BY JAY SMOKER
Black Market Violence and the Criminalization of More Than a Hundred Million Americans
The history of our country’s disastrous period of alcohol prohibition will be broadcast into homes across America this weekend when PBS airs Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s Prohibition, a three part series on America’s failed “noble experiment” of banning alcohol.
Drug policy advocates are thrilled that filmmakers of the stature of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have taken on this topic — and hope that the series reminds Americans about the futility of prohibition and its devastating collateral consequences.
“Alcohol prohibition didn’t stop people from drinking any more than drug prohibition stops people from using drugs,” said Tony Newman, director of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance. “But prohibition did lead to Al Capone and shoot-outs in the streets. It is the same today. It is not the marijuana or coca plants that have caused 50,000 deaths in Mexico over the last 5 years — but because they plants are illegal and thus unregulated, people are willing to kill each other over the profit that can be made from them.”
“Making drugs illegal has created a violent criminal market where cartels battle it out to control territory in much the same way gangsters did during alcohol prohibition,” said Neil Franklin, a retired Baltimore narcotics cop and executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “The one major difference between the two prohibitions is that we came to grips with the failure of our experiment to ban alcohol after just 13 years, while the ‘drug war’ that President Nixon declared 40 years ago is still being prosecuted, more harshly and expensively than ever.”
“My two sons have struggled with addiction. My family has experienced not only the devastation of this life-threatening disease, but also the destructive effects of punitive prohibitionist policies and incarceration,” said Gretchen Burns Bergman, lead organizer of Moms United to End the War on Drugs. “Mothers were instrumental in ending alcohol prohibition in the 30s, not because they wanted to encourage alcohol use, but because they wanted to end the gangland violence and loss of lives caused by organized crime, fueled by prohibition. Moms are needed to join the movement to end the violence, mass incarceration and overdose deaths that have resulted from prohibition and the failed war on drugs.”