Compare and contrast Prohibition to the War on Drugs

When we discuss the course of legislation in the history of the United States it is always important to note that many of the laws and campaigns launched against crime throughout its history have not been the result of logical discourse and debate. Rather they have always based their legislations on Christian moral values. These moral values have decided the basic principles of society ever since the inception of this nation and they will continue to do so for a long time. This topic will focus on two campaigns in American history, the war on drugs and prohibition and discuss the similarities and differences between them.

When we speak of prohibition in the history of the United States, the most common correlation we find is one of the Noble Experiment. It was a time period from 1919 to 1933 when the sale, manufacture and transportation of alcohol was banned as detailed in the Eighteenth amendment to the United States Constitution. The War on drugs is another prohibition campaign undertaken to curb the supply and decrease the demand of the illegal drug trade in case of certain harmful, immoral, dangerous or undesirable drugs.

What is truly remarkable is not how both these programs began or why they began or how much they accomplish but rather the reasons provided to the public behind its inception. Alcohol prohibition was touted as the national program that would solve all of the social problems that the country was facing. Not only would it reduce crime rates, it would also reduce the tax rates, eliminate poverty, improve public health, etc. The war of drugs has been similarly put forward as an idea with the exact same benefits.

Another interesting fact to see here is that the use of both these substances was not rampant at the time of each prohibition. Admittedly there were several instances of public drunkenness in the 1920s and the uses of illegal narcotics such as heroin were widespread. However, both substances did not begin to be installed into the public consciousness until laws were passed denying their use. Before the passing of the Eighteenth amendment the use of alcohol was restricted to establishments such as saloons.

After the law was passed, the illegality of alcohol not only removed these establishments, it brought drinking practices into the view and consciousness of the public. Similarly before the war on drugs the use of cocaine and heroin was only restricted to certain sections of the population. However, after the propaganda that rooted itself into the public consciousness the use of these drugs skyrocketed. In order to curb the use of both alcohol and drugs the government of course had to put funding into programs which would specially enforce these laws.

Putting increasing amounts of taxpayer money to solve what was essentially an insurmountable problem. This is due to the fact that before the proposed illegality of these substances the manufacture and sale of them was restricted to certain individuals. The supply and demand was low. After the laws were passed the interest in obtaining them increased to a level where the general public became involved in the sale and manufacture of these substances. Thus forming the terms crack dealer and bootlegger.

Although the eventual legalization of alcohol during the great depression created a new tax revenue for the United States, the war on drugs is still a financial black hole which has consume billions of the American dollars. Additionally, the passing of both laws has created an opening for organized crime syndicates to operate within the United States. Although such organizations existed even before the 1920s, the passing of prohibition laws created an opportunity for them to supply the American public with cheap merchandise that would that would sustain their presence in the American community for years to come.

Again with the passing of the twenty first amendment such gangs lost a huge source of income, the war on drugs however has created a new opportunity for them to gain a foothold in our communities again. Another issue is one of crime and punishment. Obviously with the passing of such laws the crime rate will increase incrementally. It has been noted that during the original prohibition crime rates among the community for alcohol drinking shot up nearly 600%. Obviously, this figure is not as accurate when comparing sampling methods today.

In comparison however when we consider that the American prison system is so congested that the government is actually enforcing prison terms using private contractors. The similarities become apparent. Finally although the medical and social malady associated with alcohol and certain drugs are still debated even today. It is incredible to see that alcohol one of the leading causes of death in the United States is still considered a legal substance while other substances which are much less lethal are demonized in the media and the public consciousness.

So much so that while the end of prohibition brought much research into the use of alcohol as a medicinal aid even so far as being in contemporary cough syrups. The war on drugs has created several roadblocks to any such research which could potentially create life saving medications in the future. It is apparent to anyone who notices that if you impose limitations and laws on a population. They will of course have an incentive to break them. It is not a psychological disease; it is simply the human state of mind.

What the government should realize, which apparently they did not after the first prohibition. That it is more important to regulate these substances and protect the public rather than enforce their laws. Doing so will only distance the public from their point of view and cause a further interest in the nature of these substances.


  • Schaffer, C. A. (2008). Basic Facts About the War on Drugs . Retrieved May 12, 2009, from Schaffer Library of Drug Policy: http://www. druglibrary. org/Schaffer/LIBRARY/basicfax. htm