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Letter: Parallels between Prohibition, drugs

| July 23, 2009 12:00 AM

Dear Editor:

There are interesting parallels between Prohibition and today’s war on drugs.

Both increased the consumption of the substances they attempted to ban; both resulted in large numbers of incarcerations (over half of U.S. incarcerations are drug-related) and both cost the taxpayer huge sums. But perhaps the worst effect of Prohibition and the war on drugs is that both attracted organized crime as well as the attendant political corruption at all levels of government.

As students of American history learn and today’s lawmakers apparently have forgotten, Prohibition (which became law with the 18th Amendment in 1919) was such a failure that it was repealed in 1933 with the 21st Amendment. There were several other countries that tried prohibition during this period and they also repealed those laws within a short time. It was evident that prohibition caused more problems that it solved.

A rational-thinking person might ask why the prohibition of drugs should be expected to be any more successful than prohibition of alcohol. The cynical answer is that an enormous number of people owe their livelihood to the war on drugs. Members of the DEA, judges, sheriffs, police, bailiffs, attorneys, prison guards, bondsmen, probation officers – many of these jobs would be lost were it not for the interdiction effort on drugs.

The drug trade, after all, is one of the largest industries in the world. We can only speculate on the number of politicians, attorneys and bankers involved in the traffic, money laundering and other illicit aspects of the drug trade.

Unfortunately, this cynical answer to why drug prohibition continues is probably also the correct answer.

Bill Payne, Libby