Should drugs be banned?
Drugs are a problem in the UK. Last year there were 4359 drug-related deaths (source: ons.gov.uk), and it’s not getting any better. There are many ‘solutions’ established over the years, the most influential and famous was prohibition when the United States of America banned alcohol for 14 years. This article explores if it would work nowadays and how, contrary to popular belief, that prohibition did have some perks.
On October 28, 1919, the US congress passed the Volstead act, otherwise known as the National Prohibition act or the Eighteenth Amendment. It officially banned the sale, production and importing of any alcoholic drink in all 48 US states as well as Alaska and Hawaii. Prohibition was enforced in 1920 until December 5 of 1933 when the Twenty-first Amendment repealed the Eighteenth Amendment which legalised the consumption of alcohol but not the importation into states. Many states continued to prohibit alcohol but as time went on many realised the benefits of legalisation, by 1966 all had abandoned prohibition.
Prohibition has been a continuous point of discussion in the US since its colonisation. For example, in May of 1657, the General court of Massachusetts declared it illegal to sell highly alcoholic drinks (like rum, whisky, brandy etc.) to the Native Americans. The first attempt of limiting alcohol consumption was almost immediately after the US gained independence, when the government imposed very high taxes on all alcoholic beverages. Many strict Christians believed being drunk was sinful, as it showed signs of gluttony. This led to “the whisky rebellion” in Pennsylvania in protest of these taxes, causing riots and mild destruction, which led to the abolishment of the high taxes by Thomas Jefferson in 1800. The irony is that these high taxes were designed to pay off the debt the government accumulated during the war of independence and to raise awareness of the negative impacts of alcohol.
There are a lot of myths about how badly prohibition failed, while it did fall flat on its face, it wasn’t total anarchy. The US in fact economically benefitted as a 2015 study showed that there was a net social profit of “$432 million per annum in 1934–1937, about 0.33% of gross domestic product. Total benefits of $3.25 billion consist primarily of increased consumer and producer surplus, tax revenues, and reduced criminal violence costs” even though the US could have benefitted from this industry as it was in a period of economic depression. Prohibition normalised the act of women starting-up businesses, albeit illegal ones, which is ground-breaking as women had only received the right to vote just over a decade ago and were still seen as second class citizens. Prohibition was the catalyst that allowed jazz to become an international sensation and inadvertently would lead to the rise of the civil rights movement of the 60s.
While prohibition wasn’t a colossal failure, it did fail to stop the consumption of alcohol which makes it even unlikelier that it would work today. Prohibition increased the consumption of alcohol and making it illegal meant that the government couldn’t benefit the tax they could have collected. Catching the key distributers would be even harder nowadays because of how easy it is to sell drugs on the black market via deep web websites like Silk Road, it would be impossible to catch the perpetrators. The other problem is that the drugs would no longer be health regulated and so you could end up buying cannabis that was 10% LSD, the drug-related deaths would skyrocket like never before.
Banning drugs like alcohol has benefits; it makes it safer to buy and use. The problem is convincing the population that it’s a good change because taking away alcohol would be like taking a toy from a toddler. Overall, prohibition has both positive and negative economic impacts and makes the consumption of drugs even more dangerous. It worked 100 years ago but would it work today? Very unlikely.
By Spike Wyatt