Thursday, May 18, 2006

Those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it

DEA head Karen Tandy tells Canadian TV that alcohol prohibition was a good idea:


Joyce's Cutie said...

Hmm..."legalization (of alcohol) was a failed experiment"? Ms. Tandy is correct in saying that alcohol use went up as a result of lifting prohibtion, as (I suspect) other drug use would if drug prohibition were also lifted.

But use -- in and of itself -- is not what we should be trying to deter, but rather abuse and harm associated with such use. Though its use increased, the harm associated with alcohol decreased after prohibition was ended. The same, we can conclude, would be true of other drugs.

Crime, family-destroying prison sentences, overindulgence, underage use, and other harms associated with drugs would all plummet if drugs were legalized and regulated the way alcohol is.

Tom Angell said...


Your main point is an excellent one, but you should be careful when you say "alcohol use went up AS A RESULT OF lifting prohibition."

Correlation does not equal causation. The initial decline in alcohol use that happened around the implementation of prohibition, as well as the decrease that correleated with the lifting of prohibtion, could very well have had a lot to do with societal trends or other factors.

joyce's cutie said...

Tom, you're quite the David Hume today. :-) I suppose you're right that no one really knows what "causes" anything to happen.

But I do think that the drug policy reform movement is trying to make the case that legalization and regulation would result in (cause?) a reduction in the harm associated with drugs. That being the case, I think it's only fair to concede what the prohibitionists mistakenly regard as a hole in our argument -- that an increase in use would accompany legalization.

If we don't posit some causal relationships, we're left impotent as advocates.

The Castle said...

This gem from Tandy appeared in today's Providence Journal:

War on marijuana does indeed save teens

01:00 AM EDT on Thursday, May 18, 2006

Froma Harrop (" 'Demon drug' propaganda doesn't cut it anymore," Commentary, May 10) offers a variety of worn-out arguments about why marijuana should be legalized. However, she ignores the vast evidence that marijuana use is a health, not political, issue.

Decriminalization would merely result in more users and more health costs -- not savings in our coffers. The American Academy of Pediatrics has announced that legalizing marijuana for any age group would increase adolescent use. This would be devastating. Teens are three times more likely than adults to become dependent on marijuana, which explains why more teens are in treatment for marijuana dependence than for all other drugs combined, including alcohol. Marijuana contains 50 to 70 percent more carcinogens than tobacco smoke.

If those are not sufficient reasons to keep marijuana smoking illegal, consider that the countries that have experimented with decriminalization are reversing their course.

In the Netherlands, the easing of restrictions on marijuana led to a tripling of marijuana use among 18- to 20-year-olds. Most Dutch towns have now adopted a zero-tolerance policy toward cannabis caf├ęs. In Zurich, a so-called safe-injection site led to such a spike in crime around the park that the citizenry demanded that the site be closed. The new Canadian government declared that it was opposed to legalizing drugs, because of the increased addiction and crime likely to result, and stated its intent to impose mandatory minimum criminal penalties and large fines for individuals operating marijuana grow houses.

What you won't hear from marijuana legalizers is that the drug war has been successful in the past five years. Since 2001, 700,000 fewer teenagers are using illicit drugs, and current marijuana use by teens has dropped by 19 percent. The combined efforts of law enforcement, treatment specialists, and prevention agencies are working.

Karen P. Tandy


The writer is administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Anonymous said...

Woah I thought that sounded like somehting pasted from the DEA website...

Jason said...

While important to point out, Tandy's statement shouldn't come as a surprise. Y'know there are people out there who believe alcohol should still be illegal.

My bachelor's thesis was on the political development of Prohibition, focusing on 1880-1920 Minnesota. Tom's partially right about the decline in alcohol consumption being attributable to other social factors.

The American temperance movement traces its roots back through the mid-19th century, to the women's crusades, Second Great Awakening of the (evangelical) church, and supporters of Lincoln. Somewhere along the way calls for regulation and appeals for sobriety turned into demands of abstinence.

Understand some of the context of the Prohibition movement in the U.S. after the turn of the 20th century: A record share of the population was foreign born, there were large inequalities in wealth, rapid industrialization, progressive ideals of perfecting society, and the beginnings of real federal power. Bonnie and Whitebread put it best when they wrote:

“The social response to drug use in the early twentieth century was framed by a policy-making ideology that combined faith in the moral superiority of the dominant social order, confidence in the inevitability of moral (and therefore social) progress, preference for cultural homogeneity, intolerance of institutional ‘evils,’ paternalism towards children and immigrants, and faith in government action.”

Prohibition's post-1900 expansion was a complex sociopolitical phenomenon. Its biggest early gains came in areas with an entrenched, old-stock middle-class. Mostly through local option laws, the percentage of Americans living in dry territory increased from 17 percent in 1900 to roughly 40 percent by 1906. The South progressed quickest, and prohibition extended to over two-thirds of the former Confederacy by 1907. Between 1907 and the end of 1914, eleven states “went dry,” and prohibition extended to 74 percent of the land and 47 percent of the population.

The defining event of the late 1910s, entrenching prohibition into American law, was World War I. Suppression of German-Americans extended to prohibition's primary political opposition, the US Brewers Association. In 1917, the federal government banned manufacture of hard liquor and set a national 2.75% beer standard under the pretext of conserving foodstuffs. The late-1918 War Prohibition Act called for the country to go dry by the next year. Meanwhile state-after-state banned alcohol, and the 18th amendment was ratified in early-1919.

On it's face Victorian society considered drunkenness impure and un-American. Anyone who studies modern prohibition would find the hysteria of that era familiar. But drinking never left our culture. The early southern laws, for instance, by-and-large prohibited the sale of alcohol but not its use or possession. Basically, cocktail parties at the plantation house were tolerated, while making alcohol available to blacks, immigrants, or poor whites was not. Throughout the country a fear of the lower classes fueled prohibition sentiment, while the upper classes continued to imbibe. And public opinion was sharply divided over it. When a state constitutional amendment for prohibition appeared on Minnesota's ballot in 1918, the state was evenly split. (In fact it garnered a majority vote, but not the majority of all votes cast needed to ratify.)

And so the lead-up to the Prohibition Era did decrease alcohol consumption both through social disapproval and limiting access, but did not eliminate drinking. And the sea change never convinced all Americans that booze is inherently evil. Of course the next 13 years didn't eliminate alcohol either. Reformers turned prohibitionist arguments on their head by calling for repeal to make society safer, free of bootlegging mobsters and teenage-serving speakeasies. Parallels to the Drug War abound. We ratified the 21st Amendment in 1933.

After repeal it is well established that the volume of alcohol consumption increased. This is not the whole story though. Flatly stating that consumption tripled fails to take into account a shift from liquor to beer, that half the expansion occurred in the few years after 1945, and that per capita alcohol consumption was still lower in 1948 than it had been before 1916. I've not seen any estimates of whether teenage alcohol use increased or decreased after repeal.

That was over seventy years ago. Drug prohibitions were established around the same period as alcohol prohibition, and with shared ideological roots. Yet drug demonizations initially affected smaller segments of society, they took hold more deeply, and draconian laws entrenched. Drug popularity in America came after prohibition, and almost forty years past Woodstock we've got a raging Drug War.

So here's my point: It is natural that federal bureaucrats in charge of drug control believe in prohibition. They are prohibitionists. They are not ignoring history. They know what Prohibition was about. They know what the Drug War is about. And they think it's good policy. They are wrong.

Hippy Chimp said...

I think a push to bring back alcohol prohibition would be the best thing to happen to the legalization movement. Once alcohol is treated the same was as other drugs and alcohol users begin to feel like their right to consume alcohol is being threatened, the legalization movement will suddenly gain a lot of supporters. All the good ol’ boys drinkin’ their bud and the suits sipping their brandy will be on our side for a change…

Repeal the Twenty-First Amendment!!!

800 pound gorilla said...

Actually, in my first campaign for office I got that feedback occasionally. I got mostly positive feedback on the street but few votes.

I also got a lot of negative feedback from religious people who seemed not to know the difference between scriptural admonitions against drunkenness and using alcohol [common during celebrations in the Jewish religious culture]. I happen to be well versed in scripture and find that "scriptural abuse" is rampant within the religious right.

My experience living in "dry" sections of Texas has taught me that whenever you restrict access to drugs you always have higher incidence of drug - related problems. If you can't readily obtain drugs you tend to "stockpile" them whenever you can. When you have larger quantities available it makes it easier to binge once you've passed the threshold of resistance. Someone who is already impaired has less resistance to drinking the extra beer. Ironically, that same person has less inclination to go down the street to purchase more than to use existing stockpiles. Of course finding the car keys becomes more problematic when you are impaired as are other functions necessary to restocking your stash of drugs. My parents didn't become problem drinkers until they moved to a dry Texas county in North Dallas. And of course my younger brother starting raiding their stash to start his problem drinking career - that ended just short of his 40th birthday.

kaptinemo said...

The reason why Tandy and cohort are making these idiotic statements that run counter to accepted history is simple. And it has to do with the increasing tendency of the media in describing drug prohibition for what it actually is: drug prohibition. Which every American schoolchild has learned by junior high was an unmitigated flop.

The more the media uses the word 'prohibition' to describe the War on (Some) Drugs, the more the public associates the word with the historical failure of alcohol prohibition. It's an added benefit that the more the modern-day prohibitionists are reminded of their historical, ideological ancestors, the more they are reminded that they, too, are engaged in a lost cause. So, in a pathetic attempt at a counter-attack in the arena of public opinion, and in defiance of accepted historical fact, they try to trot out revisionist nonsense such what Tandy spewed. Which, when viewed from the universally accepted fact that alcohol prohibition was a disaster for this country, is proof of how ideologically bankrupt the prohibs really are to be reaching for straws...and broken ones, at that.

Jason said...

kaptinemo, have you ever heard the saying that all history is revisionist?

This clip reminded me of an anti-marijuana column by George Will called This War is Worth Fighting. In it Will paraphrased John Walters saying, "Even Prohibition ... changed behavior: After repeal, per capita alcohol use did not return to pre-Prohibition levels until the 1960s."

Of course if you're arguing on the side that prohibition failed, the 21st Amendment is a pretty strong ace in yer hand.

But here's a point I think you gotta give 'em: prohibition does decrease use. Compared to lax regulation, prohibition will always lessen a behavior. It is not the only way to achieve prevention. Prohibition absolutely has the most unintended consequences of any policy. And I think the effect of prohibition on behavior diminishes over time. Yet in an all-or-no regulation argument, there's less drug use under prohibition than nothing.

That kind of all-or-nothing framework is what the drug warriors are going for when they make reference to Prohibition. Pin 'em down on the subject though, and they'll probably tell ya the analogy doesn't apply.

There's an important distinction between prohibition and prevention that drug warriors blur. The challenge for reform advocates is to promote a future with robust prevention efforts and less crime.

Anonymous said...

I find it difficult to understand why no one called Ms. Tandy on her statement that marijuana smoke contains more carcinogens than tobacco smoke. The statement is patently false on its face, there is no danger of cancer from marijuana, in fact the opposite is true, various elements of marijuana actually kill cancer cells without harming normal cells.