Prohibition & Drugs

Prohibition was a curious and unusual time. What convinced a nation of alcohol consumers to turn on a dime and outlaw a drug so famously successful in the West for thousands of years?

We’ve gotten back on track now: Alcohol is both a blessing and a vice. We treat alcohol addiction as not merely a personal failing, but as a medical problem as well. Which is as it should be. Addiction is more than vice. Addictions effects are societal, not merely personal. Societies have a vested interest in reducing the effects of alcoholism. We may want to punish the alcoholic for his moral problem (which it is), but we recognise that it’s cheaper and more effective to treat the problem as an addiction (which it also is). So for the moral component, we’ve turned to support groups like AA. But for the addiction problem we’ve also turned to medicine, which is by far the most effective way to treat addiction.

Cooler minds have prevailed in the war against prohibition, though neo-prohibitionist groups like MADD still exist. (For all the good work MADD has done with drinking and driving, they’re still just another bunch of prohibitionist crazies, and it’s no co-incidence that they’re mothers. The nanny state is almost always driven by mothers who “know best”.)

The war against drugs is another thing altogether. Our culture is schizophrenic with regard to drugs. The number of people incarcerated for drug offences in the US is startling, and almost certainly a great evil perpetrated against the citizens of that nation.

Why have we collectively chosen the legal system (police, lawyers, judges, prisons, parole boards, etc.) as the best way to deal with addiction in this case? And when addiction isn’t a widespread problem, especially in the case of pot, why have we criminalised it?

It seems to me that drugs need to be treated the same way that alcohol is treated. That’s not to say we need to legalise all drugs. Some drugs are very dangerous indeed and need to be controlled if not eliminated. But why not treat drug addiction with support groups and medical intervention instead of cops and courts? It seems the rational way to move forward, at least to me.

Maybe we’re at the point now in our pointless, expensive, and liberty-infringing “war on drugs” that we were almost a century ago with prohibition: Figuring out that it’s not worth it.