Tomorrow is the 87th anniversary of the end of alcohol prohibition (Drug War I); hopefully, we’ll someday end our second failed attempt at prohibition (Drug War II)

Tomorrow (December 5) is Repeal Day (#RepealDay) and marks the 87th anniversary of the day in 1933 that the 21st Amendment to the US Constitution was passed to repeal the 18th Amendment, and officially ended America’s first failed, deadly, and costly “War on Drugs I” (alcohol prohibition) that started in 1920. The 21st amendment is unique among the 27 Amendments to the US Constitution because it is the only time a previous Amendment has been repealed, and it’s the only Amendment that was ratified by the state-ratifying convention method.

Just like the shameful, expensive and repressive War on Drugs I (Alcohol) failed in the 1920s and 1930s, so today is the country’s second costly, immoral and senseless War or Drugs Otherwise Peaceful Americans Who Voluntarily Choose to Ingest Plants, Weeds, and Intoxicants Arbitrarily Proscribed by the US Government failing miserably. Hopefully at some point in a more sane, compassionate and enlightened future the celebration of Repeal Day on December 5 will include a recognition of the repeal of today’s insane drug laws (Drug War II) and second failed attempt at prohibition following Drug War I against alcohol.

In 2014, Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), a group of law enforcement officials opposed to today’s second failed attempt at prohibition, created a Buzzfeed list titled “10 Shocking Reasons to End the Drug War (And Consider Legalization and Regulation)” to explain why Drug War II has been one of the most disastrous policies in American history. From mass incarceration and the tremendous loss of life to billions of dollars seized from citizens every year, drug prohibition today is a colossal failure, just like alcohol prohibition was equally a massive failure nearly 100 years ago. LEAP’s list of reasons to end today’s version of prohibition is meant to remind the public of the civil and human rights violations being committed against so many Americans every day, and Repeal Day on December 5 is a good time to review the reasons why today’s version of prohibition should end. Here’s a summary of the ten reasons to end the War on Drugs (with some updates and additional statistics) — America’s second failed attempt at using police state powers to prohibit otherwise peaceful Americans from ingesting intoxicants arbitrarily banned by the government. 

1. Mass Incarceration – Drug offenses account for nearly 44% of federal prisoners, and more than 16% of people jailed in state prisons. Today, about 500,000 Americans are behind bars for drug law violations, 10 times the number in 1980. In 1980, for example, 580,900 people were arrested on drug-related charges in the United States. By 2014, that number had increased to 1,561,231. More than 700,000 of these arrests in 2014 were related to marijuana. Largely because of drug prohibition, the US is the World’s No. 1 Jailer, and has an incarceration rate (655 per 100,000 population), which is higher than Cuba (510 per 100,000), China (118 per 100,000), Russia (316 per 100,000), Rwanda (434 per 100,000) and Iran (284 per 100,000). The US accounts for 4.3% of the world’s population, but houses 22% of the world’s prisoners.

2. Racial Bias in Drug Arrests and Jail Sentences – Blacks and whites use drugs at about the same rate, but blacks are three times more likely than whites to be arrested on drug charges and ten times more likely to be sent to state prison on drug charges than whites.

3. Asset Forfeiture Abuses – In 2012 alone, the US Justice Department seized $4.2 billion in forfeitures of private property. In 2014, for the first time ever, law enforcement officers took more property from American citizens (more than $5 billion) than burglars did (less than $4 billion) as civil asset forfeitures surpassed burglaries.

4. America’s Deadly Heroin Epidemic — During 2018, nearly 15,000 people died from drug overdoses involving heroin in the United States, a rate of almost 5 deaths for every 100,000 Americans. Heroin-related overdose deaths increased five-fold from 2010 to 2018. As the nation has cracked down on prescription opioid abuse, people suffering from addiction have turned to heroin, a cheaper, easily accessible option.

5. The Breakdown between Law Police and the Community, because of the increasing militarization of US law enforcement and aggressive enforcement of drug laws (see Item 9 below).

6. Mexican Drug Cartel Violence – It’s estimated that the Mexican Drug War claimed 200,000 lives and left 30,000 Mexicans missing in the 10-year period between 2007 and 2017, including more than 4,000 federal, state and local police officers and 12,500 cartel members.

A record annual high of nearly 35,000 people were murdered in Mexico last year 2019 as President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador struggled to rein in violent crime in his first year in office. A government agency reported a total 34,582 murders last year, a 2.5% increase from 2018, when 33,743 victims were recorded. To put 68,325 drug-related deaths in Mexico over a two-year period (2018 and 2019) in perspective, consider that 58,000 Americans died in the Vietnam War over a 20-year period from 1955 to 1975. 

7. The War on Women – No country incarcerates more women than the US, and 85% of women jailed in America are serving time for non-violent crimes like drug offenses.

8. Entrapment of Minors – Like the case of Jesse Snodgrass (an autistic teen also diagnosed with bipolar disorder and Tourette’s Syndrome who struggles socially). A police officer posed as a high school student, pretended to be Jesse’s friend, and harassed him until he sold him marijuana.

9. SWAT Raids Kill People and Family Pets – Between 2010 and 2016 there were at least 81 civilians and 13 law enforcement officers who died in what are called “dynamic entry”, “no knock” (SWAT) raids. The Department of Justice estimates that nearly 25 dogs are killed by law enforcement every day in the United States, which totals to more than 9,000 dogs per year.

10. The Costly Drug War Spends Billions of Taxpayer Dollars on Enforcement, Arrests, Court Costs, Jail Time, etc. Since the War on Drugs II began nearly 50 years ago, the U.S. government has spent more than $1 trillion on interdiction policies, and spending on the costly, failed war continues to cost U.S. taxpayers more than $51 billion annually.

Bonus Quotation on Prohibition from H.L. Mencken in 1925:

Five years of Prohibition have had, at least, this one benign effect: they have completely disposed of the favorite arguments of the Prohibitionists. None of the great boons and usufructs that were to follow the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment has come to pass. Prohibition has not only failed in its promises but actually created additional serious and disturbing social problems throughout society. There is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.

Conclusion from a 2017 Cato Institute Study on Prohibition (“Four Decades and Counting: The Continued Failure of the War on Drugs“) by Chris Coyne and Abigail Hall:

For more than 100 years, prohibition has been the primary policy in the United States with regard to illicit substances. As the data show, however, these policies fail on practically every margin. Economic thinking illustrates that these failures are not only understandable, but entirely predictable. As a result of prohibition and the changes it induces in the market for drugs, increased disease, death, violence, and cartels are all expectable outcomes. Moreover, economics can help us link together these policies with other issues, such as race relations and police militarization.

Bonus Prohibition-Related Charts Below. 

1. The end of Prohibition in 1933 also ended the deadliest period in US history for law enforcement, measured by the annual number of police officers killed in the line of duty by gunfire (see chart below). During the years of Prohibition from 1920 to 1933, there were more than 2,500 US police officers killed by gunfire, which was an average rate of 180 per year, or about one every other day. The number of Prohibition-era police deaths by gunfire (2,516) is greater than the number of US military casualties since 2001 in the US War in Afghanistan (2,354).

2. Beer lovers marched in the 1930s to end Prohibition and publicly demanded “We Want Beer” (see photo above). Well, beer lovers today can thank those early beer lovers for their efforts to end the War on Beer, and rejoice that we are now living in the “Golden Age of Beer” with a record number of US breweries (8,217 as of June 2020) making some of the highest quality craft beer in the history of the world (see chart below)!

Hoppy Repeal Day!

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