Free from the Nightmare of Prohibition

by Harry Browne

(From The Great Libertarian Offer)          

Until the early 1900s, the federal government did little to regulate or control the sale or use of alcohol or drugs except for taxing alcohol.

It may be hard to believe today, but early in the 20th century a 10-year-old girl could walk into a drug store and buy a bottle of whiskey or a packet of heroin. She didn't need a doctor's prescription or even a note from her parents. Any druggist would sell to her without batting an eye; he would assume she was on an errand for her parents.

While that may seem amazing now, it wasn't to anyone then. Heroin was sold in packages as a pain reliever or sedative just as aspirin or other analgesics are sold today. The measured dose didn't make anyone high, and rarely did anyone become addicted certainly no more often than with sleeping pills today.

Given such easy access to liquor and drugs, we might assume that America's adults and children were all high on booze and drugs. But that wasn't the case.

There were alcoholics and drug addicts then, just as there are today. But there were far fewer of them because there were no criminal dealers trying to hook people on drugs or turn them into alcoholics.

There always will be people who are susceptible to addiction, and who take a big risk by consuming any alcohol, drugs, or tobacco. But when there's no money to be made pushing those items on school grounds and street corners, fewer of the susceptible get hooked.

America wasn't a Utopia. But it was quite different from today. For one thing, the violent crime rate was only 15% of what it is today. Gangs didn't rule the cities or neighborhoods, because there was no black market in drugs or alcohol to make gangs profitable. After all, anyone could buy what he wanted cheaply at the corner drug store. And because of the low prices, drug addicts and alcoholics didn't have to steal the money to buy what they craved.

Just as today, alcohol and drugs were food for tragedy bringing hardship and ruin to those addicted, and often to their families as well. But before government regulation, the circle of tragedy reached no further than the addict and his immediate family.

Enter Prohibition

Then, as now, some people believed that the only way to save addicts was to prohibit everyone from using liquor or recreational drugs.

This is a familiar approach. Because some people can't save for their old age, everyone must be forced into a shaky Social Security system. Because some people might take up smoking if Michael Jordan were to show up in a TV ad with a cigarette in his hand, no one can be allowed to see a tobacco ad on television. Because some people might react sinfully to the sight of a naked woman, no one should be allowed to look at such pictures.

This approach is alien to a nation of free, responsible citizens. But it is the normal recourse of the reformer and the politician.

The reformers' crusade to save America from drugs and alcohol succeeded only slightly with drugs. The Harrison Act, passed in 1914, was meant to take drugs off the free market, but it was enforced only loosely. In fact, drug prohibition was barely enforced at all by the federal government until the 1960s.

Alcohol Prohibition

But alcohol was a different story. In 1919 the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, prohibiting:

. . . the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes.

The advocates of alcohol prohibition thought they were making America a better place an alcohol-free zone, a land without alcoholics or drunken brawlers, a land with stronger families, a more stable society.

But they were wrong. The "Noble Experiment," as it came to be called, began in 1920 and by the time it had ended, only the bootleggers were better off.

The Nightmare of Prohibition

Prohibition did little to reduce the demand for alcohol. It simply replaced law-abiding brewers, distillers, vintners, and liquor stores with moonshiners, smugglers, and bootleggers who were willing to flout the law and risk prison. The alcohol industry became the province of gangsters operating a black market.

Prohibition spawned many evils:

  • People bought from bootleggers, with no knowledge of where the products came from, and no company staking its reputation on the quality and safety of the products. As a result, many people died from drinking bad liquor.

  • Having committed themselves to a life of crime, bootleggers were prepared to break more laws to control liquor territories. Gang warfare, drive-by shootings, and the killing of innocent bystanders became commonplace.

  • People still wanted to patronize bars and restaurants that served alcohol, and such places continued to operate. But they could do so only by paying off the police.

  • Corruption of law enforcement went far beyond the payoffs from speakeasies. Selling black-market liquor through monopolies enforced by Tommy guns was much more lucrative than the legal, competitive sale of liquor had been. And a good deal of the money passing through the hands of gangsters was used to buy "protection" from prosecutors and judges.

  • Because the demand for alcohol couldn't be stopped, the uncorrupted police who tried to enforce Prohibition turned to law-breaking themselves. They resorted to ever-more-draconian attacks on the individual liberties the Constitution was supposed to protect.

  • Because alcohol Prohibition eventually was seen as a farce, respect for the law in general went downhill. Prohibition encouraged the idea that all laws could be ignored.

Peace at Last

Prohibition finally ended in 1933. The Noble Experiment had lasted 13 years. Many people died, and a few became very wealthy. But Prohibition hadn't made America an alcohol-free zone. It hadn't even come close to doing so.

The return of legal liquor didn't turn America into a nation of alcoholics. Alcohol consumption increased as liquor became more easily accessible, but the dire forecasts of social instability from Prohibition die-hards proved incorrect.

Even though Prohibition ended in the middle of the Great Depression of the 1930s, the crime rate began falling immediately. And it continued downward for 30 years.

Almost no one wants to go back to alcohol Prohibition with the black markets in liquor run by criminal gangs, drive-by shootings that killed innocent children, innocent people dying from drinking contaminated liquor, over-worked law enforcement agencies, and widespread corruption.

But a new Prohibition came in through the back door thirty years later.


In the 1960s, marijuana became a token of rebellion for many young people who, in a less tumultuous generation, might have been content swallowing goldfish.

Although there has never been a reported death from marijuana, the idea of youngsters smoking an illegal substance alarmed many people. Pressure grew for the drug laws to be enforced. And most politicians will happily give in to any pressure to make the government larger and more powerful.

And so the War on Drugs was born.

In the more than 30 years since then, tens of billions of dollars have been spent fighting drugs. And the campaign has been no more successful than alcohol Prohibition was.


It's not difficult for a free society to keep violent crime to a minimum with little intrusion on individual liberty and at relatively low cost.

But governments also prosecute "victimless" crimes. These are acts that (1) are illegal, (2) involve no intrusion on anyone's person or property, and (3) about which no injured party files a complaint with the police.

These acts include such things as prostitution, gambling, and drug use. They are activities in which all parties participate voluntarily. No violence or threat of violence is used. No one has been robbed, or been attacked, or lost a loved one to violence.

Still, victimless crimes can hurt people other than the participants. But that injury doesn't come from force or the threat of it. It may be difficult for a spouse to leave an alcoholic or a gambler, but it is the spouse's own free will that determines whether to stay or go. All parties are there voluntarily, however dismal the situation.

If you accept that the unhappiness suffered by non-participants is a reason to make alcohol, gambling, or drugs illegal, you remove all limits on what can be labeled a crime. Should it be a crime to make your parents unhappy by marrying the wrong person? Or to make bad investments and lose the family savings? Or should it be a crime against your family to run up debts, move to the wrong neighborhood, invite your relatives to dinner too often?

Where does crime stop and simple bad behavior begin? Perhaps you have a clear idea in your mind, but the politicians won't consult you when they decide that prohibiting something is in their interest. The only dividing line that can't be fudged by politicians is the line that separates voluntary relationships from violence.

Either individuals are responsible for their own acts including their choices of relationships or the government is responsible for everything you do. There is no middle ground. Giving government the power to outlaw consensual activity allows the politicians to impose any laws they want on you. And they will use that power.


While it has been relatively easy for a free society to keep violent, intrusive crime to a minimum, it has been virtually impossible to control victimless crime. Prostitution is found in most societies, there has always been gambling, and government has never been able to stamp out alcohol, drugs, or nicotine.

Individuals simply will not allow the state to choose their tastes and values. For centuries governments have tried to control private behavior, but with little success.

Government fails to alter conduct because there is so little public cooperation in prosecuting most victimless crimes. No one registers an accusation, identifies the culprit, or testifies in court that he's been injured. And while a woman might call the police to report being assaulted by her spouse, she isn't likely to report her spouse's drug use.

People outside the family are no more likely to help out by informing. You might tell the police that someone is breaking into your neighbor's house, but you aren't likely to report your neighbor's drug use.

The difficulty of enforcing victimless-crime laws leads to three bad consequences.

The Rise in Violent Crime

The first consequence is the diversion of more and more law-enforcement resources into the fight against victimless crimes.

As the vice squad grows, fewer police resources are available to deal with violent crime. And so it becomes easier to steal, mug, murder, assault, rape, or burgle and get away with it. More people find a way to make crime pay.

Prosecutors swamped with drug cases have to process violent crimes more quickly. Plea bargains abound for thieves and attackers. Instead of facing a trial for murder, with a life sentence at stake, a violent criminal pleads guilty to manslaughter and serves only a five-year sentence.

And the prisons fill up with "criminals" who threaten no one such as pot smokers taking up cells for 25 years or more. Meanwhile, a violent criminal who may have terrorized many people and perhaps even killed someone gets out in seven years or so, because of a shortage of cells.

In 1978 Lawrence Singleton kidnapped a 15-year-old California girl, raped her, chopped off both her hands with an axe, and left her to die. But she happened to survive to testify against him. He was sentenced to 14 years, and then released after only eight years. Eleven years later, he killed a woman in Florida. Meanwhile, some casual drug users are serving life sentences.

Rodney Kelley robbed and killed two people in New Orleans in 1991. He was allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter and receive an 8-year sentence making him eligible for parole in only four years.

Should we be surprised at the terrible rate of violent crime, when so much of the criminal justice system has been diverted to the prosecution of victimless crimes most notably the War on Drugs?

Black Markets

The second consequence of outlawing private behavior is that the prohibited activity spawns a black market run by criminals. Drugs are sold only by people willing to risk being caught and sent to prison. The business becomes the province of gangsters.

Instead of competing with their rivals by offering superior products, better service, or lower prices, drug dealers compete by gang warfare. And the more the government cracks down on drug operations, the more drug activity is dominated by the most brutal elements of society.

Consequently, violent crime rises as the government steps up its insane War on Drugs.

Didn't America learn this lesson from alcohol Prohibition?

Police State Tactics

The first two consequences of outlawing bad behavior are bad enough, but the third is worse yet. It is the destruction of our Constitutional liberty. The politicians justify this as the price of winning the War on Drugs.

Because there are no victims to help the prosecution, the Drug Warriors resort to police-state tactics:

  • The police and prosecutors rely on informers who almost always turn out to be criminals bargaining for a lower sentence.

  • Sting operations become commonplace. Policemen actually buy and sell drugs and then arrest those they deal with. The government trains the police to be effective liars.

  • The government can no longer tolerate your privacy. Government agents routinely rummage through your bank records, without your knowledge, looking for suspicious transactions. Politicians continually lower the standards for warrants to search your mail or tap your phone, and judges rubber-stamp the warrants. Judges allow SWAT teams to invade your home to search for drugs based only on an anonymous tip, perhaps a tip from someone who just happens to dislike you. Your home is no longer your castle.

  • Policemen can stop your car because of a bad tail light, and then search for drugs because they find your statements to be "suspicious."

These intrusions don't happen only to junkies and drug dealers. They happen to people just like you and me. For every successful drug search, many innocent people must be inconvenienced, embarrassed, or injured.

The drug-enforcement tactics erode your liberty. But the Drug Warriors inside and outside of government believe your Constitutional rights are a small price to pay for the victory they promise is coming.

However, they don't usually tell you what the price is. They bury provisions to violate your Constitutional rights deep inside anti-crime bills while focusing public attention on their high-minded objectives.

And with each new addition to the drug-enforcement laws you become less and less a free citizen whose life is your own:

  • You can be convicted of drug dealing without any physical evidence such as drugs or money in your possession. All that's necessary is the testimony of an accused drug dealer who will get a reduced sentence for fingering you. So you'd better hope that no one you know ever gets entrapped by drug agents and decides to buy his freedom by giving away yours.

  • The police easily can obtain a warrant to enter your home, search it for drugs or suspicious amounts of cash, and turn it upside down. All they need is an anonymous tip for example, from a neighbor who's upset about your barking dog.

  • The police can seize your property on the claim that it might have been used in a crime even if you haven't been convicted of a crime, even if you haven't been indicted for a crime, and even if you haven't been accused of a crime. To get your property back, you must sue the government at your own expense. Law enforcement agencies use the proceeds from the sale of your property to supplement their budgets.

  • If a drug agent at an airport happens to believe you're too well dressed (or too poorly dressed or too middling-dressed) he can take you into custody, order you to take off all your clothes, and force you to have a bowel movement in front of drug-enforcement agents just in case you've hidden a package of drugs in your stomach.


You may think it's unfortunate that such things happen to other people, but that your lifestyle and law-abiding history protect you from such trouble. Understand, however, that these things happen to people just like you people who have never taken drugs, never dealt drugs, and never been in trouble with the law.

Lonnie Lundy

One such person was Lonnie Lundy, a businessman. At 32, he had never smoked, drunk alcohol, or used drugs. In 1993 an employee of his was prosecuted for drug-dealing, and the employee succeeded in getting his sentence reduced by naming Lonnie as his drug source.

No drugs, no money, no physical evidence of any kind were produced. His accuser later recanted his testimony, saying "My life may be a mess but I'm not going to live the rest of my life with this on my conscience." And yet Lonnie Lundy languishes in prison, sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole. His only hope for freedom is a Libertarian President who will pardon all non-violent drug offenders in federal prisons.

Compare Lonnie Lundy's sentence with that of Jose Tapia, who in 1996 intentionally burned down a house in Rhode Island, killing two adults and four children. Tapia will be eligible for parole in 21 years. But Lonnie Lundy, who wasn't even accused of using violence, will never be free again unless he receives a presidential pardon.

Mario Paz

In the middle of the night on August 9, 1999, 20 police officers wearing masks surrounded the home of Mario Paz in Compton, California, fired grenades through the windows, shot the locks off the front and back doors, charged into his bedroom, and shot him to death. The victim had never used or dealt drugs, never been accused of a crime, and never been in any trouble with the law.

The police raided the home as part of a drug investigation of a former next-door neighbor who had used Mr. Paz' address to receive mail.

Even after the mistake became apparent, the police confiscated all the cash they found in the house, and took seven members of the family to jail in handcuffs. The police didn't read them their rights because they weren't accused of any crime.

Unfortunately, even a Libertarian President can't raise Mr. Paz from the dead.

Debbie Vineyard

In 1994 Debbie Vineyard was accused of dealing drugs, even though no drugs or money were ever produced as evidence. She was convicted solely on the say-so of an admitted drug dealer a man who was given a reduced sentence in exchange for naming other people.

The drug agents pressured her to name other conspirators in exchange for leniency. But, of course, she couldn't name anyone because she wasn't involved in any criminal activity.

She was told (as many people in her situation are) that if she pleaded innocent and asked for a jury trial, she would get 30 years to life if she lost as a penalty for tying up the judicial system. Afraid of being separated from her family for so long, she gave in and pleaded guilty. Even though she was a first-time "offender," she was sentenced to ten years in prison.

Debbie was sent to a prison in Alabama separated by 2,000 miles from her husband, son, and disabled father in California.

There were no drugs, no money, no evidence of any kind just the misfortune of being acquainted slightly with someone who was secretly dealing drugs.

She describes the experience:

I was never given the opportunity for a bond, and I was held for eight months before pleading guilty. Before this happened to me, my family and I would never have believed something like this could actually happen. There was absolutely no evidence against me, and a crime had not even been committed.

Even though I was pregnant, I was handcuffed, shackled, and flown via airlift with the Federal Marshals. I was housed in four different county jails before finally reaching my destination, an Alabama jail. In court, I was provided a court-appointed attorney (I was his first client). Due to my pregnancy, my court date was postponed and the Marshals drove me, handcuffed, belly-belted, and shackled, for ten hours to a Kentucky Prison to give birth to my child.

Suzan Penkwitz

In 1997 Suzan Penkwitz helped her friend Jenny retrieve Jenny's car from Tijuana, Mexico. They were stopped at the border, and drug agents found 43 pounds of heroin hidden in a secret compartment welded inside the gas tank.

Jenny immediately confessed to being a drug smuggler, and told the authorities that Suzan knew nothing about the drugs. But after several hours of intimidation, Jenny changed her story and implicated Suzan in order to obtain leniency for herself.

For her cooperation, Jenny the actual drug smuggler got off with a 6-month sentence at a minimum security prison. Suzan who was completely innocent was sentenced to 6 years in federal prison. Suzan couldn't cooperate, because she had nothing to admit to and no one to finger.

Suzan had no criminal record of any kind. And both the judge and the prosecuting attorney acknowledged that Suzan didn't know there was heroin in the car. But still she was convicted and sentenced as a conspirator receiving a sentence ten times as long as that for the real drug smuggler.

Richard Allen Davis

Richard Allen Davis is a different sort of prisoner. He is a violent man who has been in and out of prison all his life. Davis has raped women, terrorized families, and robbed banks.

He has spent nearly half his life in prison but, no matter how badly he hurts people, he has never served a complete sentence. He has always managed to get parole or early release because the prisons are so crowded. On the other hand, Lonnie Lundy (described above) has never been accused of hurting anyone, but he now serves a life sentence with no chance of parole.

The life of Richard Allen Davis has been one continuous horror story. On June 27, 1993, he was paroled from prison after serving only eight years of a 16-year sentence for assault with a deadly weapon. His frightening life reached its climax just three months after his release from prison, when he kidnapped 12-year-old Polly Klaas from her bedroom and murdered her.

But don't worry: law enforcement agencies are aggressively locking up pot smokers, minor drug dealers, and innocent people fingered by drug smugglers and throwing away the key.

Some Are More Equal Than Others

In 1995 Republican Congressmen nearly broke their arms patting themselves on the back for passing a rule that all laws and regulations applying to ordinary American citizens apply as well to members of Congress. At last we're all equal under the law.

Except that some of us are more equal than others.

Lonnie Lundy (described above) was given a life sentence for supposedly dealing drugs, even though no money or drugs were ever produced as evidence. He was convicted solely on the say-so of an admitted drug dealer, who later recanted his testimony. Lonnie's father wrote to Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) to ask his help in getting Lonnie's sentence reduced.

On February 25, 1998, Senator Shelby replied:

Drug abuse and drug-related crimes are among the greatest ills that plague our nation. We must take a strong stand against drugs, and I support strict punishment for individuals involved in the possession or distribution of illegal drugs. While I understand your concerns about mandatory penalties for nonviolent offenders, I believe that our nation's drug problem is serious enough to warrant harsh sentences.

Five months later Senator Shelby's 32-year-old son was arrested at the Atlanta airport with 13.8 grams of hashish in his possession. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor possession charge, paid two fines totaling $860, performed 40 hours of community service, and was on probation for one year. He didn't spend a single hour in jail or prison.

Representative Randy Cunningham (R-California) has been an avid Drug Warrior. He wants mandatory prison terms, tougher judges, and the death penalty for big-time drug dealers. He has repeatedly criticized the Clinton administration for being soft on drug dealers and users.

In January 1997 his son was caught with 400 pounds of marijuana. In November 1998 the Drug Warrior father pleaded with a judge to show leniency saying his son is basically a good person who made a bad decision. "He has a good heart. He works hard," said the father (as though that couldn't be said as well about thousands of young people serving sentences of 5, 10, 20 or more years for smaller drug offenses).

The son received a sentence of only 2 years half the mandatory sentence. He also was given the opportunity to reduce the sentence to 18 months by completing a drug rehabilitation program while in prison. (Prosecutors originally had agreed to a sentence of only 14 to 18 months in a half-way house. But while out on bail before the trial, the Congressman's son tested positive for cocaine three times.)

Another aggressive Drug Warrior is Senator Rod Grams (R-Minnesota). While he has been calling for harsh sentences for drug offenders, his son Morgan has been involved with drugs for years a problem the senator has acknowledged publicly. The senator claims that harsh sentences for drug dealers would save people like his son from drug abuse.

In July 1999, Senator Grams asked the local sheriff to look for the senator's son, who was on probation for drunk driving and had disappeared while driving an overdue rental car. Sheriff's deputies found him driving the rental car with two companions but no driver's license. They also found ten bags of marijuana in the car. A deputy drove the son home. Despite the son's probation for drunk driving and the marijuana in the car, no charges were ever filed, and the son has spent no time in custody.

The Honorable Hypocrites

As though the hypocrisy involved in family drug dealing wasn't sufficient, Congressmen themselves have been caught with drugs and managed to slither out of the justice system. According to Capitol Hill Blue (a Washington publication), 14 members of the current Congress have been arrested on drug-related charges. Would you like to guess how many of them have gone to prison?

And, of course, it seems as though virtually every contender in the 2000 presidential primaries acknowledged that he had used drugs in his younger days.

But not one of them claimed that he should have been sent to prison for his "youthful indiscretions."

Politicians "experimented" with marijuana when they were younger. But today's youths aren't allowed to experiment; they're charged with felonies and sent to prison for smoking marijuana with their friends.

The Innocent & the Guilty

The Drug Warriors will tell you that sentences like those imposed on Lonnie Lundy, Debbie Vineyard, and Suzan Penkwitz strike fear in the hearts of America's drug kingpins.

In fact, however, cases in which a big-time drug dealer receives a long prison sentence are very rare. But one-time offenders and innocent bystanders get sentences ranging from a few years to life without chance of parole.

This is not just a technical problem that needs to be corrected. These injustices are inevitable in any plan to prosecute victimless crimes. Without victims to testify, the state must offer bribes to truly guilty people to provide testimony against truly innocent people padding the arrest and conviction records of drug agents and prosecutors.

The drug kingpins have plenty of names to give the prosecutors, and so they obtain reduced sentences by fingering others. But the low-level drug runner has only one or two contacts to offer, and the innocent bystander knows no one he can turn in so these people wind up with the worst sentences.

The drug warriors may want you to believe that only drug kingpins go to prison. But in 1998 alone, according to the Justice Department, 682,885 Americans were arrested on marijuana charges 88% of whom merely for possessing marijuana. A recent study by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice estimated that the total prison population of the U.S. reached 2 million sometime around February 15, 2000. More than half of those are non-violent offenders according to the report.

The stories recounted here aren't rare exceptions. Such tragedies occur frequently to people just like you and me. Some may have been involved in a single drug incident, and some are completely innocent.

If your child should make one silly mistake and be caught, or just happen to be acquainted with the wrong person, it could mean a prison term of 5, 10, 25 years or even a life sentence. Would your child deserve that?

Police-State Tactics

We aren't making America safer by violating the Bill of Rights.

Such violations are far more likely to hurt you than to hurt drug dealers. Serious criminals know every aspect of the law that might affect them, and they do whatever is necessary to avoid problems. They wouldn't think of leaving money in a bank account where it could be seized by a federal agent or police officer.

But because you're ignorant of these and millions of other laws, you're a sitting duck for any law-enforcement officer or prosecutor hoping to pad his arrest, seizure, or conviction statistics. So one day you find that your property has been taken from you or, worse yet, that you're accused of a crime by someone who is desperate, or who just doesn't happen to like you.

It is the innocent not the guilty who are hurt most when the Bill of Rights is ignored.


And what's the point of all this? No matter how aggressively and oppressively the Drug Warriors fight their war, the drug trade continues unabated.

Despite the invasions of your civil liberties; despite over $25 billion a year spent to chase drug smugglers, dealers, and users; despite cruel and unusual punishment for small offenses; despite all the "just say no" propaganda, despite all the news stories proclaiming drug seizures and other supposed victories, the Drug War continues to be a massive failure.

It was supposed to keep drugs away from your children, but the results have been quite different:

  • In 1972 only 14% of teenagers had ever tried marijuana. By 1997 the number was up to 50%. The number regularly smoking marijuana more than tripled, from 7% to 24%.

  • In 1972 only 2% of teenagers had ever tried cocaine. By 1997 the number was up to 9%. Regular users increased from 1% to 6%.

  • In 1972 only 1% of teenagers had ever tried heroin. By 1997 the number was up to 2%.

  • The percentage of teenagers who had tried hallucinogens, stimulants, or inhalants all more than doubled between 1972 and 1997.

But this doesn't deter the politicians. They don't reevaluate their misguided, destructive Drug War. They don't repeal a single law that failed to achieve its purpose. They don't cancel the oppressive sentences that have achieved nothing but prison overcrowding. They don't give back the civil liberties they took from you.

No, they press ever onward with ever more intrusions on your Constitutional rights.

They push for even longer drug sentences. Some even want to publicly hang drug dealers by whom they mean anyone caught with more than a week's supply of marijuana.

Would that be any more effective than the stringent sentences drug dealers are already willing to risk? And if it did work, think of the terrible precedent it would set. Politicians would cite the success of hanging drug dealers as the model for dealing with any public problem.


America woke up in 1933 and ended the "Noble Experiment" the nightmare of alcohol Prohibition that had triggered the worst crime wave in the nation's history.

It is long past time to end the even larger crime wave sponsored by drug Prohibition. It is time to end the insane War on Drugs. It is time to return peace to American cities.

Libertarians understand that ending the Drug War would eliminate the criminal black market ending the incentives to hook adults and children.

Ending the Drug War will end most of the violence, the gang warfare, and the drive-by shootings.

It will make it possible to restore your civil liberties.

Ending the Drug War will end the deaths of addicts taking contaminated drugs or overdosing on drugs of unknown strength.

Legal competition will quickly reduce prices to a fraction of today's prices ending the muggings and burglaries by addicts, who will no longer need to steal to support their habits.

Ending the Drug War will allow law-enforcement resources to be redirected toward protecting you from violence against your person or property the reason you tolerate government in the first place.

It will end the overcrowding of courts and prisons freeing the criminal justice system to deal with the people who are hurting and terrorizing others.

Ending the Drug War will end most police corruption by taking the big profits out of the drug business.

It probably will end the epidemic of crack babies. Crack (highly concentrated cocaine) became a profitable commodity for drug dealers only when the government succeeded temporarily in reducing the supply of simple cocaine, which is somewhat less dangerous. In fact, cocaine itself became a profitable commodity only when the government succeeded temporarily in reducing the supply of marijuana, which is much less likely to harm anyone.

Ending the Drug War will make our schools safer. Brewers and distillers don't recruit children to sell beer or hook other kids on liquor. Nor do they give them guns to take to school. Nor would legal drug companies. When I grew up in Los Angeles in the 1940s, the worst schools were safer than L.A.'s best schools are today.

Ending the Drug War will make marijuana readily available to people afflicted with cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, and other diseases to help them digest their medicines, relieve their pain, and restore their appetites.

It will allow addicts to seek help from doctors who today must report addicts to the police or risk going to jail themselves.

It finally will be legally possible to do truly scientific studies to better measure the effects and biological mechanisms of drug use without making scientists conform to political correctness.

And it will be possible for children to get more realistic information about drugs for example, that marijuana is far less harmful than harder drugs. Today the obvious exaggerations about marijuana lead teenagers to discount the official warnings about more dangerous hard drugs.

After Prohibition

Don't misunderstand me. We shouldn't expect a sweet world of low drug use to return immediately upon the end of the War on Drugs. The Drug War has gone on for over 30 years, and the bad habits it taught won't be unlearned overnight.

But just as America didn't become a nation of alcoholics in 1933, it won't become a nation of junkies in the coming years. Within a year we should see drug use drop significantly, because there no longer would be drug dealers on the streets and in the schools. And the crime rate should drop just as dramatically.

Will some people ruin their lives with drugs? Of course just as some people ruin their lives now with drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or pizza or by making bad investments, running up debts, or marrying the wrong person. But when the government tries to stop someone from ruining his own life with drugs or anything else, it expands a personal tragedy into a national disaster.

No, we won't have a crime-free, drug-free America. But we don't have that now and we never will. What we will have when the insane War on Drugs is ended is less drug use, a more peaceful America, and a less oppressive government.

Should We Be Afraid?

Understandably, many Americans fear that ending the Drug War would result in tens of thousands of addicts, crack babies, and children trying drugs. But that's what we have now.

Are we afraid there will be ads for heroin on television? We shouldn't be. Why would any pharmaceutical company tarnish its reputation by running such ads, and why would any broadcast network offend its audience by accepting them?

Are we afraid our children would have easier access to drugs? How could they have more access than they do now? Drugs are being sold in our schools. And most street dealers are themselves teenagers. But the money to finance the corruption of the young would disappear if we ended the Drug War.

What about people who use drugs and commit crimes or cause accidents? They should be held responsible for what they do, just as people who don't take drugs should be responsible for what they do. It isn't the drug that's the problem, it's the person who injures others with or without drugs. Everyone should be held responsible for what he does to others, but what he does to himself is not the government's business.

Legal Status of Drugs

The most important step we must take is to end the federal government's involvement with drugs.

The Constitution recognizes only three federal crimes treason, piracy, and counterfeiting. The federal government has no Constitutional authority to deal with any other crimes. Every crime occurs in the jurisdiction of a police or sheriff's department somewhere, and that's where it should be legislated, investigated, and prosecuted.

Once the federal government is out of the picture, each state will choose its own approach to the question of drugs. Most likely, every state will have far more liberal drug laws than exist today, since the trend is already in that direction.

Some states may legalize all drugs, while others continue partial Prohibition, and some may legalize only medical marijuana.

What I Want

My own hope is for complete legalization everywhere.

Whatever part of the market remains illegal will be a breeding ground for black markets, gangs, and violence. Criminals, unable to compete with legal companies selling safer drugs at much lower prices, will focus their attention on any area that remains illegal.

We can say anything we want about the "message" legalization sends to children, or that government should protect them from some drugs, or that some other high-minded objective should be pursued. But the fact remains that government doesn't deliver what we want, and Prohibition breeds crime and higher drug use.

I want an end to just-pretend wars against sin.

I want a return to the safe, peaceful society in which violent crime is much rarer, but prosecuted vigorously, while you and other innocent people are free to live your lives in peace.

I want to empty the prisoners of the nearly one million inmates whose only crimes were to buy or sell drugs so there's finally room in those prisons to keep away from you the truly violent people.

I want people with drug problems to be able to seek help without fear of being arrested.

I want your children to be able to play in safe streets and attend safe schools.

I want to end the insane War on Drugs.