Pubdate: Wed, 04 Nov 2015
Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA)
Copyright: 2015 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC.
Author: A. Barton Hinkle



While it's hard to pinpoint accurately, estimates place the current 
number of Americans in Alcoholics Anonymous at more than 1.2 million. 
AA members meet often; today alone there will be more than 50 AA 
meetings within a 50-mile radius of downtown Richmond. Attend just 
about any of them and you likely will hear personal testimonies about 
the shocking degree of human misery alcohol can inflict.

If you prefer data to anecdotes, consider this: The Centers for 
Disease Control and Prevention reports that from 2006 to 2010, 
"excessive alcohol use led to approximately 88,000 deaths ... 
shortening the lives of those who died by an average of 30 years. 
Further, excessive drinking was responsible for 1 in 10 deaths among 
working-age adults aged 20-64 years. The economic costs of excessive 
alcohol consumption in 2010 were estimated at $249 billion."

Yet there are 10 state liquor stores within just a 4-mile radius of 
downtown Richmond, and hundreds across the state. Virginia's 
Department of Alcoholic Beverage control boasts about how much liquor 
it sells: "The agency is a leading revenue producer for Virginia and 
the source of future economic growth and innovation for the state," 
it crows. "Virginia ABC has contributed $8.6 billion to the 
commonwealth's general fund."

And that's just liquor stores. There are who-knows-how-many grocery 
and convenience stores where you can buy beer and wine. More than 
half the adults in Virginia and across the country have enjoyed at 
least a drink or two in the past month - and nearly half of those 
consumed five or more drinks in a sitting - mostly without consequence.

Once upon a time - almost a century ago - the United States decided 
the social costs of drinking were too high, and imposed Prohibition. 
It didn't work out well. Though alcohol consumption dipped briefly 
after Volstead it soon recovered, thanks to Prohibition's creation of 
a vast underground trade - largely run by organized crime - that 
flourished despite steep increases in government spending on alcohol 
control. Bootleggers concentrated more on hard liquor because it was 
easier to conceal and transport, and the lack of production standards 
quadrupled the number of deaths from poisoned products.

Eventually the public wised up. Americans realized that while alcohol 
causes many problems, banning alcohol does not solve those problems 
but does create others. Almost nobody today would insist the 
government should forbid Smith to take a drink because Jones has a 
drinking problem.

Now the public is wising up about the folly of marijuana prohibition. 
In 1990, Americans favored prohibition 81 to 16 percent; today, 
Americans favor legalization 52 to 45 percent. Politicians, however, 
are still playing catch-up.

Last week at George Mason University, Bernie Sanders recommended a 
sensible if modest step: removing pot from the list of Schedule I 
substances, where it now sits alongside heroin and LSD because of the 
federal government's official but false contention that it has no 
redeeming uses and can inflict severe physical dependence. Sanders 
said pot policy should be left to the states.

This is a move in the right direction, albeit a small and timid one. 
A proper policy would treat marijuana like alcohol (which, unlike 
pot, can be physically addicting). But at least Sanders has the right 
idea. Hillary Clinton supports medical marijuana but straddles the 
fence about recreational pot. The Republican presidential candidates 
are mostly stuck in the past.

Ben Carson wants to "intensify" the war on drugs; Chris Christie has 
frequently fulminated against recreational marijuana. Marco Rubio 
flatly opposes pot legalization, and Carly Fiorina opposes it "for a 
whole host of reasons," though she says states should be able to 
legalize the stuff if they want. That is essentially the same view as 
that of Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee. John Kasich opposes 
even medical marijuana. Lindsey Graham says marijuana should remain 
illegal even if it is only "half as bad as alcohol(!)."

Even Rand Paul has been noncommittal about legalization, although he 
thinks the feds should butt out and penalties should be lower. Bobby 
Jindal might be open to persuasion. (Rick Santorum, George Pataki and 
Jim Gilmore all oppose legalization, and Donald Trump is, as usual, 

This is exceedingly odd from a party that claims to venerate 
individual freedom; abhors big government; mocks liberal paternalists 
who think government should protect people from themselves; 
celebrates the free market for meeting consumer demand; and praises 
(pardon the term) budding entrepreneurs, such as those in the 
marijuana industry.

There is not a single conservative argument for pot prohibition 
consistent with those values - and if liberals ever argued for 
outlawing tobacco or alcohol for the same reasons that conservatives 
support marijuana prohibition, conservatives would vilify them as 
stormtroopers of the nanny state. And they would be right.

Perhaps one of these days conservatives will wake up and realize what 
they sound like. Fingers crossed, eh?
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom