We’ll drink to that – Article by Steve Prestegard

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We’ll drink to that
by Steve Prestegard
Originally published in Marketplace Magazine on 7-16-2010:

Washington Post columnist George F. Will recalls Prohibition, and not fondly (nor should he):

Daniel Okrent’s darkly hilarious Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition recounts how Americans abolished a widely exercised private right — and condemned the nation’s fifth-largest industry — in order to make the nation more heavenly. Then all hell broke loose. Now that ambitious government is again hell-bent on improving Americans — from how they use salt to what light bulbs they use — Okrent’s book is a timely tutorial on the law of unintended consequences. …

Women campaigning for sobriety did not intend to give rise to the income tax, plea bargaining, a nationwide crime syndicate, Las Vegas, NASCAR (country boys outrunning government agents), a redefined role for the federal government and a privacy right — the “right to be let alone” — that eventually was extended to abortion rights. But they did. …

Before the 18th Amendment could make drink illegal, the 16th Amendment had to make the income tax legal. It was needed because by 1910 alcohol taxes were 30 percent of federal revenue. …

After 13 years, Prohibition, by then reduced to an alliance between evangelical Christians and criminals, was washed away by “social nullification” — a tide of alcohol — and by the exertions of wealthy people, such as Pierre S. du Pont, who hoped that the return of liquor taxes would be accompanied by lower income taxes. (They were.) …

The many lessons of Okrent’s story include: In the fight between law and appetite, bet on appetite. And: Americans then were, and let us hope still are, magnificently ungovernable by elected nuisances.

The local parallel of sorts is in the 41st Assembly District, where independent candidate Jay Selthofner of Green Lake is running on a platform of legalizing hemp cannabis, which you know as marijuana, for various uses, not all of them recreational.

sponsored ads do not necessarily reflect the viepoints of Jay Selthofner

The Ripon Commonwealth Press isn’t a fan:

He argues that pot growers could help the state economically while reducing reliance on fossil fuels, comforting patients with medical marijuana and “provid[ing] a safer choice than alcohol.”

On that last argument Selthofner appears most vulnerable.

One could reasonably ask him: “What are you smoking?”

The last thing this country needs is another mind-altering drug injested for recreational purposes. …

This is no time to get high or get drunk.

It’s time to get serious. …

The last thing Wisconsin residents need to do in the face of growing concerns is to escape by themselves in a cloud of marijuana smoke.

Is it too unreasonable to suggest that we owe it to ourselves, if not our children, to act in ways that are more, not less, mature, responsible and sober?

To that, Selthofner’s campaign treasurer retorts:

… I do not believe that fear gives us the right to take rights away from people who have not personally done anything harmful to our society, to other citizens, or to themselves.

It is possible for a recreational or medical marijuana smoker to be a productive and hard working member of society. Just like all drinkers are not drunk drivers, all cannabis users are not lazy people.

I think it’s quite unfair to paint all marijuana users with the same brush.

The letter goes on to make arguments without any proof (more of which can be read here) that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol or tobacco and “has caused zero deaths, ever.” That part of the letter should have been deleted before it was sent; the better arguments for legalization are based on individual personal freedom, not alleged benefits. Those arguments were expressed in another letter to the editor from a “former drug and homicide prosecutor” in Chicago:

Drug prohibition is the most effective means to put more drugs everywhere — stronger drugs, dangerous, uncontrolled and unregulated drugs. The irony of prohibition is that it makes drugs more valuable, more available, less controlled, stronger and more harmful. …

How’s prohibition helping the sober among us? With prohibition, we seize drugs by the ton and prosecute drugs by the gram. Fool-hearty and bankrupting.

… Counter-intuitive as it may seem, Wisconsinites must legalize drugs to fight drugs, gangs, cartels, crime, prisons, taxes, deficits, corruption, trade imbalance and the funding of terrorism. …

Well, the ex-prosecutor is right in that his argument does seem counterintuitive. I’ve read numerous arguments for legalizing and taxing drugs that presently are illegal. You’ll note that organized crime still exists today, nearly 80 years after the end of Prohibition. The counterargument to the tax argument is that, as we are seeing with tobacco taxes, taxes that are too high encourage smuggling and other ways to avoid said high taxes. (See Will’s NASCAR reference.)

Having never inhaled, I have no dog in the marijuana legalization hunt. (There’s a mixed metaphor for you.) I know people who use the devil weed, and I can’t say I’ve ever been interested in partaking. But one need not be a fan of recreational drugs to notice similarities between the drug war of today and Prohibition 90 years ago. Dude.

We’ll drink to that
by Steve Prestegard
Originally published in Marketplace Magazine on 7-16-2010:

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