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Jan 16, 2019: Alcohol prohibition introduced 100 years ago carries message for drug war

UNITED STATES - The prohibition on the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes,” the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, was ratified 100 years ago. Seen as unworkable, it was repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933. The war on drugs started even earlier, and the liquor centenary might sound a reminder about losing battles.

Both prohibitions grew out of the temperance movement, which swept the nation around the turn of the 20th Century. In 1914 Congress passed the Harrison Act, banning opiates and cocaine, and the activists moved on to the alcohol ban.

The 1933 repeal recognized that the large-scale distribution of alcoholic beverages flourished despite a vigorous effort by law-enforcement agencies. It also recognized that prohibition had ushered in an era of massive organized crime on the back of bootlegging, the illegal production and sale of liquor.

The war on drugs, which predated the prohibition of alcohol, became a catch phrase in 1971 for the criminalization of certain drugs. The late president Richard Nixon declared that drug abuse was “public enemy number one,” and launched massive enforcement efforts to eradicate them.

At the approach of the centenary of alcohol prohibition, the United States remains wedded to its war on drugs but is receiving more push-back. The American Civil Liberties Union, for one, argues that drugs are here to stay, and that the effects of drug control policy are at least as harmful as the effects of the drugs. The organization observes that despite massive enforcement, “violent traffickers still endanger life in our cities, a steady stream of drug offenders still pours into our jails and prisons, and tons of cocaine, heroin and marijuana still cross our borders unimpeded.”

The prohibition centenary also sees some erosion of the war on drugs, with the effective decriminalization of marijuana in some states.

#22851 Published: 11/26/2018

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