Due to quite contradictory statements Donald Trump has made about cannabis legalization, it is difficult to predict what happens on the issue during the following four years of his presidency.
Senator Jeff Sessions, chosen by President-elect Trump to become the next U.S. Attorney General, believes that “good people do not smoke marijuana.” This kind of attitude does not encourage much optimism. Some experts are even afraid that cannabis might end up banned just like alcohol was during the so-called “Prohibition Period” in 1920-1933. Thirteen years of ban on alcohol lead to horrible consequences, such as a rise in crime, attacks on minorities and increase in alcohol abuse.
We truly hope that these fears will never materialize to anything. After all, it was Trump who said back in 1990, “We are losing badly the war on drugs. You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars.” By recognizing the parallels between “Prohibition alcohol period” and the potential cannabis prohibition, we want to remind all of us of the lessons the 1920s in the U.S. taught us.
Clearly, it would be an exaggeration to say that the prohibition of alcohol was an entirely unsuccessful action: during the Prohibition, people indeed drank significantly less alcohol . However, it is the price of the reaching that goal that makes this result quite dubious.
Among the most obvious (and serious!) drawbacks of the policy was the increase in crime. First, it affected the federal prisons. It was expected that alcohol prohibition would help reduce the overall tax burden by emptying prisons and poorhouses. In reality, however, prisons became overpopulated.
The homicide rate increased from 5.6 to 10 per 100,000 population (comparing pre-Prohibition period and 1920s). During the first year of Prohibition, the number of crimes in big cities increased by 24 percent. Lots of crimes were committed as people lost their official jobs associated with the alcohol industry and became unemployed. Prisons worked at their full capacity.
And this is not to mention the “organized” crime (both large crime syndicates and street gangs) that flourished during the whole Prohibition period.
When it comes to the cannabis, it is difficult to compare the crime rate as the plant has actually never been more legal than it is now. By now, half of the drug arrests in the U.S. are associated with marijuana, which sums up to over 8 million arrests only between 2001 and 2010. Four-fifth of the arrests were for possession of drugs. These arrests cost taxpayers about $3.6 billion a year.
When it comes to organized crime, we also need to mention the problem of trafficking. According to some estimates, Mexican cartels get approximately 60% of their revenue from marijuana sales, and the Drug War in Mexico has caused at least 120,000 deaths by 2013.
However, even the limited legalization of cannabis has already decreased the number of victims of the Mexican Drug War as well as the revenues of drug traffickers.
The common stereotype of cannabis user can be described as:
People who fit this image are the first to be suspected of breaking the law. It comes as no surprise that all kinds of infamous organizations, including the KKK, thrived during the Prohibition period.
The KKK used Prohibition as an excuse to raid the homes of immigrants, sometimes even burning the buildings down, they used both physical assault and murder against the minorities. The members of the KKK opposed bootleggers, often with violence.
The same can happen if the marijuana is prohibited. Anti-substance laws can serve to create a positive image for the hate group.
At the same time, statistics show that drug users are:
Despite all the stereotypes, pretty much anyone can be a marijuana user. You can find them even among the celebrities (George Clooney, Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga, Morgan Freeman, you name it). At the same time, police arrests black people for weed 3.73 times more often than white people.
During the Prohibition, alcohol consumption indeed decreased (at least for a while), but the rate of alcohol-associated deaths dramatically increased. The increased mortality is believed to be the result of an increase in consumption of more potent illegal alcoholic beverages. These liquors often were of poor quality or even poisonous. People drank patent medicines that contained up to 90% ethanol, medicinal and sacramental alcohol. The amount of this kind of liquids increased up to 400% during Prohibition time (a trend prominently depicted in The Great Gatsby).
same can happen to cannabis. Unable to get legal weed, people can
turn to synthetic cannabinoids, which are famously unsafe and can
sometimes even cause death.
Researchers at the University of Louisville found out that countries, where alcohol is banned, have a higher rate of meth lab busts, not to mention the overall rate of general meth-associated crimes.
On the other hand, we can see that legalization of cannabis leads to a reduction in opioid overdose deaths. From 1999 to 2010, the opioid overdose mortality rate decreased by 25 percent on average in states with legal cannabis.
Today, the legal marijuana industry is estimated to be worth approximately $8 billion. It is expected to reach $18 billion by 2020. These are the money we cannot ignore. Our country is still recovering from the global economic crisis, and the workplaces cannabis industry can give to the U.S. citizens can become a lifeline for many.
Eventually, if you remember the history of Prohibition, it was the economy that made the newly elected Franklin D. Roosevelt repeal the failed policy. The budget of the Bureau of Prohibition increased threefold during the 1920s; the Coast Guard spent over $13 million every year enforcing Prohibition.
Eventually, cannabis legalization can make our economy more stable, so why should we decide to initiate a new Prohibition instead? We need to stop making the same mistakes and to draw a lesson from our history.