Debate Forum Commentary 02 – 12/01/10

Mark Luedtke Mark Luedtke

Modern Prohibition Is Even Worse Than the Original

by Mark Luedtke

Mark Luedtke

Everybody has heard the old saying that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, yet nobody seems to bother to learn from history. I bet the vast majority of Americans could tell the basic story of the original Prohibition. In 1919, the nation adopted a constitutional amendment that banned alcohol. As a result, the price of alcohol skyrocketed, a black market in alcohol rose to supply it, crime and deaths skyrocketed, and most Americans realized the ban was far more destructive than alcohol itself. Government went so far as to poison alcohol.

Anybody who wanted alcohol still got it, but it was significantly more dangerous. Beer and wine drinkers turned to hard liquor, often tainted, to justify the risk. Casual drinkers became binge drinkers. Fortunately, when the Great Depression hit, the government repealed Prohibition so it could tax alcohol to obtain revenue. The American people were so thankful to FDR for repealing Prohibition, they let him destroy the U.S. economy for a decade afterward.

The lessons are obvious. First, government can’t change the laws of nature. If people want a product, others will supply it. A ban on alcohol or drugs is about as effective as a ban on gravity. Nature, in this case, human ingenuity, will always overcome government force. Even the Soviet Union was unable to effectively ban anything.

Second, the black market always produces significantly worse consequences than the banned product or service. Government’s ban of peaceful activity, threatening violence against drinkers, is an act of violence against the people. The black market that arises to supply the product is necessarily violent in response. A few drinkers or drug users may cause some damage, but federal bans institutionalize violence on a national scale. Both government and the black market attract and reward the most violent, amoral thugs in the country. Both sides arm to the teeth, turn the country into a battle zone, and fight an ever-escalating war until the ban is lifted. The worst thugs on both sides win, and everybody else loses.

Third, once upon a time, the federal government acknowledged that its powers were limited by the Constitution. That seems so quaint today. It sounds like a fairy tale intended to make children feel all warm and fuzzy about daddy government. But it’s not a fairy tale. As hard as it is to believe, those silly old politicians a century ago acknowledged constitutional limits on their powers. Little did they know, they could have amassed much more money and power for themselves and their cronies at our expense if they had just ignored that antiquated piece of paper like today’s politicians.

The final lesson is that once the ban is repealed, the crime, death and destruction associated with the black market disappears and society becomes significantly more peaceful and orderly. But even though pretty much every American knows this basic history, we’re repeating the mistake of Prohibition with the modern prohibition called the war on drugs, and the results are exactly as expected.

The Taliban fund their violence by selling opium. The war between the black market and government in Mexico has escalated into civil war. That violence is overflowing our borders. Drug gangs have corrupted police, prosecutors, judges and politicians all over America. Black market violence is rampant. Drug gangs have turned some areas of American cities into “no-go” areas. Mexican drug cartels grow marijuana in US national forests. Millions of Americans have been imprisoned – far more per capita than any other developed country. This is just like the original Prohibition only worse because it’s been going on longer, despite overwhelming evidence that the banned drugs are significantly less dangerous than alcohol.

And just like the original Prohibition, people are hurting themselves with significantly stronger and tainted drugs. Instead of smoking a little opium, they shoot up heroin. Instead of a pinch of cocaine in their Coca-Cola, they snort crack. And instead of taking a hit of marijuana, they smoke dangerous, synthetic marijuana originally designed by the government.

But the war on drugs is big business. Giant alcohol and tobacco corporations profit from the ban on competing drugs. Cotton corporations profit from the ban on hemp, which is not a drug, although it is related to marijuana. Government steals billions from us and funds the DEA and local police all over the country to fight drug producers, sellers and users. If the war on drugs ended today, those police, prosecutors, judges and jailers would have to find productive jobs providing quality goods and services in the private sector, and that’s way harder than being funded by stolen money and getting your jollies kicking in doors, shooting dogs and pointing guns at children, which has become the new normal in America.

So instead of ending this disastrous war on ourselves, DEA bureaucrats decided to escalate it by banning five chemicals in synthetic marijuana. Designers are already developing a new formula to get around the ban. The price will go up, criminals will be attracted to making it, and the death toll will continue to rise until we learn the lessons from history.

Mark Luedtke is an electrical engineer with a degree from the University of Cincinnati and currently works for a Dayton attorney.  He can be reached at

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