Prohibition anniversary goes mostly unnoticed

December 5th is not a special day for most, but it does mark the 75th anniversary of the repeal of the 18th Amendment, which constitutionally prohibited the purchase, manufacture, and distribution of alcohol. The 25th Amendment was created specifically to invalidate it, and serves no other real purpose in the Constitution.

The 75 years is more symbolic than anything else, since many states did not ratify their own constitutions, and as a result, many of them were dry counties for decades after. But the 21st Amendment marks a watershed moment in American history; admission that the war on drugs could not be won when it came to alcohol.

The day is generally not noticed by the general public. Most individuals are disinterested in an issue that seems to have already been resolved. However, the lessons of prohibition still go unlearned after 7 decades, as the government continues its crusade against drugs.

I’m part of the generation that was told to say no to drugs, and I listened. I didn’t drink any alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or marijuana. The message had done its job. Like many anti-drug kids, I was a moral crusader against the drugs I considered to be immoral.

Time changes all things. As I’ve grown into adulthood, I’ve made a few important realizations about drugs; most drug use is considered a private matter and isn’t subject to my judgment. If a person wants to engage in recreational use, it was not my responsibility to ‘save’ them from themselves. I had to admit to myself that if I had any respect for the concept of individual liberty, drug use was not a battle I could wage. I began to make this conclusion after I stopped believing the convenient lie that drug addicts were somehow all thieves and a major drain on society. Although it was true addicts did indeed cost the state money, this was only because the very drug they were addicted to was made illegal.

I suppose in my case, I felt betrayed by my government for having lied to me in this way. As I began to experiment with some of the milder drugs, I found them to be manageable, enjoyable, and nothing like what the enforcers of prohibition had described. Worse still, as I began to do more research into the subject, I learned there was a serious lack of pertinent information on the long and short term effects of certain drugs. It seemed to me public fear was mounting for drugs that had a relatively mild effect on the human body. Chief among these villains was ecstasy. The media world was abuzz with reported deaths from kids “OD’ing” on E. What everyone failed to mention was the deaths we caused by dehydration rather than any toxic effect of the drug.

Now, it would be foolish to say drugs like Ecstasy are safe, but what drugs are? Alcohol alone is responsible for over 18,000 deaths every year due to car accidents, and this isn’t counting the thousands of deaths caused by long term abuse. Cigarettes are by far the biggest killer. It’s estimated that the death toll will rise to 10 million a year by 2030.

Obviously, deaths are only one factor when considering the potential harm of a drug. If something was not causing a great deal of bodily harm but was paralyzingly addictive, we would still consider it dangerous. The addiction level of any drug is something to consider, but even this idea does not morally justify treating the victims of this addiction as though they are criminals. In wars, there are casualties, and it is usually the poor and desperate who suffer.

Modern drug prohibition is built on a foundation of lies. It’s one of the main reasons the War on Drugs is going so poorly. Kids are not given an accurate picture of drugs, and as a result, they are less likely to make good decisions about them. I remember the kind of negative press marijuana benefited from. It’s no surprise that kids who try it occasionally feel betrayed by the lies about it, and as a consequence, they may often choose to ignore health warnings on more serious drugs. The only real gateway properties ironically stem from the fact improper drug education can leave kids feeling far more in control of their experimentation than they actually are. Failure to provide adequate information and services is the biggest sin of the War on Drugs, and the results are dramatic and shocking.

Drugs are neither bad nor good. Those are moral principles that do not apply to chemicals. How we choose to use them, how we chose to educate people on them, and the consequences of legislating them make drug use a moral issue. It seems to me irresponsible to assume the idea human beings are incapable of choosing for themselves what to do with their bodies. Sure, there are some who abuse drugs, and many who become hopelessly addicted to them, but does it not seem cruel and unfair to punish them for their weakness? Do we punish alcoholics by putting them in prison? Do addicted cigarette smokers lose job opportunities and respect in society simply because they cannot stop smoking?

Comments (2)

  • avatar


    “Alcohol alone is responsible for over 18,000 deaths every year due to car accidents, and this isn’t counting the thousands of deaths caused by long term abuse. Cigarettes are by far the biggest killer. It’s estimated that the death toll will rise to 10 million a year by 2030.”

    Bingo! This was the realization that snapped me out of ignorance on this issue. Unfortunately, I still have not had the opportunity to do any *ahem* independent research on the dangers of drugs. Also unfortunately, I didn’t see this article in time to celebrate prohibition’s demise properly–I will be sure to rectify that as soon as I get home.

  • avatar


    My great-great grandfather Alfred was part of the reason the government realized the prohibition would never work. While doing genealogy research, I came across hundreds of documents of Alfred’s from the time of prohibition. He was both a gentleman and an upstanding member of society. I found alcohol recipes, most notably a one for a whiskey he called “Ammunition”, dated 1928. After further digging and many more recipes, I found out that he used his literary society as a front for bootlegging. Technically, he was a criminal but I’m proud that he stood up against the law he felt was wrong. Unfortunately, he died a year before the ban was lifted in 1933.

    I can only hope that if enough people stand up against this ineffective, wasteful War on Drugs like my ancestor did against alcohol prohibition, then the government will see the harm in lying about it, and ultimately end it. Although,I’d like to do one better than Alfred and live to see it happen.

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