Alcohol

Drug Propaganda Thursday

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DEA Administrator Karen Tandy defends alcohol prohibition.

Consider also this graphic from the DEA's website :

More drug warriors defending alcohol prohibition here and here .

Jacob Sullum attacks their myopic views of the 1920s here. Harvard's Jeffrey Miron questions the assumption that prohibition caused a decline in consumption here. Mark Thornton on alcohol prohibition's failure here. My only tangentially-related paper on the "neoprohibition" movement here .

NEXT: Stop Me Before I Regulate Again!

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  1. I’m sure that some drug use would increase if were legal, but so what? It only matters if you’ve sold yourself on the notion that all use is abuse.

  2. The best fiction on this topic I ever saw written in a book was that prohabition was imposed to save grain for the military during WWI. Was pretty young when I read that.

    Sounds just as likely as the cotton lobby conspiracy that made pot illegal.

  3. It only matters if you’ve sold yourself on the notion that all use is abuse.

    And that is what most people believe.

    But the good news is that even those who believe that can still be persuaded to support legalization, if they are persuaded that the pathologies of the black market make the problem even worse.

  4. Holy crap, that DEA site is fucked up. It sounds like something out of a parallel universe. These idiots actually think this way?

    “A word about prohibition: lots of you hear the argument that alcohol prohibition failed-so why are drugs still illegal? Prohibition did work. Alcohol consumption was reduced by almost 60% and incidents of liver cirrhosis and deaths from this disease dropped dramatically (Scientific American, 1996, by David Musto). Today, alcohol consumption is over three times greater than during the Prohibition years. Alcohol use is legal, except for kids under 21, and it causes major problems, especially in drunk driving accidents.”

    “Coincidentally”, they “forgot” to mention the rampant black market and rise of organized crime and violence that was a direct result of prohibition. And curiously, it’s almost as if these government do-gooders have no understanding of the concept of individual freedom. That can’t be, can it? Nah. I mean, they can’t seriously believe that the measure of how well something “works” should not include the question of how much liberty it quashed…right? Har har. Fucking bunch of assholes. I mean, true blue, pure bred, top-of-the-line assHOLES. “Prohibition DID work”. Fuck me, anything “works” if you “creatively” define the terms of what “working” is.

    The fucking holocaust “worked”, so long as you define “working” in terms of whether or not Jews and other “mongrels” were efficiently slaughtered.

    The Iraq war “worked”, as long as you define success solely in terms of whether Saddam has been deposed and executed.

    The Crusades “worked”, if by “worked” you mean converted many a pagan to Christianity.

    ANYthing “works”…all you have to do is narrowly define the terms for success.

  5. I just posted this on the other Drug Warriors thread a minute ago. I’ll post it again here.

    “Can anyone counter the argument by drug-warriors that a disproportiante amount of crime in this country is committed by people while on drugs? Thus, if we legalized drugs, we would have even more crime since drugs make people violent. Thanks. Looking for thoughtful responses.”

    Thanks again.

  6. Ahhh yes, the prohibition era. Such a golden age, when all society embodied the Victorian virtues. Once the conquest over the demon rum was complete, all America came to embraced modesty and strength of character. That is why it is known as the reticent 20’s.

    Oh wait… That’s right, flappers, jazz, gangsters, never mind

  7. This must be what it felt like in the 1800’s to hold the position that anyone with modicum of melanin were really human beings worth the respect of any other. I can imagine a slave owner with all the righteous indignation his white pastey ass could muster, “Niggers is property. They ain’t good fur nuttin else. Imagine the hell it would wreak if niggers were allowed to vote? How can property vote? It is absurd to think of a chair or a table voting. You abolisionist are crazy, immoral, and this goes against god’s word.”
    I think there is a lesson here. After the 13th amendment took away the premises of such an argument, then more headway could be made toward the undermining other premises. There was indefatigable review and critic of there premises that eventually established that thier position was only worth mockery.
    Like Evan says, use thier defintions against them. Eventually, though it is obvious to this sagacious audience, that these people don’t even live in fucking reality.

  8. Alvin,

    I have a couple of responses:

    1) What are these “crimes” that are committed while on drugs that you speak of? Are they violent crimes against persons and property? Or are they directly related to drug prohibition and similar “save you from yourself” legislation? In other words, how much of this “crime” that you speak of would disappear if there wasn’t an illegal drug black market to fuel it? Look at all the organized crime that sprang up as a result of alcohol prohibition—but you don’t see people doing drive-by’s over Vodka or Malt Liquor these days, do you? I suspect that much of the “crime” you speak of is related to the fact that drugs are illegal, and thus, a black market has formed that breeds violence and crime. As such, if drugs were legalized and moderately controlled a la alcohol, much of your “crime” would disappear.

    2) We would also have less crime if we lock everyone—EVERYONE—in their houses for 20 hours each day. Would THAT be worth it too? “Lower crime rates” is not a universal good—it always comes with costs.

  9. “Can anyone counter the argument by drug-warriors that a disproportiante amount of crime in this country is committed by people while on drugs? Thus, if we legalized drugs, we would have even more crime since drugs make people violent. Thanks. Looking for thoughtful responses.”

    Well, I suppose we’d have to start by analyzing the studies that claim people are more prone to violence while on drugs. Then we’d have to look at the types of crimes that they’re committing and which drugs they were using at the time. Are there more assaults? Muggings? Burglaries? Or are the crime stats padded by use, possession, etc? Are the crimes being committed after smoking marijuana, shooting heroin, snorting cocaine?

    We’d need percentages of how many users committed violent acts. If say, 10% of cocaine users are apt to commit a violent crime, does that justify making cocaine illegal? In the same vein, I’d ask if it’s fair to treat all users as criminals even if their only crime is use. For example, we generally don’t charge people drinking in a bar with DWI(Texas notwithstanding), until/unless the person drives drunk.

    Finally, I’d ask whether the percentage of violent crime by drug users was higher before or after prohibition.

  10. Prohibition did work. Alcohol consumption was reduced by almost 60%

    Seeing as alcohol consumption went behind closed doors, how can they possibly know this?

    incidents of liver cirrhosis and deaths from this disease dropped dramatically

    Curious how we go from an actual number (60%) to “dropped dramatically.” Makes me think this is a lot weaker number.

    Today, alcohol consumption is over three times greater than during the Prohibition years.

    Per capita? And again, it begs the question of how they know how much people were drinking (secretly) during Prohibition.

    Alcohol use is legal, except for kids under 21, and it causes major problems, especially in drunk driving accidents

    Whatever. And since when is everyone under 21 a “kid”. Last I looked, some of them were adults.

  11. alvin,
    Are you kidding? That actually seems like a good point to you? OK let me take a whack at it.

    Let’s for the sake of argument, take your statement “a disproportiante amount of crime in this country is committed by people while on drugs” as fact.

    1) Correlation is not causation. Wouldn’t the more likely assumption be that people who commit crimes are more likely to also take drugs. More drug use simply does not add up to more crime.

    2) Prohibition makes all drug users criminals. If drugs were legal drug users could remain law abiding citizens. Prohibition forces them to associate with the criminal class

    3) Prohibition keeps drugs unaffordable to addicts. Most drug addicts remain functional and could support their habits were the price of drugs not inflated to ridiculous levels by prohibition. Employers routinely fire drug uses from even low paying jobs despite having no issues with job performance.

    4) Prohibition hastens the downward spiral of addiction and pushes people lower. Because drug use is a criminal activity, it must be kept secret. Associations with family, church and other traditional support institutions become severed as drug use increases.

    5) Nearly all drug related crime, especially violent crime, is committed by drug dealers, not drug users, and therefore is the direct result of prohibition and would disappear the day drugs are legalized!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. An overwhelming percentage of crimes are committed either in cars or with the assistance of cars, so I think all cars should be illegal!

  13. Today, alcohol consumption is over three times greater than during the Prohibition years.

    Yet no one killed during the course of its commercial life. Incredible!

    – Josh

  14. Drug use would increase in a proportional amount to the reduction of the use of alcohol as a drug because many people drink because they can not smoke a doobie at night. The Fed Revenuers after prohibition eneded were and still are only interested in getting their cut in taxation now. Will be hard to tax a weed so no incentive there to legalize.

    What Tandy handily left out was that during prohibition crime increased at a rate much exceeding the increase in use after prohibitions repeal.

    The bottom line is the WoD is a utter failure on all levels and had created more corruption, violence and fatalities than the drugs they seek to prohibit ever would have. Not to mention the loss of our Constitutional rights.

    Ok so drugs have been illegal for decades and they are more readily available, easily procured and of more varieties now then ever. So making them legal would make access easier how if it is already easy as pie. The people who choose to use drugs do so on their own and if 30+ years of it being illegal hasn’t stopped or even slowed the use of drugs how would legalizing them be much different. After all the people that want to do them now do them now already and if someone wanted to try them now they still could easily as well legal or not. So if illegal is not slowing the use because anyone can get what they want how would legalization be any different other than we would be free again. The avialability and access to the drugs would change in form and function perhaps to a degree but the market to fill would be the same as it always has been.

    As uch as I like a good Beer or mixed drink on a rare occasion I would gladly give up the option of ever being able to drink again if I were allowed to smoke a little weed in peace. Then again I would gladly sign out of Social Security and provide for myself if they gave me my money to use, sucks I see neither of those 2 things happening anytime soon.

  15. As someone who has a sharp interest in the interwar period and reads about it incessantly, I can say that Prohibition defenders almost monolithically use government statistics for their arguments, and highly selective ones at that. Of course, it’s impossible to obtain an accurate picture of the time period strictly using data from the very organizations that (like the DEA today) had conflicting interests in promoting their successes.

    One good book to counter these claims is The Twenties: Fords, Flappers, and Fanatics, pubbed 1963, which collects contemporary articles and analyses. The Prohibition chapter is a hoot. I keep a binder of related clippings and photocopies on my desk, so I have the photocopied chapter in front of me. One article simply discusses the first six months of Prohibition, which were catastrophic. For example: on January 16, the Volstead Act went into effect. On January 30, 3 IRS agents tasked with enforcing Prohibition were indicted in Chicago on corruption charges. It goes on in a like manner for pages. Another article, pubbed in 1926, lists the arrest rates in Philadelphia from 1919 to 1925 for alcohol-related crimes (intoxication, intoxicated driving, and so on). It starts at 23,740 in 1919, drops to 20,443 in 1920, then increases every year to 58,517 in 1925. As the author puts it, in 1925 over one-thousand people were being arrested in Philly for consumption-related offenses. That’s not even including crimes like smuggling, distilling, etc. — that’s merely consumption. If consumption decreased, I’m curious as to why consumption arrests increased…

    Probably my favorite is Herbert Asbury’s The Great Illusion, wherein at one point he lists the average times it took a person arriving in a city (at the city’s main train station) to obtain alcohol during Prohibition. The fastest was New Orleans, which IIRC clocked in at 30 seconds.

  16. Can anyone counter the argument by drug-warriors that a disproportiante amount of crime in this country is committed by people while on drugs? Thus, if we legalized drugs, we would have even more crime since drugs make people violent. Thanks. Looking for thoughtful responses.

    Even if this statistic is true (which I’m doubtful of), you have to ask: what does “on drugs” mean? Does it mean actually, at the moment, under the influence of drugs? Or does it mean, “This person tested positive for marijuana, so he’s ‘on drugs,’ even though he could have used at any point in the last thirty days”? Or does it mean, “This person habitually uses drugs, even though he’s not high right now”?

    Which isn’t even to address the absurd statement that drugs make people more violent. Again, assuming there’s actually a correlation, do drugs make people more violent, to people take drugs in an attempt to calm their violence, or is there a third factor driving the other two? Note that only under one of these scenarios would increased drug use bring increased violence.

  17. Not even 9 am, and I need a drink.

  18. mediageek,
    You buying? [pulls up stool, plants ass]

  19. I believe there were several cases (at least one in England) where there was a substantial decrease in all crime statistics when the state began providing free herion to addicts.

    The implication is that once the artificially high price of controlled substances is gone, addicts no longer need to steal to support their habits.

  20. If prohibition really worked, we would expect that illegal narcotic use among kids to be much lower than their use of substances that are legal, at least for adults, and therefore widely available — say, like cigarettes.

    Cigarettes are easy to obtain, and the penalties as a minor for their use are far, far, far lower than say for meth or even marijuana.

    So why is illegal drug use among kids nearly as high, or even higher, than cigarette use?

  21. coyote,

    I’m on your side of the aisle on this issue, but…couldn’t that statistic have something to do with the fact that illegal narcotics have a much more pronounced psychotropic effect than cigarettes do? Hell, if I were looking to alter my state of mind, I’d reach for a joint, a beer or a needle before I’d reach for a cigarette.

    Your point would be valid if cigs had a similar psychotropic effect to marijuana, but they don’t. As such, your comparison isn’t exactly too compelling.

    Like I said, I’m on your side, but I wanted to poke a hole in your line of reasoning before you tried to hit some drug warrior with it. Just lookin’ out for ya…

  22. Alcohol use is legal, except for kids under 21,

    Since the life span of the domestic goat is 8-15 years, how can a goat ever legally drink?

    What? They mean children? Oh, why didn’t they say that?

  23. HAHAHahahahahhha, oh, man, wow. I mean. Wow.

    Goddamn teetotalers.

    “…Prohibition did work. Alcohol consumption was reduced by almost 60% and incidents of liver cirrhosis and deaths from this disease dropped dramatically.”

    I know third graders that can demolish this statement persuasively. This makes my head hurt. Where is my vermouth?

    “Today, alcohol consumption is over three times greater than during the Prohibition years.”

    Must. Find. Vermouth. After. Reading. This.

    They’ve got a brigade of well-trained chimps over there at the DEA’s comm office, I see.

    I’m going to have a Grey Goose martini or five and dedicate it to the hard working bureaucrats of the DEA tonight. It’s tough to be doing a job that has absolutely no effect whatsoever on anything, I know. But unless you’re all mormons, you really must hate yourselves.

    V

  24. “What? They mean children? Oh, why didn’t they say that?”

    That still would be inaccurate, as R C Dean pointed out. At 18 one is legally an adult, with all the responsibilities that that entails. At 18 we can put a gun in a youth’s hand to go fight in a war but god forbid they have a fucking beer (or 10 if they choose).

    Prohibitionists and other such busibodies often use the excuse that young people are more likely to drink and drive. It never occurs to them to simply punish the ones who do- as harshly as necessary- and let the responsible ones do as they please. The same mentality applies to all drug prohibition, of course- punish all for the sins of a few.

    Who said we were an individualistic culture?

  25. It’s tough to be doing a job that has absolutely no effect whatsoever on anything, I know.

    You think the DEA has “no effect whatsoever on anything”? Dude, put down the goose, and slowly back away.

  26. You think the DEA has “no effect whatsoever on anything”?

    While it wasn’t my comment, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that while the DEA as a whole has an effect, the individual job of one DEA buttmunch has practically none.

  27. Jackson Kuhl – Thanks for your post… you’re exactly right, they’ve cherrypicked the stats that make them look good.

    “Alcohol consumption was reduced by almost 60% and incidents of liver cirrhosis and deaths from this disease dropped dramatically.”

    Sure, that happened… in the very first year of prohibition, before the gangsters had figured out how to import liquor. By the end drinking was nearly back to pre-Prohibition levels and still rising.

  28. Re the 60% claim:

    Miron and Dill get 10-20% long term decrease in cirrhosis from national prohibition
    (http://www.economics.harvard.edu/faculty/miron/papers/cirrho.pdf) in a 2002 paper and explain how the higher numbers are obtained and why prohibition laws don’t seem to be the main driver of the decline. One observation I’d like to add is that prohibition can be viewed as the trailing edge of a social trend against a behavior. There is generally a fairly small overlap between those who partake of a substance and those who advocate it being banned, so the change in additudes requisite for prohibition may be a driver of pre-prohibition consumption decreases.

    Also, while the DEA states them as separate findings, I’m pretty sure (Musto,1996) used cirrhosis as a proxy to determine drinking levels during prohibition – I can’t find a free copy of it, but it’s cited as one of the cirrhosis studies in (Mirron,2002) and not mentioned in the alternate proxies discussion.

  29. The DEA quotes Prof.David Musto on how effective alcohol prohibition was. Interesting because David Musto has written several books in opposition to drug prohibition.

    Presumably he noted the decrease in alcohol consumption during prohibition in order to give a complete picture, before discussing the many problems that alcohol prohibition caused.

  30. Fuck that, if you farmed out those DEA bureaucrats to the FBI and other organizations that actually do something and demolished the organization… absolutely nothing of consequence would occur. Zero. Nada.

    I don’t mean to suggest that they don’t DO anything… far from it. They are the leaders in wasting government valuable government resources on arresting old ladies with glaucoma problems, while some Saudi with a masters degree, a few trips to Pakistan and an inferiority complex overstays his visa to have some Jee-hadee fun.

    It must be hard for those agents, after a day of wearing blue coats and taking pictures, knowing that all they are doing is giving some other smack pusher a helping hand by playing nanny with the black market. Big fat flying whoop.

    So, yes, Warren, I think the DEA could easily be subsumed into the dustbin of history tomorrow, save this country a good $27 billion a year, and no one would notice.

    Off for the Goose…

    V

  31. V
    I respectfully disagree. The DEA has done quite a bit to set back the legalization movement. I think if the DEA was dismantled (and no other federal agency picked up the torch) you would notice a lot of activists crawling out of the woodwork getting on with the business of putting an end to our long national nightmare.

  32. While I’m a legalizer, I think it’s safe to say that prohibition does reduce incidence of drug use quite a bit. The standard counterpoint I come across is that Miron paper which used drunkenness arrests and also cirhossis as proxies. One thing which gets missed is that while federal prohibition came about in 1920, various state prohibitions were enacted a few years earlier and that the social climate commensurate with a prohibitionist attitude was already in place when the Volstead Act came into effect. Ultimately, legal prohibition derives most of its effect via social deterrence rather than overt legal scares. The enforcement of the Volstead Act is hence the wrong point of demarcation to gauge the effect of prohibitions.

    Apparent per capita ethanol consumption for the United States, 1850-2003. (Gallons of ethanol, based on population age 15 and older prior to 1970 and on population age 14 and other thereafter). (Here’s a critique of these numbers)

  33. I’ll vote for any politician who runs on a platform of “it’s legal to ingest anything you grow in your back yard.”

  34. Goddamn teetotalers.

    All prohibitionists are teetotalers (or hypocrites). Not all teetotalers are prohibitionists.

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