three times greater than during the Prohibition years. Alcohol use is legal, except for kids under 21, and it causes major problems, especially in drunk driving accidents.
So the DEA thinks it'd be a good idea to reintroduce ALCOHOL prohibition? Does the Coors family know that?

Let's grant for the moment all their disputable fact assertions. If alcohol consumption under Prohibition was at 1/3 current rates, doesn't that mean that LOTS of Americans were consuming alcohol in defiance of the law? Wouldn't that mean banning booze didn't work any better than has drug prohibition?

Think about it: What if four out of ten beer drinkers today were suddenly labeled "criminals"? Would that "work"?
Hell no.

With prisons already full, reinstating alcohol Prohibition
would degenerate quickly into an irredeemable, absurdist chaos. Keeping booze legal and regulated restricts childrens' access, while nearly every American teenager knows where to buy pot (or knows someone who knows). Plus, alcohol-producers' revenue stream is heavily taxed and doesn't wind up supplying violent criminals, as happens now with the money Americans pay for illegal drugs. Renewing alcohol Prohibition would be a full-blown disaster from every perspective.

brazenness and quantity of the DEA's lies are increasing, I think.


Anonymous said...

At least Prohibition was instituted using Constitutional methods - there was an amendment to apply it nationwide.

That's the problem with the marijuana law what the Supreme Court just endorsed - it was unconstitutional.

Think either prohibition would today be passed by the vote of the citizens?

Anonymous said...

It's funny,three years after alcohol was made legal again Alcohlics Anonymous came into being.Illegal use of booze was tremendous binge drinking.Example when I'm I going to get alcohol again.Same as drugs today.Those of us who have seen legal drugs in other countries have commented many times how easy self-control is,especially related to tobacco or even liquor.what does a poor man but sex and alcohol,why wouldn't he sell drugs with profits that can be made.The dea is a sham.

Anonymous said...

hey, it "worked" for Joe Kennedy.

Anonymous said...

This is a excellent blog. Keep it going. Don't miss visiting this site about how to buy & sell book note on interest free credit; pay whenever you want.

spydrz said...

Shouldn't it say "Kids and Adults under 21?"

Kevin said...

Doug, I think you're missing a point.

Prohibition might have reduced alcohol consumption, but the unintended consequences of the law - bootlegging, organized crime, murder, mayhem, disrespect for law, etc., were far worse than the use of alcohol.

The same holds true of the War on (some) Drugs™. Does drug prohibition reduce drug abuse? Probably. Is it worth the unintended consequences? I don't think so.

Read my piece, It is not the Business of Government for my take on it.

M. Simon said...

Republican Socialism: price supports for criminals.

Hucbald said...

Being a ruthlessly purist libertarian, I think you can guess what I think about the DEA (And the ATF, and just about every other federal government agency).

Government agencies are in the business of justifying their own existence. That's what they do, and that's MOST of what they do. I used to work for one (FEMA), so I know.

The arguement that eddiep brings up above is at the heart of the matter: Drug prohibition is big business with all manner of law enforcement making a TON of money from it: Local police, State police, Federal Agents. Then are the courts: Judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys. And last, but not least, the prison system from county jails to federal prisons.

If these organizations were suddenly de-legitimized by having the legal rug pulled out from under them with the repeal of drug laws, literally tens of thousands of people would be out of business and out of work overnight. The way they would spin it, of course, would be that it would be a disaster for that to happen. All these good people out of work and all these bad people back out on the street. That sort of thing.

But the irony is, the savings to the taxpayer who then wouldn't have to support all of these bloated and inefficient pork-ass government entities would more than make up for it. Not to mention, of course, that if marijuana alone was legalized and moderately taxed, it would be a major boon to the economy. All those out of work former authoritarians would easily find gainful employment where they weren't taking money out of the pockets of taxpayers. And, they wouldn't have to live with being professional jerks: They could just be amateur jerks on their own time and their own dime.

The root of this is lawyers. We live in a country not "of the people, by the people, for the people", we live in a country "of the lawyers, by the lawyers, for the lawyers". Anyone know the percentage of state and federal lawmakers who are lawyers? Over 60% I'm sure.

I can't be the only one who thinks lawyers making laws for lawyers is a conflict of interest. And to think, some people actually thought Shakespeare was joking.

Xrlq said...

"Let's grant for the moment all their disputable fact assertions."

Better yet, let's not. If their factual assertion is true that Prohibition cut alcohol consumption to one-third, then it's not unreasonable to argue that prohibition "worked," and that legalization of other drugs would lead to similar increases elsewhere.

Kevin said...

But Xlrq, for how long?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@ Xlrq and Doug:

If Prohibition decreased demand, and certainly it did, the part that didn't "work" is that it simultaneously increased criminality and gangland violence. It made criminals out of otherwise law-abiding citizens, by the millions. It was entirely uneforceable, and as Kevin said, Prohibition's collateral consequences were considered -- by nearly everyone at the time -- to be worse than the dangers of drinking.

@hucbald: In Texas, about 20-22 of our 150 Texas House members are lawyers. I don't know of ratios elsewhere, but it's not close to 60% here. Lawyers make too much to be part time legislators.

@EddieP: I'm genuinely sorry for the loss of your child. Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

Anonymous said...

Of course even if alcohol consumption was in total higher after the repeal of prohibition, without further data it does not mean that problem drinking is more damaging just because overall consumption is up. It could be that when legalised a good chunk of the population who are intrinsically law abiding started drinking again. So the total volume went up.

I don't know if this is true or not. Without a more detailed social and economic cost benefit analysis one cannot properly tell. One should apply proper critical thinking and leave dogma out of it.

Of course this said if they banned booze tomorrow, I’d probably start brewing my own, not that I’m dependant but I’d do it with a ‘sod you bastards’ mentality directed at the legislative process. This wouldn’t show up on any state collated data, another pertinent point.

I suspect booze, and drugs and even possibly guns have many similarities in this regards such the same way.

I know for a fact that when the UK banned and confiscated licensed handguns back in 97 that many licensed guns were ‘sold’ to lampposts. The system wasn’t clever enough to do follow ups and they are now completely off the radar. Meantime public safety has not improved one jot indeed gun crime is drastically up….go figure.

Many social phenomenon work in a contra intuitive kind of way….teenage pregnancy is another. It’s lower in more ostensibly free and promiscuous countries. Lower in Holland than the US and the UK for instance.

No I think the libertarians have a point on all this.

M. Simon said...

My counter argument to xrlq is here.

I make two points:

1. a 2/3s reduction in use only got a 10 - 20% reduction in liver cirrosis cases.

So what prohibition does is deter responsible users.

2. The Real Function of prohibition is Republican Socialism: price supports for criminals. Why support criminals? So we can have more police etc.

I then point out that this kind of socialism is a very inefficient way to get more cops on the street.

Xrlq said...

Maybe we're debating semantics here. To my mind, something "works" if it accomplishes what it set out to do, and it doesn't "work" if it doesn't. If National Prohibition caused a significant reduction in alcohol use at at least some net reduction in alcohol abuse, it "worked."

Yes, prohibition also did wonders to help the mob, which is the principal utilitarian argument against it. That side effect certainly has to be taken into account when determining whether or not prohibition was, on balance, a good thing. I don't count it toward the definition of "working," however, as the law was not intended to control the mob. It was intended to do one thing, and if you believe the DEA's numbers, it did do that one thing. It also did some other crap, but that's another matter.

Think, by analogy, to a really old, beat up, hyper-polluting car. Does it "work?" Well, if you can start the engine and drive it from point A to Point B, then yes, it works. That doesn't mean it shouldn't be taken off the road for other reasons.

Riccardo said...

Whether proibition "worked" or not to decrease alcohol consumption, what I don't see is why that was the government's business.
Ditto as regards drugs.

M. Simon said...


I did not even go into the refutation of the claims on their own terms.

There are reputable studies that show alcohol consumption was declining before prohibition and increased during prohibition.

Liver cirrosis was declining before prohibition. Given the lags it may be that it started increasing during prohibition.

So even on its own terms prohibition was likely a failure.

You can see it in America today. My town of 160,000 has two hydroponic stores.

Anonymous said...

Drinking at 21 an anomally.

The United states is one of only 5 countries (out of over 200) to prohibit drinking under 21 years.

The others are Russia, Samoa (thanks to neighboring American Samoa, and two in South America.

Even our fore fathers allowed children to drink beer. At the first Thanksgiving, all the pilgrims drank beer. Puritans were NOT tea totalers.

Anomaly UK said...

Re last comment - it's not even just a 21/18 thing. Here in Britain, you need to be 18 to buy alcohol, but you can give your children from 12 years alcohol at home. I think even that is strict by the standards of most of the world.

Anonymous said...

Hucbald, the primary current problem with legalization is liability.
Would you want your child to ride on a schoolbus with a driver zoning out? Would you want to drive under a bridge repair with the crane operator stoned? Your heart surgeon?
MJ cannot be legalized until there is an inexpensive, reliable, legally enforceable, noninvasive, real-time test to determine level of incapacacity due to MJ.
Inexpensive because some employers are going to have to administer the tests in bulk just to cover their asses due to the work that worker is expected to perform.
Reliable because it needs to fail only those who should fail, and not fail those who are not incapacitated.
Legally enforceable because some people in jobs requiring straight performance are going to fail the test (presumed because they should fail) Those people are likely going to be fired (as a need to get rid of people who are not willing to follow through on the work requirement to show up straight) and some number of them are going straight (pun) to a lawyer to sue somebody.
Non-invasive because an abuser would not find it dificult to get some doctor to provide support to a false claim that, say a blood test, can not be administered due to the fact that the patient is a hemophiliac or some such.
real-time because a CYA test to prevent stoned malpractice needs to have the results available before the workday is started.
Develop the test, and a groundswell of support would develop for at least testing as to determine how much does it take to be incapacitated (first step to determining "intoxication" levels.)

Anonymous said...

J'hn1, you're argument is lame.

Would you want your child to ride on a schoolbus with a driver zoning out? Would you want to drive under a bridge repair with the crane operator stoned? Your heart surgeon?

What if your childs school bus driver were on prescription drugs or hung over or merely fatigued? And of course the same questions could be asked of the crane operator and the surgeon.
The point is, if you're not testing these these people for all possible forms of impairment, why are you so worried about pot?

MJ cannot be legalized until there is an inexpensive, reliable, legally enforceable, noninvasive, real-time test to determine level of incapacacity due to MJ.

Why does legalization require this? Do we give breathalizers and blood tests to all train conductors, airline pilots and bus drivers everyday before they go to work? Of course we don't. That's because we assume they come to work sober. And unless there is something to indicate otherwise, we don't question their sobriety.
Liability for the employer would be no different for pot than it would be for alcohol or any other form of impairment. The legalization of alcohol didn't create a need for employers to ensure workers weren't drinking before work. Likewise, the legalization of pot wouldn't require employers prove that workers weren't smoking before work.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

BTW, @ Xlrq and Doug: Radley Balko posted two links that argue Prohibition's consumption reduction benefits are overhyped, see here and here.

Amy said...

I agree that it would be helpful to have a cheap, accurate test for drug intoxication that we could use to keep impaired people from driving or engaging in other activities that make them a danger to others. However, that's true whether drugs are legal or not. Your kid's bus driver could be stoned right now. People (and employers) ignore that possibility because they don't want to think about it.

Just as the comments noting that the decrease in consumption under prohibition didn't lead to a corresponding decrease in alcohol related disease, I don't think I believe that drug prohibition, while it may curb consumption some, is creating a corresponding decrease in drug abuse problems. A person who would drive a school bus while high on crack is likely not the most responsible employee to begin with, and wouldn't be responsible even if he were not on crack. A bus driver who currently wouldn't use drugs because he doesn't want to break the law might decide to use drugs if they were legal, but would likely still retain enough respect for the law not to break laws against driving while intoxicated. Some professions are sensitive and dangerous enough that we need to be able to tell the difference accurately and quickly between those two types of employees. But that's true whether drugs are prohibited or not.

Anonymous said...

The drug war is a crock of lies by the government.

Anonymous said...

You said, "Plus, alcohol-producers' revenue stream is heavily taxed and doesn't wind up supplying violent criminals,"

HUH? just what do you think all that tax is doing if not supporting violent criminals? Have you had any benevolent interactions with any government agents lately?

Anonymous said...

DEA. Mommy (Bush's) Little Morons. Selfish. Self Centered. Senseless. Inconsiderate. Arrogant and Brazen Thiefs. Don't outlaw drugs. Outlaw the DEA.

Anonymous said...

Ok everyone, there are some pretty good comments being here. Unfortunately I've only found one that gets to the point. As a legally recognized vote casting, military serving, etc. etc, individual at the age of 18. It hasn't, isn't, nor will it ever be the right of any Government to tell such an individual what they can or cannot put into their bodies. As long as it doesn't infringe upon the rights of others. That is how basic and simple this argument should be reduced to. Once the political class wake up and realize this, then we can finally take the issue out of the criminal sphere!

Anonymous said...

Phohibition didn't work before, and it doesn't work now.

The idea was to reduce use? I thought it was to reduce the damage of drugs, not use, and it's failed badly at that. The death rates for cocaine for instance has climbed by 7 times from a rate of 0.1 to 0.7 since the 70's, with a similar climb in other drug fatality rates. Look for yourselves.

For cocaine deaths

Overall drug related deaths

The site as a whole is worth browsing, it's nothing more or less than the governments own stats. Not just the ones they like to talk about, but the ones that they don't like to talk about too.

That's just one form of damage, we've got dozens of others as well. The drug war hasn't actually "worked" on any level that's useful to anyone but the special interests.

Anonymous said...

Completely effective prohibition= totalitarianism. Incompletely effective prohibition yields a Black Market, embarrassments of money, and unscrupulous people will commit crimes for that money.
Thanks for NOTHING, Thumpers and segregationists!

Anonymous said...

i knew the biggest drug dealer in my city when i was 10 by the time i was 18 i knew that if the d.e.a. had put EVERONE in are city in jail for drugs there would of been nobody to govern it........ give the d.e.a. a break THIER hands are tied by SATAN.

Anonymous said...

i knew the biggest DRUG FAMILY in my city when i was 10 by the time i was 18 i knew that if the d.e.a. had put EVERONE in are city in jail for drugs there would of been nobody to govern it........ give the d.e.a. a break THIER hands are tied by SATAN.

Anonymous said...

you must of lived in the same CITY as me anonymous were the POLICE profited off drug users and dealers then resold the drugs to children in high school. my question is what kind of nation would allow cigarettes and alcohol to florish butsee OTHER DRUGS legal are the real merchants of death........?

Anonymous said...

"Plus, alcohol-producers' revenue stream is heavily taxed and doesn't wind up supplying violent criminals..."

But you contradict yourself. It just supplies different violent criminals.

Anonymous said...

What the heck, should we all just live like "LORD OF THE FLIES"?
Shouldn't we have some laws on Drugs or should we all be stoned , Hey wow man, if it feels good do ...It Felt Good so I did it .
Lets grow up... shall we ...

Kevin said...

The Professor said:

"What the heck, should we all just live like 'LORD OF THE FLIES'?
Shouldn't we have some laws on Drugs or should we all be stoned..."

This is known as a "straw man" argument. In essence, he is saying that without laws prohibiting abuse of certain drugs, we would all get stoned and live lives of savages.

Does anyone really think that would be the case? Or would some people continue to abuse drugs to the detriment of themselves and their families (and society), and would the vast majority of us continue to live pretty much as we do now - albeit with somewhat less government oversight and intrusion into our lives?

(Although, now that the intrusion and oversight is now established, no matter what we do, it won't be going away. That's the problem with government. You can't seem to make it smaller.)

Anonymous said...

Government agencies should just enforce the law like they're supposed to and NOT make arguments for or against any particular laws. That's our tax money being spent so the DEA can argue against legalization. It's COERCED speech and should be struck down as unconstitutional.

Anonymous said...

Even if it did curb alcohol use and even if drug prohibition curbs drug use the kind of people who use out of control are going to use anyways. Mostly the people kept from drugs are some(and even then only some) of wouldbe moderate, responsible users. There could be one or two wouldbe addicts or wouldbe irresponsible users out there but the kind of psyche that leads a person to addiction isnt going to be deterred from experimenting by law. As it is even if someone would've been addicted to a currently illegal drug but didn't because it was illegal they probably got addicted to alcohol instead. When people want to get high they'll get high if anything is available. They wont just decide to be sober because they can't find the specific drug they had in mind. So the only way the drug war is going to save any lives is if its total, if its against all drugs including alcohol and we know the deaths and damage to our society from the organized crime would far outweigh any gains in preventing addiction. Even if we did that people would just abuse over-the-counter medicine and wed have to make that illegal or at least prescription only. Not just cough syrup, even something as simple as benadryl can be used to get high. And then people will use nutmeg(myristicin) and the government will ban that. Do you have morning glory flowers in your garden? Kiss em goodbye the government will have to go after those next their seeds have an LSD-like substance. And in the end theres still inhalants(glue, gasoline, practically anything) which work by displacing oxygen. Eliminating things that can do that especially eliminating gasoline considering we're so dependent on it would be impossible.

And even if the government managed to ban all mind-altering substances all we would accomplish is that a large majority of people would be criminals. A majority of adults enjoy alcohol, an even larger majority enjoys caffeine so clearly a majority of adults like getting high. A few might be 'good' and do what the government tells them but many wont.