In 1920, at the beginning of the Prohibition era, the Reverend Billy Sunday made a bold prediction about it’s success saying, “The reign of tears is over. The slums will soon be a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corncribs. Men will walk upright now, women will smile and children will laugh.”
From 1920 – 1933 the passage of the 18th Amendment to the U.S, Constitution prohibited the manufacture, distribution and consumption of alcohol. However, Billy Sunday’s “noble experiment” did not reduce crime or solve social problems as he had claimed. Nor did Prohibition improve health and hygiene in the United States. As a result, alcohol was re-established as a legal drug with the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 and it remains legal to this day.
To economists, prohibition of voluntary exchanges between a willing buyer and seller is pure folly, whether we are talking about the “War on Drugs” or the illegality of prostitution and gambling. In the entire history of humankind no government has ever successfully stopped such activities and no government ever will. The public would be better served if government legalized (or at least decriminalized) these activities, raked in the tax revenue from their consumption, and used a good portion of that revenue to treat the unfortunate souls addicted to these substances and/or activities.
The majority of Americans are in favor of prohibiting drugs like cocaine, heroin, met amphetamine, and even marijuana yet they give alcohol a pass. In fact, many people don’t even regard alcohol as a drug. Rather than coming to grips with the fact that alcohol use is directly correlated with traffic deaths, job loss, domestic abuse, and crime, alcoholic beverages are celebrated as a “right of passage” to adulthood. Many parents accept underage drinking on the part of their teenagers as a “fact of life”, having done it themselves and expecting that their sons and daughters will do the same. While colleges and universities make conscious efforts to educate their 18-22 year old customer base about the dangers of binge drinking, admonitions for moderation are largely ignored by college students who are away from home for the first time with plenty of access to beer and hard liquor.
Sometimes the irresponsible use of alcohol causes minor inconveniences. Living in the same neighborhood as a medium-sized university, my wife and I must cable down all of our furniture on our front porch. Our pots containing flowers must be bolted to the porch or cement. Leaving lawn sprinklers outside overnight invites about a 50% chance that they will be missing in the morning. Newly planted trees with a trunk diameter of less than two inches must be supported by iron rods, less they be snapped off by roving drunks. When we were raising our children they learned the “bad words” at a very young age, due to the incessant late-night yelling of potty-mouthed youths. The irony is that these same students, when sober, are almost always respectful, intelligent and enjoyable human beings. Alcohol turns them into little monsters.
Other times the use of alcohol is deadly. Two good friends of mine were almost killed by a drunken driver a couple of years ago. Their rehabilitation took months and months, exacting upon them a terrific economic and psychological toll. The drunk driver was a high school student who had previously never been in trouble, a relatively “innocent” offender. Last week in Chicago a young man with a criminal record decided, while heavily intoxicated, to push a 62-year old Vietnamese immigrant off a pier at Montrose beach. The fisherman didn’t know how to swim and drowned, despite the efforts of bystanders to save him. The drunken fool who pushed the fisherman had previously indicated to bystanders that he was going to “give a fisherman a swim.” He is now incarcerated and charged with first-degree murder. He will probably spend the rest of his life in prison, sparing the rest of society the injury or death that he would likely have caused in the future. Where alcohol is concerned it doesn’t matter if an innocent teenager or a dangerous thug misuses it, you may end up dead in either case.
Regardless of the cavalier attitudes displayed by many in our society, alcohol is a serious mind-altering substance. It is a drug. Common sense and historical perspective indicate that prohibition is not the answer. Alcohol should remain legal. However, we should have zero tolerance about accepting the consumption of alcoholic beverages as an excuse for any crime. Sentences should never be lightened because the perpetrator was “under the influence of alcohol and didn’t realize what he/she was doing.” When you use alcohol you accept the fact that your judgment is going to be impaired. As such, you must accept the full consequences of the impairment, period. No further discussion should be necessary.