Throughout the country, a form of “reefer madness” has been picking up steam. Marijuana is fully legal in 9 states across the country while an additional 20 have only legalized it for medical use. In late April of 2018, lawmakers from my home state of Michigan approved putting full marijuana legalization up to a vote in November of the same year. With the movement gaining this much momentum, many are beginning to see full, nationwide marijuana legalization as nothing less than an inevitability.
Seeing the legal battles marijuana has been going through, I am surprised how few people have made the connection to a much more harmful substance that has gone through similar tribulations: alcohol. It is beyond weird to see marijuana legalization being heavily scrutinized by some despite marijuana causing around 0 deaths a year, while alcohol legalization is unquestioned despite alcohol causing 88,000 deaths per year. Most people believe that Prohibition was a failure but, at the same time, know next to nothing about what actually took place during that time period. Nearly 75 years after its end, I think it is about time we revisit Prohibition.
Prohibition came into being with the ratification of the 18th amendment and was in effect from 1920 to 1933. It had strong bipartisan support within both houses of Congress and passed rather easily. It is important to note that the 18th amendment banned “the production, transport, and sale of alcohol” but not the consumption of alcohol. This meant that any alcohol acquired pre-Prohibition was allowed to be drank during this “dry” period.
Despite many condemning it as a failure, Prohibition followed what has become a fact of life- when you make something illegal, you get less of it. Upon further review, virtually all serious academics, whether in support of the measure or not, have conceded that Prohibition worked. It, in many respects, accomplished its goals.
At its peak effectiveness, Prohibition caused alcohol consumption to drop to about 30% of its pre-Prohibition levels. Arrests for public drunkeness fell 50% within just 2 years of Prohibition being in effect. Furthermore, once Prohibition was repealed, alcohol consumption spiked. There can be no denying that Prohibition significantly curbed alcohol consumption.
Rates of alcohol related illnesses also dropped precipitously during this time. For example, cirrhosis of the liver rates dropped by 2/3rds. Also, admissions to state mental hospitals for alcohol-induced psychosis were more than cut in half. Deaths from alcoholism also dropped dramatically with the rate per 100,000 being 5.23 from 1910-1917 and only 2.91 from 1920-1927.
Moreover, the prevalent misconception that Prohibition caused a spike in crime is just that- a misconception. General crime actually went down during this period. Also, despite a heavy increase in homicide rates between 1900 and 1910, homicide rates during Prohibition remained relatively stable.
By so many metrics, Prohibition was a success. But not only was it effective, it was moral. The most precious thing we have is our people, and we should do what we can to ensure their health and safety.
Many law-abiding citizens who simply enjoy a drink every once in a while may push back against such measures because they will no longer to enjoy the pleasure of a beer or a wine with dinner. However, it is a small price to pay for saving the lives of your fellow citizens. There are plenty of other great drinks out there that you can substitute for alcohol. And if you really love the taste of beer that much, non-alcoholic beer is always an option.
A modern day prohibition has levels of support that may surprise you. According to a CNN poll, 19% of US adults believe drinking alcohol should be illegal. While there are certainly many details that need to be hashed out such as what penalties would look like, I do think this is a discussion that needs to be had if we ever want to get serious again about curbing the excessive loss of life brought about by alcohol in this country.