Pubdate: Sun, 03 Apr 2005
Source: Winnipeg Sun (CN MB)
Copyright: 2005 Canoe Limited Partnership
Author: Clifford Schaffer
Note: Parenthetical remark by the Sun editor.


Rev. Harry Lehotsky (The pros and cons of legalizing drugs, March 27)
is so misinformed that he is just funny -- or he would be if the
lawmakers weren't just as ill-informed.

The only people I have ever heard say that legalization will solve all
the problems of drugs are prohibitionists trying to set up a straw man
argument. Legalization would not eliminate all the problems, just as
it didn't eliminate all the problems of alcohol. But it did greatly
reduce the problems of Prohibition.

Alcohol Prohibition went into effect in the U.S. in 1920. It was
passed with a campaign of "Save the Children from Alcohol" and the
prohibition laws were a response to a real social problem with
alcohol. Within five years, homicide rates skyrocketed. Arrests for
public drunkenness were 30% above the pre-Prohibition records. Home
breweries -- just like today's grow-ops -- were rampant. In some cases
whole neighbourhoods went in on a cooperative basis to make booze.
Police corruption was so rampant that they shipped corrupt cops off to
prison literally by the trainload. Organized crime thrived.

Even worse was the effect on children. Teen admissions to hospitals
for alcohol problems soared. Teen arrests for public drunkenness set
new records. Schools had to cancel dances because so many kids showed
up drunk. The average age at which people started drinking dropped
three years in the first five years of prohibition. Kids became
involved in the bootlegging trade. Some early supporters of
prohibition turned against it because they said Prohibition made it
easier than ever for their kids to get alcohol.

Prohibition was repealed in 1933 with a campaign of "Save the Children
from Prohibition."

In contrast, the currently illegal drugs were not passed in response
to any real social problem. There was a time when they were all legal
and available over the counter, even to kids. Cocaine was included in
soda pop, toothache drops, and tobacco cheroots. Morphine was a common
part of patent medicines and heroin was included in some baby colic
remedies. Extracts of marijuana were included in about 250 common
medicines and cannabis was grown and used by everyone from George
Washington and Thomas Jefferson to middle class women seeking relief
from "women's complaint."

Even under those extreme conditions we didn't have the problems we
have today. There weren't any major organizations campaigning for
their prohibition, as there was with alcohol. Addiction rates were
about the same as they are today, but addicts were not criminals, and
most of them lived fairly normal, productive lives -- not unlike
tobacco addicts today. As a demonstration that addiction need not lead
to a life of waste, Dr. William Halsted, the "father of modern
surgery," invented most of the basic techniques of modern surgery
while he was a morphine addict. Drug-related crime and violence --
except for alcohol -- was virtually unknown.

Most of the problems we have today started when these drugs were
outlawed. Users became criminals and organized crime found an absolute
bonanza. Within 10 years after these drugs were outlawed in the U.S.,
medical societies across the nation were decrying the prohibition as a
medical and social disaster.

Of all the ways that we could possibly approach this problem,
prohibition is the most expensive, causes the most problems, and
produces the poorest results.

Clifford Schaffer

DRCNet Online Library of Drug Policy

Agua Dulce, Calif.

(Your government's opposition is one of the top reasons cited for
retaining prohibition in Canada.)
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin