If you were flying to Europe and midway across the Atlantic the flight attendant said, “By the way this plane failed its last inspection” you would probably feel nervous. Suppose the flight attendant said, “By the way this plane has not undergone a thorough inspection since it was built 90 years ago.” You would be frightened. We should be nervous at the least and frightened at the most when we take a close look at the policy of prohibition and what its implications are for our Nations future.
In this entry I want to address the similarities between the prohibition of alcohol and the “War on Drugs”. Finally I want to pitch my case that if we did away with the “War on Drugs” that drug abuse could very likely decrease as a result.
Illegal drugs are a commodity. If you prohibit the manufacture, transportation, sale, possession or consumption of any commodity for which there is a demand you will see the exact same phenomena. For example if the production, sale, consumption etc. of tomatoes were suddenly illegal, and the demand for tomatoes did not go away completely, then there would be tomato gangs fighting for territory in the black tomato market.
As with illegal drugs today there were shoot-outs on the high seas between the coast guard and the whisky bootleggers. Consumers of alcohol during prohibition had to take their chances with booze that was “watered down” with everything from methanol to kerosene (even creosote was added to booze during prohibition). Some unwitting consumers went blind from the methanol or were killed by the toxic brew these unscrupulous manufacturers produced. If you were a light drinker it was not a good time because wine and beer were more expensive and difficult to procure. You either drank booze of questionable quality or you didn’t drink at all. Similarly prohibition of illegal drugs favors the proliferation of hard drugs over soft drugs because the profit vs. risk ratio is more favorable for the smuggler to deal in hard drugs. As was the case during alcohol prohibition the purity of the drug is determined by the network of dealers between its source and the consumer. Before the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment there were public demonstrations advocating for the same. People were walking down the streets holding banners that read, “What about beer?” because they recognized the policy of prohibition favored bathtub Gin.
The easy money made by the bootleggers became easy money to police and customs officers who were willing to look the other way while a shipment passed unchecked. In fact to this day, alcohol is totally prohibited in some dry counties in the southeast and most of the sheriffs down there get paid in moonshine. Similarly it is hard to find a State that has been unaffected by the corrupting influence of drug money on it’s law enforcement community. There have been many stories of crooked cops shaking down drug dealers for cash or drugs that they in turn sold for a handy profit. Cities as large as Los Angeles and as small as Hartford have been in the news for their “bad apples” in the past several years. I can’t prove it but I would be surprised if there was a single State in the Union that has been unaffected by the corrupting influence of this easy money on its law enforcement community. Indeed, in this post 911 world we should be concerned about drug smuggling networks as a possible route for terrorists to exploit. The only sure way to deliver a deathblow to these smuggling networks is to take the profit out of the drug business.
Gangsters in the 20’s often took on a status that bordered on celebrity. Many Chicagoans admired Al Capone for the community services he provided via his soup kitchens. Today one need not look far to see the gangsterization of our culture. Hip hop music did not have a connection to gangs at it’s birth but today, many hip hop artists get their seed money for their musical debut by selling drugs. If you look at depraved TV shows like Maury Povich, Jerry Springer and Cops the influence of gangs appears to be all pervading. Gangs now even influence new fashions. P Diddy who is now a fashion designer would be anonymous to our culture if he had not rode the coattails of Biggie Smalls to fame and fortune. Biggie Smalls got into the music business by the proceeds of his first career-as a drug dealer in New York City. Ice T who also started out as a pimp and drug dealer in Los Angeles went from rapper to movie and television star. I’ll bet he couldn’t remember his rhymes, as he has become such a part of the establishment that he so eloquently rapped against on his early albums. Snoop Doggy Dog and his handler Dr Dre are two more rappers that would never have seen the light of day had it not been for drug money. I would have to admit that their music wasn’t that bad before they sold out to the man.
I could continue but what’s the point? I think you get the idea.
The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution banning the production, transportation, sale and consumption of intoxicating liquors was ratified in 1919 and repealed in 1933. The period in between was referred to as the “roaring” twenties. “Roaring” because of the popularity of the speak-easies. In fact alcohol use was generally higher during prohibition-particularly in the cities. I saw a documentary on prohibition aired on the History Channel where a woman was reminiscing on the days of the speak-easy. One sentence summed it up perfectly, I am paraphrasing here but she was remembering with fondness her days hanging out in the speak-easy and said how “romantic it was because we were breaking the law”. How could society make drug use “romantic”? Simple-by making drugs illegal. This effect is particularly pernicious among adolescents. Adolescents are in a phase of their lives where there is a natural tendency to rebel against authority and since prohibition creates an environment where it is easier for them to acquire illegal drugs than tobacco or alcohol the forces acting on adolescents to experiment are strong. In fact marijuana use among the youth in Holland has been lower than the rest of Europe because the ever-pragmatic Dutch have succeeded in making marijuana use “boring".
Source #1: Us Department Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, National Household Survey on Drug Abuse: Volume I. Summary of National Findings (Washington, DC: HHS, August 2002), p.109 table H.1.
Source #2: Trimbos Institute, “report to the EMCDDA by the Reitox National Focal Point, The Netherlands Drug Situation 2002” (Lisboa Portugal: Eurpoean Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Nov. 2002), p. 28, Table 2.1
Source #3: Walmsley, Roy, “World Prison Population List (fifth edition)” (London, England: Research, Development and Statistics Directorate of the Home Office), Dec. 2003, p. 3 Table 2.
Source #4: Walmsley, Roy, “World Prison Population List (fifth edition)” (London, England: Research, Development and Statistics Directorate of the Home Office), Dec. 2003, p. 5 Table 4.
Source #5: van Dijk, Frans & Jaap de Waard, “Legal infrastructure of the Netherlands in international perspective: Crime control” (Netherlands: Ministry of Justice, June 2000), p. 9 Table S.13.
Source #6 Barclay, Gordon Cynthia Tavares, Sally Kenny, Arsalaan Siddique $ Emma Wilby, “International comparisons of criminal justice statistics 2001, ‘ Issue 12/03 (London, England: Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate, October 2003), p. 10, Table 1.1.
In the waning days of the Eighteenth Amendment John D Rockefeller Jr. who had been a supporter of prohibition wrote in a letter to Nicholas Murray Butler, President of Columbia University the following:
“When the Eighteenth Amendment was passed I earnestly hoped, --with a host of advocates for temperance, --that it would be generally supported by public opinion and thus the day be hastened when the value to society of men with minds and bodies free from the undermining effect of alcohol would be generally realized. That this has not been the result, but rather that drinking generally has increased; that the speak-easy has replaced the saloon, not only unit for unit, but probably two-fold if not three-fold; that a vast army of lawbreakers has been recruited and financed on a colossal scale; that many of our best citizens, piqued at what they regarded as an infringement of their private rights, have openly and unabashed disregarded the Eighteenth Amendment; that as an inevitable result respect for all law has been greatly lessened; that crime has increased to an unprecedented degree—I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe.” -John D. Rockefeller, Jr. June 6, 1932.
Perhaps the side effect of prohibition of illegal drugs that troubles me the most is the disrespect for the law that it engenders. There once was a time when a cop walking his beat would get a smile from the members of the community he was policing-not today. There once was a time when you were presumed innocent until proven guilty. Not today. One only need look at racial profiling and terms like “driving while black” to know those days are gone. There once was a time in this great but disintegrating nation where you-upon being convicted of a crime-served your sentence, were reintegrated into the community and considered “rehabilitated”. Not today. It is increasingly difficult for convicted felons to get jobs and function as participating citizens on the outside. We could restore respect for the law by doing away with this destructive policy and returning the police to the important job of protecting the public from criminals who produce victims.
Some valuable counter-intuitive questions to ask ourselves at this point are: Why do States with capital punishment have higher rates of violent crime than States without capital punishment? Why did poverty increase after President Lyndon Johnson declared his “war on poverty”? Why was it the case that after the institution of The Green Revolution-a program to feed the world’s hungry-global poverty and famine increased?
The logic of prohibition is that the threat of the criminal sanction will act as a deterrent for possible drug use. However that argument does more to illustrate the irrationality of the policy than make a cogent argument. It takes the position: “forget about all the horrors of being chained to an addiction and the consequences to your health and future prosperity--don’t do drugs because we will lock you up if we can catch you.” Let me say this, there is no shortage of mice ready to play with that cat. This argument relies on people’s stupidity. I would much rather trust in people’s intelligence. Besides, policies that rely on people’s stupidity are very expensive.
The drug warriors would have you believe people are so stupid that the only thing keeping them from shooting heroin is the fact that it is illegal to do so. We have seen declining smoking rates as a result of public awareness campaigns. It is reasonable to assume that given an already high level of awareness of the harms caused by heroin and cocaine addiction that if they possessed a legal or quasi-legal status people would be no more enticed to experiment with those drugs. As far as marijuana is concerned, had we legalized marijuana back when Jimmie Carter suggested it, I believe we would have less of a cocaine and heroin addict population than we do now. Far from being a gateway drug I believe marijuana plays a mitigating influence when it comes to potential abuse of harder drugs. I believe if marijuana were more available many of the youth lost to heroin would be with us here today. If there is a gateway association it should be made towards prohibition-not marijuana. Most youth who experiment with marijuana realize what many marijuana smokers can readily attest-marijuana is relatively harmless (particularly when one compares it with alcohol and tobacco). I do not deny there are quite a few for whom marijuana has been a problem but if we are to be realistic and review the facts it is clear that marijuana is fairly benign as compared to alcohol and tobacco. I would not tolerate an argument to the contrary if it did not come from someone who had experience with all three previously mentioned substances. Never the less if all drugs enjoyed a legal or quasi-legal status their availability to the youth would most definitely decrease.
Let us return to the gateway thing for a moment. Suppose a teenager who has been fed a diet of fear about what a dangerous drug marijuana is concludes otherwise as a result of his or her own experience. There is a greater tendency for said teenager to take the cynical approach and say; “They lied to me about Santa Clause and marijuana, perhaps they were also wrong about cocaine?”
In fact the policy of prohibition takes the position that the mob is the agency best suited to determine how illegal drugs will be marketed. It should be noted that criminals don’t care who their customers are so long as they pay for their drugs. Vermont has seen an increase in the use of harder drugs like heroin as well as an increase in the property crimes that go with it. If one develops an addiction that is beyond their financial means to sustain then there are two alternatives for them to subsidize their habit: 1. Commit property crimes and 2. Deal drugs. If a Vermont high school student becomes addicted then the likelihood is that he/she would deal drugs to their classmates-further exacerbating the problem of substance abuse among the youth.
The threat of the criminal sanction is an ineffective deterrent to keep kids from experimenting with drugs. Not only is it an abuse of the threat of the criminal sanction to be used in this way but I would go so far as to say that-in a weird way-it is an incentive for certain youth to get involved with drugs. So you may ask what is an appropriate use of the threat of the criminal sanction? Severe penalties for persons who provide controlled substances to minors. Alcohol is a controlled substance even though it is legal for those 21 years of age or older. The threat of severe penalties for those who provide alcohol to minors is effective, it works. To abuse the threat of the criminal sanction as a useless deterrent for a network of criminals does little more than make a mockery of the law as we pile more people into overcrowded prisons, many of whom come out worse than they were when they went in.
Looking at three indicators-the price, purity and availability-of the given substance determines the measure of success in waging the war on drugs. If the policy were successful one would expect the price to increase, the purity to decrease and the availability to decrease. For cocaine and heroin the purity has stayed the same or has increased, the price has decreased and the availability, particularly for heroin, has without question increased. The only area where the drug warriors can claim any success is with marijuana, which has seen an increase in price, a slight decrease in availability and more or less unchanged level of purity. However I consider this a failure, as a sound drug policy should target drugs that do the most harm. Prohibition favors the proliferation of hard drugs over soft drugs, which is the reverse of what a sound policy should promote.
Whenever a smuggling ring is busted or a large shipment of drugs is intercepted the drug warrior pat’s himself on the back and claims a victory against the enemy. The question that not only goes unanswered but unasked is-does a gram of coke cost more then it did last year? Is it less available? What is the purity of the drugs on the street? Law enforcement officers have a policy of making regular buys on the street to test the purity of the drug, what do the results show? I’ll bet they do not indicate a decrease in purity because if they did the cops would be touting their success. It should be noted that despite wide fluctuations in efforts at breaking up drug rings or interdicting drugs at the border the flow of drugs into this country proceeds unabated as measured by the price, purity and availability of illegal drugs.
I do not have children but if I was a father of a child who was reaching the age where drug experimentation might be a factor I would be very cautious about taking a hard line approach like “If you ever do drugs I will disown you”. Without knowing it you are giving your child more power then he/she knows how to wield properly. If you take that approach then your child knows exactly what to do to have their retribution if the day ever comes where they feel the need to exercise their power against you. When one takes that approach it creates a phenomenon I call the Pandora Effect.
The myth of Pandora’s Box in brief is the Greek equivalent to the story of Adam and Eve. It concerns the story of how humanity lost its innocence:
Left alone with the mysterious casket, Pandora became more and more inquisitive. Stealthily she drew near and examined it with great interest, for it was curiously wrought of dark wood, and surmounted by a delicately carved head, of such fine workmanship that it seemed to smile and encourage her. Around the box a glittering golden cord was wound, and fastened on top in an intricate knot. Pandora, who prided herself specially on her deft fingers, felt sure she could unfasten it, and reasoning that it would not be indiscreet to untie it if she did not raise the lid, she set to work. Long she strove, but all in vain. Ever and anon the laughing voices of Epimetheus and his companions, playing in the luxuriant shade, were wafted in on the summer breeze. Repeatedly she heard them call and beseech her to join them; yet she persisted in her attempt. She was just on the point of giving up in despair, when suddenly the refractory knot yielded to her fumbling fingers, and the cord, unrolling, dropped on the floor.
Pandora had repeatedly fancied that sounds like whispers issued from the box. The noise now seemed to increase, and she breathlessly applied her ear to the lid to ascertain whether it really proceeded from within. Imagine, therefore, her surprise when she distinctly heard these words, uttered in the most pitiful accents: " Pandora, dear Pandora, have pity upon us ! Free us from this gloomy prison! Open, open, we beseech you!"
Pandora's heart beat so fast and loud, that it seemed for a moment to drown all other sounds. Should she open the box? Just then a familiar step outside made her start guiltily. Epimetheus was coming, and she knew he would urge her again to come out, and would prevent the gratification of her curiosity. Precipitately, therefore, she raised the lid to have one little peep before he came in.
Now, Jupiter had malignantly crammed into this box all the diseases, sorrows, vices, and crimes that afflict poor humanity; and the box was no sooner opened, than all these ills flew out, in the guise of horrid little brown-winged creatures, closely resembling moths. These little insects fluttered about, alighting, some upon Epimetheus, who had just entered, and some upon Pandora, pricking and stinging them most unmercifully. They then flew out through the open door and windows, and fastened upon the merrymakers without, whose shouts of joy were soon changed into wails of pain and anguish.
Epimetheus and Pandora had never before experienced the faintest sensation of pain or anger; but, as soon as these winged evil spirits had stung them, they began to weep, and, alas! Quarreled for the first time in their lives. Epimetheus reproached his wife in bitterest terms for her thoughtless action; but in the very midst of his vituperation he suddenly heard a sweet little voice entreat for freedom. The sound proceeded from the unfortunate box, whose cover Pandora had dropped again, in the first moment of her surprise and pain. " Open, open, and I will heal your wounds! Please let me out! " It pleaded.
The tearful couple viewed each other inquiringly, and listened again. Once more they heard the same pitiful accents; and Epimetheus bade his wife open the box and set the speaker free, adding very amiably, that she had already done so much harm by her ill-fated curiosity, that it would be difficult to add materially to its evil consequences, and that, perchance, the box contained some good spirit, whose ministrations might prove beneficial.
It was well for Pandora that she opened the box a second time, for the gods, with a sudden impulse of compassion, had concealed among the evil spirits one kindly creature, Hope, whose mission was to heal the wounds inflicted by her fellow prisoners.
"Hope sole remain'd within, nor took her flight,
Beneath the vessel's verge conceal'd from light."
Hesiod (Elton's tr.)
Lightly fluttering hither and thither on her snowy pinions, Hope touched the wounded places on Pandora's and Epimetheus' creamy skin, and relieved their suffering, then quickly flew out of the open window, to perform the same gentle office for the other victims, and to cheer their downcast spirits.
Thus, according to the ancients, evil entered into the world, bringing untold misery; but Hope followed closely in its footsteps, to aid struggling humanity, and point to a happier future.
Taken from “The Myths of Greece and Rome” by H.A.Guerber (G. Harrap & Co. 1907)
To those women who take exception to the idea that it was woman who was the downfall of man let me say here that I agree with your feeling of being offended but I didn’t write the story of Adam and Eve nor the myth of Pandora’s box.
The purpose of this is to make the point that if one takes the hard line approach when it comes to the subject of their children and drugs they may likely create a monster. Taking the hard line approach is an insult to the innate intelligence that all children possess. I believe that any concerned parent would be better off taking an approach that supported their child’s ability to use their own discriminating wisdom to make the right choices for themselves. Also to make it clear that while you may be disappointed in some of their choices you still love them. Besides, making mistakes and learning from them is what growth is all about.
I am going to wind this entry up for now but I would be remiss if I did not end this with a song of hope. If you read Prohibition 101 Part I. Then you know something of the quality of the light at the end of the tunnel. I feel it would be poetically just if the goose that laid the golden egg when it comes to the myriad problems associated with illegal drugs and the harms associated with them-and their prohibition-might be found within that same prison we condemn these substances to. My message of hope will be conveyed in my next entry-Prohibition 101 Part III. Be patient as I have some research to do on the subject. Thanks for reading-P.