Thursday, December 04, 2008

We can do it again - celebrating the end of alcohol prohibition

This week marks the 75th anniversary of the end of alcohol prohibition in the United States. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) - a group made up of current and former members of the law enforcement and criminal justice communities - is using this anniversary as a call to action for those who want an end to drug prohibition. In a report published this week they argue that lessons need to be learned from the failure of alcohol prohibition.

Click to read pdf

'But by learning a lesson from American history and ending today’s expensive and counterproductive prohibition of drugs like we ended the earlier prohibition of alcohol, we can cut wasteful spending and generate new revenues, all while making America’s streets safer. A legal and regulated drug trade will lead to far fewer people being arrested and incarcerated at taxpayer expense and will generate essential new revenues, some of which can be earmarked to finance improved drug treatment and recovery.'

They also highlight the failures of the current drugs laws and the parallels with alcohol prohibition,

'After spending a trillion tax dollars and making 39 million arrests for nonviolent drug offenses, drugs are now generally cheaper, more potent and easier for our children to access than they were 40 years ago at the beginning of the “drug war.”

'Today’s prohibition of the many so-called “controlled substances” is similar to, but is in many respects significantly more complex than, alcohol prohibition. The wide variety of prohibited substances; their global cultivation, production and trade; the global ease of capital movement and the connection between the illegal drug trade and political insurgencies are all modern features of prohibition that our great grandparents did not have to face. Nonetheless, in so many of its essential features drug prohibition has echoed alcohol prohibition’s impact on the economy, crime, public safety and public health. Alcohol prohibition involved ethnic, religious and regional prejudices, and those ugly features are dramatically worse under the racial stereotyping and disparities of today’s drug enforcement.'

In particular they emphasise a number of key areas where drug prohibition, like alcohol prohibition before it, has had a negative effect on society:

1) More people use drugs today than at the beginning of the 'war on drugs'
2) Drugs are more concentrated and potent
3) The murder rate has skyrocketed
4) Organized crime as well as terrorist groups have profitted greatly from prohibition
5) People who are addicted to drugs are forced to commit crime in order to fund their habits
6) Public health has suffered
7) Drug money corrupts officials of the state
8) Governments spend huge amounts of their budgets on locking people up

Recent polls in the US indicate that 67% of police chiefs and 76% of the public believe that the prohibition of drugs has failed.

As a first step to ending this disastrous policy, LEAP support what Transform, RAND Corp and the EMCDDA have been calling for - a cost-benefit analysis of the current drugs laws.

'At a moment that is as economically threatening to millions of Americans as the Great Depression, we would do well to learn the lessons that history so clearly and compellingly provides and repeal prohibition, eliminating its numerous unintended consequences.'

Another report out this week funded by the same organisation and written by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron concludes that ending drug prohibition would boost America's economy by $76.8 billion a year. We've blogged it here.

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