April 13, 2015—Like many ardent supporters of liberty, I have enjoyed chronicling the similarities between alcohol prohibition in the 1920’s and the continuing prohibition of marijuana in modern society. With an increasing number of “pro-legalization” movements springing up throughout the nation, it is becoming quite clear that prohibition just doesn’t work. Thankfully, there are many who are beginning to wake up and embrace this realization.
It is quite amusing to me that, as Americans, we are so prone to allow the past to repeat itself. Similar to the prohibition of alcohol, marijuana prohibition has led to many unintended consequences. So why is it that we continue to move in opposite directions? Perhaps we don’t want to be labeled as “potheads.” Or perhaps we fear that supporting legalization on an economic basis means that we are advocates for consuming the substance. Whatever the reason, it is time we look past the stereotypes and begin to view the issue in terms of economic benefits.
For this reason, I have compiled a short, but concise, list of similarities between the prohibition of alcohol and the ongoing prohibition of marijuana.
1. They’ll Get It Anyway!
The basic principle of “supply and demand” has a tremendous impact on the ability of individuals to obtain goods and services. During alcohol prohibition, those who were determined to purchase liquor were able to do so. When individuals were unable to obtain liquor through legal means, they would resort to purchasing it through the black market. This scenario illustrates one of the most basic principles of supply and demand. As long as there is a demand for a good or service, it is inevitable that there will be a supplier.
The same scenario can be applied to the prohibition of marijuana. In modern society, the number of individuals who use marijuana on a regular basis is abundant. It is important to note that these individuals are not strictly potheads. In fact, many of our society’s most affluent individuals have admitted to either using, or trying, marijuana. According to The Huffington Post, individuals such as Tom Brokaw, Ted Turner, Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey have all admitted to either trying or using marijuana. All of these individuals, as well as countless others, were able to obtain marijuana despite its status as an illegal substance.
The fact of the matter is, those who desire to smoke marijuana will do so regardless of the law. The law of supply and demand is a powerful force that is not easily ignored. As long as there is a demand for a product, the forces of the market will ensure that it is provided.
2. The Rise of Al Capone….And the Drug Cartels!
It is public knowledge that the infamous mobster, Al Capone, made his rise in the midst of Prohibition. In fact, much of his success can be attributed to the illegal alcohol trade. Capone understood that, as long as there was a demand for alcohol, it was inevitable that there would be a supplier. Capone figured that, instead of passing the profits off to someone else, it was better that he took advantage of the benefits.
The same case can be made for the infamous drug cartels that are wreaking havoc across Mexico. These cartels make their profit from selling a variety of illicit drugs. One of their major “cash crops” is, you guessed it, marijuana. Therefore, it should come as little surprise that the drug cartels are one of the most stringent opponents of marijuana legalization. This opposition is quite understandable because, if marijuana can be obtained legally, the cartels will lose out on profit.
In both cases, prohibition led to an increase in organized crime. Organized crime rings, such as those led by Al Capone and the Mexican drug cartels, will always be willing to take the risk if the anticipated payout is high enough.
3. Why Not Benefit The Public?
During alcohol prohibition, the state lost out on what could have been large amounts of tax revenue. Because the sole providers of alcohol were the organized crimes rings, alcohol was sold to consumers tax-free. On top of that, the suppliers of alcohol avoided paying tax on their income. Now, I am generally not an advocate of taxes to begin with. However, I would much prefer that any additional revenue would go towards efforts to improve society rather than line the pockets of criminals.
The exact same argument can be made for the prohibition of marijuana. Instead of funding organizations that carry out acts of violence, why not legalize it and generate tax revenue. According to the Huffington Post, the United States could have earned about $8.7 billion dollars in tax revenue from marijuana, had it been legal in 2010. With a current national debt of over $18 trillion, it hardly makes sense to throw away an additional source of revenue. Instead of handing money over to criminals, why don’t we legitimize the sale of marijuana and use the tax revenue to benefit society?
4. Increased Spending, No Results
Not only did the state lose out on tax revenue during alcohol prohibition, but it also spent large amounts trying to combat illegal sales. During alcohol prohibition, the state created a task force that was directed to combat the illegal sale of alcohol. The costs of maintaining this task force were enormous and, as history has shown us, yielded inefficient results.
According to The Huffington Post, had marijuana been legal in 2010, the United States would have saved about $8.7 billion in enforcement costs. These numbers do not include the amount that local governments spend on fighting marijuana use. With all the money that is spent on combating the sale of marijuana, you would think that we’d be seeing a significant decline in its use. However, according to NORML, about 25 million people have used marijuana over the last year and over 693,000 people have been arrested for a marijuana-related incident. One would think that, with over $8 billion spent on fighting marijuana, we would have seen better results.
5. It’s All About Liberty!
Perhaps the most important philosophical argument that opponents of both alcohol and marijuana prohibition have in common is the fact that prohibition infringes upon personal liberties. Why should the government dictate to legal, consenting adults what they can and cannot put into their bodies? The government does not have the moral authority to control personal choice and individuals have no moral obligation to obey unjust laws. Those who are truly free should have the ability to choose what they put into their bodies. As long as they accept the consequences of their actions and do not harm others, the government has no business interfering in personal matters. Society was smart enough to realize this in concerns to alcohol prohibition, how long will it take to realize that the same principles apply to the prohibition of marijuana?
Is there any reason to continue marijuana prohibition? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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