Prohibition and the ‘War on Drugs’

19:01 Fri 10 Nov 2006. Updated: 00:18 30 Nov 2006
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I just started reading Gus Russo’s The Outfit, a history of the powerful Chicago crime syndicate from the 1920s to the 1960s. Its prologue deals with Prohibition, which effectively presented a massive cash infusion to criminal elements.

After all, despite delusions and pretensions to the contrary, the government cannot simply legislate behavior and appetites, especially not in the short term. The demand for alcohol slowed very little, if at all, but the money from the business went to the bootleggers.

I find it difficult to conceive of a better mechanism for rapidly promoting criminality and corruption.

Naturally, the parallels between Prohibition’s effects and the effects of our current “War on Drugs” are obvious. It doesn’t seem unfair to consider every vote in favor of criminalization of drugs as a vote in favor of the drug dealers. Yet Colorado and Nevada just voted agains propositions to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Not in committee, or in the state legislature, but in open-to-all ballot measures.

I don’t believe that the state should be legislating morality with issues like criminalization of people’s private acts. Even if I did, however, I would still vote against criminalization because the obvious effect of it is to engender vicious wars over revenue by people already outside the law, and to funnel vast amounts of money to those people—and others who have a marked interest in controlling the government via corruption. I simply don’t see how that violence and corruption can be justified by the alleged benefits to society of drug criminalization, especially since demand (obviously) remains high regardless of the law.

(And this analysis doesn’t even consider the authoritarianism-enabling effects of making criminal such popular activity, thus increasing greatly the powers of the enforcement arm of the state, and by extension the state itself.)

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