Lesson 3: Alcohol

Most people don't consider drug laws prohibition, though that's what they are. Prohibition earned a negative name with Americas attempt to prohibit the use of alcohol in this century. The similarities of this effort to the War on Drugs need to be recognized. Five of our lessons are drawn from prohibition.

Prohibition was affected by means of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. It was ratified in 1919 and went into effect in 1920. It prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors. The Volstead Act, an act of Congress to implement the 18th Amendment, was passed in 1919, and extended prohibition by making it unlawful to possess or use any intoxicating liquor, defined as being any beverage containing one-half of one percent or more of alcohol.

There are three little-recognized facts about prohibition that are very significant:

Problem use of alcohol had actually been declining between 1910 and 1919 due to social intolerance of intoxication and education of harmful health effects.

When alcohol was prohibited, some people who did not drink before began to do so out of defiance for this type of government control. It was an act of civil disobedience.

There were others, law-abiding types who previously drank in moderation. Not wanting to break our Constitutional Amendment in the absence of legal alcohol, they turned to marijuana or opiates for the high they desired. Cocaine was used by some as well for the first time during alcohol prohibition.

Whenever we try to force compliant behavior on individuals through prohibition of any kind, the problem goes underground and develops into a greater problem. When the official message is a lie, it backfires -- always.

When a preferred drug is hard to obtain, people will find and turn to others, just as designer drugs are always being developed.

Jack Shafer, Inquiry (1984): The net effect, tragic and ironic, of drug prohibition has been the creation of synthetic drugs that are more potent, dangerous, and unpredictable than the drugs originally banned. Unless we turn away from drug prohibition, and learn to live with the drugs we have, we will be awash in a flood of cheap and deadly synthetic drug substitutes.

History Lesson #3: When unregulated and underground, alcohol proved to be more dangerous than ever.

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