Prohibition is largely viewed as an utter failure, which created many unique problems. For example, the black market created income for criminal groups and the products produced were sometimes unsafe compared to pre-Prohibition alcohol.
The temperance movement, which eventually led to the prohibition of alcohol, was largely fueled on moral sentiment and sensationalism of the dangers of alcohol. This situation is eerily similar to the current war on drugs, which begs the question, why is overlooking the ill effects of alcohol and condemning other substances so easy?
It is hard to find an answer to that last question. Especially in Idaho, which has some of the harshest drug laws in the U.S. Ending drug and alcohol abuse is a noble goal and one that will always be worth pursuing, yet prohibition has never and will never be the best option.
If Gallup polls are any indication, prohibition has not really helped at all. In 1977, 24 percent of Americans polled admitted to at least trying marijuana. In 2013, that number was significantly higher at 38 percent. Marijuana is admittedly treated a little differently than other illegal drugs, but it still shows that efforts to decrease drug use have not been nearly as successful as they should be.
Especially considering the U.S. has spent over a trillion dollars on the war on drugs over the last 40 years, according to the Drug Policy Alliance — a non-profit think tank, which seeks beneficial changes to drug policy.
Modern American drug policies originated in the 1970s and until just recently did not change much. States have slowly recognized the losing battle on the war on drugs, and some communities have taken action to remedy the problem. Decriminalizing or out right legalization of marijuana, don’t ask don’t tell policies and therapy over incarceration have all shown promise as a means to stop the spread of drug abuse without wasteful spending. Internationally, these changes have proved effective.
Countries such as Portugal, Spain and Italy have moved to more peaceful policies regarding drug use, leaving penalties for production and trafficking the same, however replacing prison time with decriminalization and therapy. According to information published by each countries respective government in conjunction with the U.N., rates of overdose, relapse and drug related crimes have all dropped. It’s too early to tell the long-term effects of these policies, but they seem promising.
People are going to do what they want. Underage drinkers are going to drink, smokers are going to smoke and addicts will find their vices one-way or the other. A more open approach benefits us all, and that does not mean drug use ever has to be applauded.
Taking money away from criminals will always be a good thing. If other successful policies are any indication, trading prisons for therapy and treating drug use as a public health issue will lower rates of use and help people who need help find it.Legalizing drugs will lead to a decrease in drug related crimes as drugs become easier to find and are more removed from criminal elements. Alcohol prohibition solved these problems and drug prohibition may very well do the same.
This is not a problem we can jail our way out of. No amount of money thrown into it will make inherently bad policy work. It is time we have real conversation about drug policy and consider that maybe they are not so much worse than their not so distant cousin, alcohol. Maybe, just maybe, they should be handled in a more similar fashion.
Justin Ackerman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org