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The Other Side of Prohibition

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INCREASING support for the legalization of drugs rests on an assumption that is being swallowed without challenge: The assertion that prohibition of liquor in this country was a failure. The truth is that liquor consumption was down when the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages in the US was illegal - from l9l9 to l933 - and up again after the l8th Amendment was repealed.

The end of Prohibition came almost like a proclamation from Washington. Drinking was perfectly okay, it seemed to say. This implication had a devastating effect on parental counsel to the contrary. Almost overnight, drinking became socially acceptable. Peer pressure on the young became hard to resist.

Federal drug czar William Bennett, at a recent breakfast, kindled my memory of what happened to liquor consumption during Prohibition. I can clearly recollect the liquor scene during the l920s and early l930s, and what it was like afterward.

With Chicago and Al Capone nearby, I was quite aware of the growth of organized crime - financed by immense bootlegging profits. Drinking on the sly was common, and many Americans considered the 18th amendment, enforced by the Volstead Act, an invasion of their rights.

Conventional wisdom is that Prohibition was a failure and the free-to-drink America is a better one.

I spent a summer back in the mid-l950s taking an in-depth look at the impact of drinking on our society. I found that Americans were each year paying an increasing price for their drinking. On the highways alone, where fatalities were often alcohol-related, the burden on society grew as more cars came on the road. Last year at least 24,000 were killed and 534,000 injured in drinking-related accidents.

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