I was confused. A few years ago the liberal media had seemed on board for cannabis legalization, yet I began seeing more and more articles warning of a stoner apocalypse. One New York Times essay asked whether cannabis addiction would spike the way alcohol addiction did after passage of the Twenty-First Amendment, when “the country almost drank itself off the rails.” Off the rails? In my history books, the country stayed on the rails for the next 40 years, to the dismay of brewers and distillers. Very confusing. I grew more perplexed when a Times columnist opined that politicians eager for new tax revenues had not adequately considered the public health dangers of cannabis. And here I was thinking that eighty years’ worth of dire warnings about the public health dangers of cannabis were adequate! Readers chimed in with a hundred more objections until, finally, Brad of San Diego County slashed through the thickets of anti-cannabis rhetoric with a stroke of pure genius.
All of these arguments were made against ending Prohibition. Should we turn the clock back on alcohol?
Suddenly, I wasn’t confused anymore because Brad of San Diego County had the perfect solution. Rather than fighting over inconsistencies between our cannabis policy and our alcohol policy, we should just reinstate capital-P Prohibition. I saw only one problem with Brad’s brainstorm: Prohibition has a terrible public image. But we can solve the problem by rebranding it Neoprohibition. After all, isn’t “neo” the Viagra of prefixes, able to make even the most worn out ideas ready for service again?
To understand the value of Neoprohibition, we must first look at some numbers. Right now, the US has some 99 million daily drinkers. Another hundred million drink occasionally, once or twice a year to once or twice a week. If alcohol were re-banned, how many would give it up? History suggests that alcohol consumption would drop by half. Half the alcohol does not mean half the number of drinkers, as, even now, ten percent of the population consumes three-fourths of the booze. That ten percent, or 33 million people, will keep drinking to maintain their dependency. Half the other daily drinkers will also likely persist, though not at the same pace. Of the 100 million occasional drinkers, I estimate that a quarter will keep drinking on principles ranging from Libertarianism to Libertinism, all of which adds up to 91 million people using alcohol after Neoprohibition.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 24.6 million Americans use illegal drugs. So one fact becomes immediately obvious: Neoprohibition would more than quadruple the number of illegal drug users. This increase would rain benefits down on every sector of society! There are so many windfalls for so many people in Neoprohibition that it’s genuinely hard to know where to begin.
Let’s start with asset forfeiture. In 2014, the value of assets seized by civil forfeiture exceeded the value of all other stolen property. That’s a lot of loot, for sure. But, with drinking redefined as a criminal enterprise, almost one-third third of the property in America becomes eligible for confiscation. Remember, Congress authorized the forfeiture of all of an arrested person’s property, as long as a fraction of it was involved in illegal activities. Drug dealers who transport bottles of dandelion wine to church bazaars will lose, not just the house in which they crushed the dandelion flowers and added the secret ingredient (Meyer lemon), but any other properties they own, along with their cars, bank accounts, and cash. Multiply that by 91 million, and today’s asset forfeiture will look like the loose change collected by a pitch-challenged busker.
All those new lawbreakers will require a massive expansion of our entire criminal justice system, which means jobs, jobs, jobs! We’ll need more police officers at every level, federal, state, and local. We’ll need more prosecutors and defense attorneys and bail bondsmen and bailiffs and court reporters. We’ll need architects and builders to erect a vast network of new prisons — private, of course — plus correction officers to staff them, and commissaries to feed, clothe, and deodorize them. There will be so many new criminals that the largest cities in many states will be prisons. Yes, the US already has more people incarcerated than any other nation on earth, but that’s still only 20 percent of the world’s prison population. With Neoprohibition, we could easily double that figure.
And then there’s prison labor. Neoprohibition will transfer millions of skilled workers into the segment of the work force where they can most benefit American businesses. Ever since the US almost abolished slavery in 1865, paying decent wages has driven up prices and driven down profitability, forcing many industries to move where labor is cheap. Now, with a vast influx of new prisoners, we’ll have a homegrown population willing to work for $0.23 to $1.15 per hour minus taxes, program costs, court costs, room, board, utilities, commissary fees, phone fees, medical clinic co-pays, and other expenses. With Neoprohibition filling American prisons three or four times over, businesses will come home where they belong, and the shelves of Walmart will overflow with “Made in America” labels.
Another industry that Neoprohibition would enhance is the recovery industry. It’s already a huge money-maker thanks to recent parity laws and virtually no governmental oversight, but banning alcohol would force many more users into rehab. As alcohol is added to routine drug tests, employers will mandate inpatient treatment for workers who test positive. People who intend to seek treatment “someday” will also take the plunge, and the courts will funnel a steady stream of drinkers to rehab — after seizing their assets, of course. When this bonanza of clients fills up existing facilities, thousands of Americans with some Airbnb rooms and an AA meeting schedule will establish “boutique rehabs” with names such as Planet Serenity and Wellspring of Recovery Wellsprings. And the 90 percent failure rate for AA-based treatment means lots of repeat business!
Neoprohibition can even help the arts and education in a roundabout way. Our president recently borrowed an idea from his pal Rodrigo Duterte: that drug dealers should face the death penalty. Though Duterte hates to fuss over executions, our strongman loves public pageantry, especially if it costs money that might otherwise be wasted on social services. After Neoprohibition, the number of drug dealers facing capital punishment would be huge, transforming Death Row into Death Zip Code unless we could efficiently execute all those home brewers and wine makers. So we could emulate the ancient Romans who staged mass executions as famous battles from their history. Imagine convicted drug dealers reenacting Pickett’s Charge or the Mountain Meadows Massacre with live ammunition! Could there be a better way for audiences to have fun and learn history at the same time? And these educational “slaytainments” would require directors, choreographers, stage designers, costume designers, sound engineers, lighting technicians, and many other theater professionals who desperately need jobs now that we’ve virtually abandoned public funding for the arts.
The next benefit can’t be measured in dollars and cents, but is important nonetheless: those drinkers who manage to evade law enforcement and rehab will suddenly discover that they’ve become a lot cooler. Face it, alcohol is just not that cool right now and hasn’t been since original Prohibition. Though advertisers and media work hard to make alcohol seem edgy as heck, they’ve had limited success. Effects such as vomiting and weepy self-pity, added to the fact that alcohol is sold in grocery stores alongside Velveeta and Pampers, keeps that particular drug in the wannabe zone. Its reputation is further damaged by the way old people speak of their nightly glass of sherry as though it combines the daring of a 24-mile free-fall with the sophistication of pronouncing “differance” with a French accent. But, if that same glass of sherry becomes illegal, then it becomes cool. This phenomenon is the main reason the 1920s were the coolest decade of the 20th century — and yes I’m including the overrated 1960s, boomers. H. L. Mencken claimed that drinking alcohol was the way cool people distinguished themselves from the “booboisie,” and it was no accident that he formed that opinion during Prohibition.
Readers, you mustn’t think I don’t hear you murmuring objections to Brad of San Diego County’s brilliant idea. Yes, I could be like other pundits and ignore counter-arguments, but I’m so certain he’s right that I will refute in advance every possible objection to Neoprohibition.
1. We tried Prohibition before, and it didn’t work.
This common objection is not as strong as it may seem. First of all, what does “work” mean? If it means Prohibition didn’t reduce alcohol consumption, that’s simply not true; as I’ve already said, it reduced consumption by half. If by “work,” you mean eliminate alcohol consumption, then you are completely missing the point of prohibition. Prohibition of a drug doesn’t eliminate it. History has demonstrated that fact over and over, from China’s 19th-century failure to wipe out opium-smoking to our failure to eradicate heroin use. Prohibition makes a drug more expensive and dangerous, but it never eliminates it. That’s not its purpose, as we can see from our very own War on Drugs. The point of prohibition is not to eliminate a drug but to criminalize users and dealers so we can control and/or exploit them. In order to build up our prison population, we can’t just wait for poverty and despair to make crime appealing to large numbers of people, which could take years. No, the obvious strategy is to criminalize normal, innocuous behavior. That worked very well with drugs such as cannabis and opium, and it will work even better with alcohol.
2. Jobs in alcohol manufacture, distribution, and sale will be lost.
This seeming objection is easy to deal with. While it is true that many alcohol industry jobs will disappear with Neoprohibition, many more jobs in law enforcement and substance abuse treatment will take their place. And lots of those jobs will require little retraining. To become a substance abuse counselor, for example, you don’t need a college degree; all you really have master is a few slogans such as “Fake it ’til you make it” and “Keep it simple, stupid.” Even better, the job pays much more than serving drinks or tending bar and lets you interact with many of the same people, only now you don’t have to be nice to them because you’re not working for tips. Think of all those obnoxious customers who used to snap their fingers for another shot or grab your ass when you walked by with a tray full of glasses. Now you can scream at them, “You’re in denial and will probably die in a heap of mangled body parts reeking of cheap tequila!” And you don’t have to feel bad because you’re paid to practice “tough love.” Much better than service, right?
3. Illegally manufactured alcohol will endanger people’s health.
This is an objection in the “true but irrelevant” category. It’s certainly true that, during original Prohibition, a lot of people died of methanol poisoning when the cheap, potent industrial alcohol was redistilled for drinking or added to beverage alcohol. When any drug becomes illegal, what matters most is getting maximum potency into the smallest possible package, not fussing over purity or safety. It’s happening right now as hyper-potent new fentanyl replaces bulky old heroin, causing opioid users to misjudge their doses and die by the thousands. The fact that these overdoses keep happening, and the media keep reporting them, but the public continues to support the drug prohibition that causes them tells me that any poisoning deaths caused by Neoprohibition will be inconsequential, a mere blip on the radar of public awareness.
4. Too many ordinary, law-abiding citizens would be arrested.
Yes. And the objection?
5. People of color will suffer disproportionately.
Finally, a legitimate objection. All good argument essays make one concession, so consider this mine. We know from drug prohibition that enforcement is far more aggressive and penalties far more severe in communities of color than in white communities. If we look at the economics of the situation, however, we see that Neoprohibition might actually help ease this racial disparity. With 91 million new criminals created overnight and nearly a third of America’s property subject to forfeiture, it wouldn’t pay not to arrest the people who own most of that property. Sure, law enforcement will focus first on people of color, but they’ll run into problems pretty quickly. After all, many African American and Latino men are already in prison because of the unfair application of drug prohibition. In addition, a large percentage of Latinxs and Native Americans don’t drink at all. With a BAC of 0.0, they will be hard to arrest for alcohol possession. Yes, police can carry “drop bottles” for these uncooperative teetotalers, but bottles aren’t easy to carry concealed and tend to break when dropped. It won’t be long before police and prosecutors will be forced to turn their attention toward white people if they hope to keep up their stats. Once they do — and get a taste of the riches that come their way — I believe we’ll see more racial parity in the US justice system than we’ve seen since . . . ever.
Need I continue? At the very least, Neoprohibition would put an end to the left’s incessant whining about civil liberties, racial injustice, and the carceral state, whatever that may be. Frankly, I can’t wait to see their shocked faces when the current War on Drugs is rebranded as “the good old days.” At any rate, I’ve made my case in a way that should appeal to readers across the political spectrum because, like a versatile Beaujolais that complements both chicken and fish, Neoprohibition pairs beautifully with both Neoconservatism and Neoliberalism. Neoconservatives view America as the world’s policeman, and surely the best way to master that role is to more vigorously police our own people. Neoliberals believe in privatizing everything that moves and chasing cheap labor to the ends of the earth. How delicious to find that the very lowest wages of all are right here in our own backyard — our own private backyard! Come on, my fellow citizens, let’s follow Brad of San Diego County and Make America Dry Again!