December 5th of this year marks the 80th anniversary of the end of alcohol prohibition in the United States. Prohibition lasted 13 years, between January 19, 1920 and December 5, 1933. Prohibition contributed to a failing economy, directly bolstered organized crime, and remains one of the biggest public policy failures in US history.
The restaurant and entertainment industries suffered under prohibition, while thousands of workers lost jobs as barrel makers, truckers, waiters, and every other job associated with the businesses of brewing and distilling. Prohibition also cost the federal government $300 million to enforce and lost $11 billion in tax revenue. The problems weren’t just economic; the laws that enforced prohibition were also filled with loopholes. One law allowed pharmacists to prescribe whiskey to patients, which resulted in a huge surge of pharmacy registrations. Another resulted in a surge of church and synagogue attendance, not because of any religious epiphanies but because wine was still allowed in religious services.
Crime surged under prohibition, with newly organized crime syndicates protecting and facilitating the new illicit market. Law enforcement officials were corrupted with bribes, and those that weren’t corrupt filled courtrooms and jails with prohibition offenders. The US started spending more money on the prison system and incarcerated citizens under a law that would be repealed after less than 15 years.
80 years later, we can see that the prohibition of alcohol was an enormous mistake. Americans actually drank more under prohibition than they did before it, and the illicit market for alcohol prompted a new era of organized crime. On this anniversary, let us reflect on current prohibition in the United States. How many tax dollars does the US forfeit in the name of marijuana prohibition? How many of its citizens’ tax dollars does the government waste by arresting non-violent offenders of that prohibition? How has this policy fostered the growth of organized crime and cartels in the United States and abroad? When will the end of marijuana prohibition have its anniversary?
Last Sunday, the New York Times published an editorial that compared marijuana and alcohol use, particularly the relative harms of the two substances and the influence people substituting marijuana for alcohol could have on road safety.
But assuming the argument that alcohol and marijuana are “substitutes” bears out, that could be good news, especially for road safety. Of the two substances, alcohol is far more hazardous.
For the most part, marijuana-intoxicated drivers show only modest impairments on road tests. Several studies have suggested that drivers under the influence of marijuana actually overestimate their impairment. They slow down and increase their following distance. The opposite is true of drivers under the influence of alcohol. [MPP emphasis added]
It should be noted that no one should drive under the influence of any impairing substance, including marijuana. Still, the overall impact on public safety due to making marijuana legal will certainly be positive.
The New York Times has a rapidly growing readership and can have a tremendous impact on public opinion. For a paper of this magnitude to recognize and discuss the respective effects of marijuana and alcohol shows real progress in the changing attitudes towards marijuana.
A series of bus advertisements have been launched in Portland, Maine in support of Question 1. On November 5, Portland voters will decide on a city ordinance that proposes removing penalties for adults possessing up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana. The ads feature adults explaining why they prefer marijuana to alcohol and ask, “why should adults be punished for making a safer choice?” You can see all of the ads here.
On Monday, Politifact published the results of its research into the accuracy of MPP’s statement in a recent ad that marijuana is objectively safer than alcohol.
As expected, the statements in the ad were true (despite Politifact giving a strange conclusion as to why it was only mostly true). What was unexpected, however, was the response from the National Institute on Drug Abuse:
“Claiming that marijuana is less toxic than alcohol cannot be substantiated since each possess their own unique set of risks and consequences for a given individual,” wrote the institute. NIDA, part of the National Institutes of Health, funds government-backed scientific research and has a stated mission “to lead the nation in bringing the power of science to bear on drug abuse and addiction.”
MPP’s Mason Tvert had this to say:
“Our federal government has been exaggerating the harms of marijuana for decades, but at this point it has gone off the deep end,” Tvert told The Huffington Post. “NIDA’s statement that marijuana can be just as toxic as alcohol would be on par with the FDA announcing sushi is as fattening as fried chicken.”
“This is gross negligence on the agency’s part and should be addressed immediately by the White House,” Tvert continued. “It is one thing for our federal officials to convey their opposition to marijuana policy reform. It is an entirely different and more disturbing situation when they are conveying opposition to scientific evidence.”
MPP’s video ad that began airing Friday on a jumbotron outside the NASCAR Brickyard 400 was pulled later that afternoon by the media company that owns the video screen. Grazie Media, which had solicited the ad from MPP, approved its content, and accepted payment for it, reportedly came under fire from marijuana prohibitionist organizations such as Save Our Society From Drugs, which claimed the ad’s message that marijuana is safer than alcohol was false and misleading.
In a statement, MPP’s Mason Tvert said:
We find it odd that this company is willing to run ads at an alcohol-fueled event, yet unwilling to run an ad that simply highlights the ways in which marijuana is less harmful than alcohol. This is the exact type of hypocrisy that motivated us to run this ad. We wanted to make people think about the absurdity of laws that allow adults to use alcohol but punish them for making the safer choice to use marijuana instead, if that is what they prefer.
Despite only airing at the race for a few hours, the ad generated a wealth of national and local media coverage, including two segments on CNN and one on CNBC. The video has already received more than 550,000 views on YouTube.