Just say no to the war on drugs

Marvin Wisely is a longtime Butte County resident and, until recently, employee of Butte College.

Since 1776, more than 1,000 amendments to the U.S. Constitution have been proposed, of which only 27 were passed and one, the 18th, was repealed.

The huge effort to pass the 18th Amendment meant that a big majority of the nation really believed it was a good idea to criminalize alcohol. Fourteen years later the government and the people had changed their minds so strongly that they went through the ordeal a second time. Prohibition certainly didn’t stop drinking. It did fill up jails, turn crime into an industry, and suddenly give kids plenty of places to buy alcohol.

During Prohibition, tens of thousands of moonshiners sold to whoever had the money, regardless of age. After Prohibition was repealed, kids had to shoplift from liquor stores or steal from their parents’ liquor cabinets. The end of the war on alcohol closed down a vast underground of sellers.

Before Prohibition, when one talked about crime, it was usually about a group of brothers and some of their buddies, i.e. the James Gang or the Daltons. Prohibition created many small gangs that fought each other for control of sales areas, first in parts of a town or city, then whole cities, then states. Finally they moved on to whole areas of the country.

To grow, gangs needed more firepower. It was during this time that the Tommy gun and large amounts of handguns turned up on Main Street America.

At the end of Prohibition organized crime was nationwide but not worldwide. The International Monetary Fund now estimates that over $1.5 trillion of illegal drug money is laundered through banks each year. The present war on drugs has created economics of a scale so big that many political groups and even nations depend on drugs as a major source of income.

Thirty years ago no one had heard of the Crips or Bloods. Now there are gangs of every race and creed across our country. The main source of income for these gangs is selling drugs, which means they need lots of guns. Today street gangs often have better weapons than the police.

Thirty years ago we had only American mobsters. Now we have the Colombian, Russian and Mexican mafia and many more. They make most of their money from drug sales. The Mexican mafia is even starting to set up shop in the U.S. national forests and is growing tens of thousands of pot plants at a time.

Over half the people filling our courts, jails and prisons are there for drugs. What’s the best way to reduce crime and keep kids off drugs? We don’t have to pass a constitutional amendment. We just need to learn from our own history. Making drugs a crime just grows the problem. That’s what America spent 14 years learning before; why are we taking 30-plus years to learn it again?