Pubdate: Fri, 30 Dec 2016
Source: Telegram, The (CN NF)
Copyright: 2016 The Telegram
Author: Andy Wells
Page: B5


Part 2 in an occasional letter series exploring marijuana use and

By the end of the 19th century, the Temperance Movement and the
Progressive Era had acquired considerable political strength based on a
simple but fallacious idea: that the human condition can be improved
through vigorous and persuasive government involvement in the economy, and
society generally.

The First World War saw a major expansion of government activity that did
not diminish significantly with the end of the war. In 1919, the United
States Congress passed the Volstead Act, which led to the Prohibition Era
in the U.S. (which would not end until 1933). Marijuana and drug
prohibitions increased in many jurisdictions and the war against marijuana
was given a major boost with the film "Reefer Madness," which hit screens
in 1936.

In 1970, the Controlled Substance Act was passed by Congress, making the
war on drugs national in scope, and it spread to other jurisdictions.

History shows that Prohibition was a manifest failure. Mark Thorton, an
American economist who has studied the issue and is the author of
"Tarrifs, Blockades, and Inflation," has made a persuasive case that
Prohibition, its means and the curtailment of usage, end in fundamental
conflict. In fact, Prohibition worsens the problem it is meant to solve.

Consider the prison system, which is rife with drug abuse.

If the forces of order cannot control drug usage in the draconian prison
environment, and they can't, what chance is there in the wider and freer

Thorton postulates what he calls the Iron Law of Prohibition or the Rhett
Butler Effect (Google "Gone with the Wind"). Smugglers have an incentive
to move the most valuable commodities possible relative to volume and
weight. Rhett smuggled dried beef rather than wheat, perfumes rather than
foodstuffs through the Union Blockade during the U.S. Civil War.
Bootleggers move hard liquor rather than beer. (The Bronfman fortune - in
other words, Seagram's - was founded by Sam Bronfman and his brothers
during Prohibition. Al Capone had a warehouse in St-Pierre-Miquelon which
experienced an economic boom during Prohibition that has not been
repeated.) Drug smugglers move heroin or cocaine rather than marijuana.

Adulteration, which is the cause of overdose deaths, is done at the street
level. This results in what I call the Keith Richards effect, who noted
that during his addiction days he feared the cops more than the heroin,
because he could afford high quality - i.e. pure heroin - with accurate
dosages, and therefore had no worries about OD'ing.

In other words, whether it is alcohol or drugs, prohibition produces the
same results. Users run a much higher risk of death or physical/ mental
damage, whether it is from bathtub gin or from adulterated Jamaica ginger,
or "Jake," as they did in the U.S. in the 1920s. Drug users die from
poisoned drugs and AIDS is spread by dirty needles.

Daniel Okrent's book "Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition," a New
York Times bestseller (and, to borrow and mutilate a phrase,
"unputdownable") summed it up by saying, "it created the first national
crime syndicate, imposed profound limitations on human rights. It fostered
a culture of bribery blackmail and official corruption. It maimed and
murdered, its death by poison. But through it all, Americans kept drinking
going to remarkable lengths, to smuggle, sell, conceal and convivially
imbibe their favourite intoxicants."

The French have a very apropos saying: plus ca change, plus c'est la meme

Andy Wells

St. John's
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