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Libertarian Party of Wisconsin chair Jim Maas on substance prohibition: ‘it never has worked’

From the Wausau Daily Herald, by way of Madison NORML:


This month marks 75 years since America repealed its disastrous alcohol Prohibition. Toast!

Prohibition was the work of the early 20th century progressives’ grand social engineering agenda. It failed miserably.

The great social critic, H.L. Mencken, wrote of prohibition: “Five years of Prohibition have had, at least, this one benign effect: They have completely disposed of all 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. 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.”

Sounds strangely familiar. But there’s one positive thing we can say about alcohol prohibition: At least it was constitutional.

Congress understood that the federal government hasn’t the constitutional authority to issue a national ban on booze without changing the Constitution. When America repealed Prohibition, it was with a constitutional amendment, recognizing that the power to regulate alcohol is reserved for the states.

Contrast that with drug policy, in which Congress made no attempt to comply with the Constitution in passing the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970, which gave us our current version of Prohibition. When it became clear that alcohol Prohibition had failed, it was repealed. The drug war has failed, but our government merely claims more powers to fight it more aggressively.

Drug prohibition has been every bit the failure alcohol Prohibition was – and then some. Nearly 40 years after the CSA passed, 400,000 Americans are in prison for nonviolent drug crimes; domestic police forces resemble an occupying military force; nearly $1 trillion is spent on enforcement, both here and through aggressive interdiction efforts overseas; and urban areas can resemble war zones. Yet illicit drugs such as cocaine and marijuana are as cheap and abundant as they were in 1970. The street price of both drugs has actually dropped.

Drug use violations are the most frequent arrest offenses in the United States. Consequences are brutal. Half a million Americans are incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails for nonviolent drug law violations, helping our nation become No. 1 in the number of citizens behind bars. With 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States houses 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.

Are Americans really that bad? 751 prisoners per 100,000 population exceeds the incarceration rate of all other countries on the planet. Wisconsin holds 605 prisoners per 100,000, in the top 20 of the states. Why?

Prison numbers are largely due to the insane policy of drug Prohibition, which persecutes people who insist upon using substances which the government has arbitrarily declared illegal. The other reason is the lengthy sentences in America, often several times those seen in other Western countries. Yet, we are told we must again expand the capacity of the jails.

If logic, reason, law, or compassion can’t persuade legislators to reconsider their prejudices, perhaps a deep recession will. The economy helped hasten the repeal of Prohibition 75 years ago. How badly does Marathon County want to see nonviolent drug users in the slammer?

The War on Drugs is America’s longest war. It is long past time to call a truce. We have more important issues to deal with. If you agree, let your elected representatives know that.

Jim Maas of Rothschild is chairman of the Libertarian Party of Wisconsin.

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  1. Melty Rox Melty Rox December 12, 2008

    Wow! This was in the Wausau Daily Herald? That paper pretended Ron Paul didn’t exist. Wisco Libs rock!

  2. Galileo Galilei Galileo Galilei December 11, 2008

    Chalk up another win up for the Wisconsin Libertarians!

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