Culture Wars/Current Controversies

A Century Later and We Still Have a Culture of Prohibition

DL Magazine

By John Doherty

The year is 1920.  The US government just prohibited the production and sale of alcoholic beverages under the eighteenth amendment.  The aim was to legislate morality, but America would soon learn how impossible that very concept is in reality.  An era of complete failure, this period of prohibition lasted thirteen years until, in 1933, the twenty-first amendment was passed, repealing prohibition.  Of alcohol.

It is difficult not to laugh at the brief prohibition of alcohol in modern days, as we all recognize the inevitable failure and overall ridiculousness of preventing adults from drinking.  Although the eighteenth amendment was passed with the good intentions of reducing alcohol consumption, and in turn reducing poverty and crime, we now know that the exact opposite occurred.  Alcohol consumption increased, as did the use of hard drugs such as cocaine and opium.  Furthermore, the alcohol that was produced was excessively more dangerous to consume, as the liquor was not subject to any sort of health regulations and brewed by non-professionals.  Eventually, gangs began to dominate the production of alcohol – an eerily similar mirror to the drug cartels of today.

This is not exclusively about cannabis, but it is a place to start.  According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), cannabis is a Schedule I drug; the most “dangerous.”  This means that it is on par with heroin and allegedly more dangerous than drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and oxycodone.  It is hard to determine how the DEA exactly came to this conclusion, as cannabis has resulted in a total of zero deaths.

That’s right, zero.

That’s less than almost all other illegal and legal drugs out there.

Moreover, cannabis has been successfully used as a treatment for nausea, glaucoma, and utilized as a non-addictive painkiller (unlike the highly-addictive and legal Vicodin, which, by the way, is also less dangerous than cannabis according to the DEA).  The success of cannabis as medicine has inspired twenty states and the District of Columbia to legalize medicinal marijuana.  And the states of Colorado and Washington have both legalized the plant for recreational use.

I would like to stop here and remind readers that drugs can be extremely dangerous and certain drugs can be very addicting.  There are drugs that, in my opinion, should be legal and drugs that should be decriminalized.  I believe that the choice to use any sort of drug, regardless of how dangerous, should not be viewed as criminal behavior.  This, in turn, would abolish the incarceration of non-violent drug offenders.  By decriminalizing dangerous drugs, we will begin to promote rehabilitation over imprisonment.  Drug addicts are not criminals; they are people who need help overcoming a serious illness, not people who deserve to be locked up in a six-by-eight foot cell.

Prohibition has even more of a negative effect on rehabilitation by illegalizing some successful treatments. For example, some Schedule I psychedelics (deemed “harder” drugs than cannabis) have histories as addiction treatments.  Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) has been successful at curing heroin addictions.  Similar reports come from psychedelics such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and psilocybin.  Furthermore, LSD was used as a treatment for cancer patients in the 60s and many psychedelics including the three previously mentioned on top of mescaline and even cannabis have been known to substantially decrease or completely end psychological illnesses such as depression and anxiety.

Many will argue that there are valid reasons for illegal drugs.  As I previously mentioned, some drugs can be extremely dangerous.  However, by making a substance illegal, you do not end the consumer’s desire to use that substance.  Rather, what happens is what happened during the thirteen years of alcohol prohibition: high consumption of a more-dangerous product.  And unjust imprisonment for any adult who dare choose to treat his or her body as his or her own.

An estimated 1.6 million drug-related arrests occur every year, and over 850,000 of those are cannabis-related.  Eighty-nine percent of these cannabis-related arrestees are charged with simple possession.  The federal government spends about $15 billion per year to exacerbate the drug war, and state and local governments spend another $25 billion.

How many more need to be imprisoned?  How much more money will it take?  It is time to acknowledge the failure of prohibition and promote some sensible drug policies. Otherwise, prohibition will continue to oppress us.


Hailing from Cold Spring Harbor, New York, John Doherty is currently a Junior at American University studying political science with a concentration in political theory.  Post-graduation, John intends to further his education by studying law.  He is most influenced by libertarian thinkers and political figures on the left.  John’s hobbies include reading, writing, running, and music.

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