Horsey on Prop 19

The Seattle PI’s David Horsey waded into the debate on California’s Proposition 19 this week. He looked to parallels with alcohol prohibition to understand our current predicament, but he missed the mark on a few of the details:

My mentor at the start of my journalism career was a man named William F. Asbury. He was a fine newsman and a recovering alcoholic. After he left the newspaper business, he began writing and lecturing about alcoholism prevention and developed a take on Prohibition that went against the conventional wisdom that it was an experiment in social control that did not work.

Apparently, not everyone was sneaking off to a speakeasy during the 1920s. According to Asbury, the ban on booze actually kept a lot of people away from alcohol, lowered the number of broken families and reduced the alcoholism rate.

That’s partially true, but it doesn’t tell the entire story. Once alcohol prohibition officially became the law of the land in 1920, alcohol consumption certainly decreased significantly. Since it was illegal, accurate statistics were hard to come by, but by looking at related statistics like alcohol-related deaths and arrests for public drunkenness, it’s believed that alcohol use quickly returned to about 60-70% of pre-prohibition levels. And in some cities, the number of speakeasies far surpassed the previous number of legal bars.

The gains that Asbury spoke of were a temporary one-time phenomenon that came from the shifting of alcohol production from legal distributors to organized crime syndicates. Once that transition ended, we saw the return of all the problems related to alcohol – with a grisly bonus in the form of significantly higher rates of crime from the organized crimes groups that were making obscene profits from the trade.

It’s likely true that a certain percentage of people who drank before prohibition refrained from breaking the law once it became illegal. But those were primarily folks who aren’t going to have a problem with alcohol ruining their lives in the first place. The barrier that prohibition put up only deterred the people least motivated to have a drink – moderate drinkers who aren’t going to wreck their lives on the stuff.

But there was one other particularly nasty aspect of alcohol prohibition that Horsey doesn’t discuss:

Amid this debate, one question sticks in my mind: What will this do to kids?

Like anyone who has raised children, coached a youth sports team or spent time in schools, I have seen how teenagers – especially boys – can be thrown off track by marijuana. The more they smoke, the less interested they become in school, in sports, in homework or in friends who don’t share their preoccupation with getting high.

Solid medical research has proven that human brains do not fully develop until a person is well into his twenties and that, the earlier a teenager starts using marijuana, the greater the risk of permanent impairment to the parts of the brain that govern rational behavior and mature judgment. The risk is exacerbated by the hugely increased potency of today’s drug, compared with the pot of the 1960s and ’70s. An early marijuana habit may enhance a kid’s prospects for winning a bit part in a Seth Rogen stoner movie, but cuts chances for achievement in most other endeavors.

I completely share Horsey’s concern here, and it’s one of the biggest reasons why we should be supporting Proposition 19 and an end to marijuana prohibition everywhere. While alcohol prohibition did manage to lower overall rates of alcohol consumption, that wasn’t necessarily true for younger people:

Drinking at an earlier age was also noted, particularly during the first few years of Prohibition. The superintendents of eight state mental hospitals reported a larger percentage of young patients during Prohibition (1919-1926) than formerly. One of the hospitals noted: “During the past year (1926), an unusually large group of patients who are of high school age were admitted for alcoholic psychosis” (Brown, 1932:176).

In determining the age at which an alcoholic forms his drinking habit, it was noted: “The 1920-1923 group were younger than the other groups when the drink habit was formed” (Pollock, 1942: 113).

Even worse, since there was a strong incentive to avoid getting caught with alcohol, drinking smaller quantities of more powerful forms of alcohol became more common. People carried flasks of homemade liquors as opposed to drinking less potent beers. When it came to preventing younger people from developing bad habits with alcohol, prohibition was a serious step back from the pre-prohibition era. And it’s very likely that if prohibition had continued for another generation that the end result would have been much worse than the problems of alcoholism before prohibition.

This is similarly true for marijuana prohibition today, as high school students continually report that it’s easier for them to obtain marijuana than alcohol. And compared to Holland, where marijuana sales have been tolerated for over 30 years, American teenagers use marijuana at a much higher rate. If Horsey is concerned about teenage drug use, his worries seem to be misplaced. It’s our current policies that put more young people at risk, not the policies that would exist with the passage of Proposition 19.

Comments

  1. 2

    Zotz sez: Puddybud is just another word for arschloch. spews:

    Apparently, not everyone was sneaking off to a speakeasy during the 1920s.

    It’s important to remember that during prohibition, pretty much anyone could see their doctor and get alcohol by prescription, which resulted in:

    It’s for medicinal purposes only. Honest!

  2. 3

    rhp6033 spews:

    “…Even worse, since there was a strong incentive to avoid getting caught with alcohol, drinking smaller quantities of more powerful forms of alcohol became more common. People carried flasks of homemade liquors as opposed to drinking less potent beers….”

    I noticed a similar vein, even back in high school in the 1970’s.

    Alchohol was relatively easy to get (the drinking age was 18, so seniors could get it easily and pass it along to their junior classmates). But beer took up a lot of space and was rather bulky and difficult to conceal. Stronger alchohol gave more punch for it’s weight, but it, too, was easy to smell on the consumer for quite some time, and the bottle was easy to spot.

    Pot was easier to hide, it could be hidden in a book, pockets, or bag rather easily. But the smell while smoking it was rather easy to detect, although it dissapated on the user much faster than alchohol.

    But the easiest to conceal was also the most dangerous drugs, in the form of pills. Easy to hide in pockets, books, or bags, and after consumption no tell-tale smell.

    So the end result was that the effort to avoid enforcement caused students to migrate to the very drugs which the authorities considered to be the most dangerous.

  3. 4

    spews:

    So the end result was that the effort to avoid enforcement caused students to migrate to the very drugs which the authorities considered to be the most dangerous.

    Heh.. Prohibition – the ultimate “gateway” drug!

  4. 5

    rhp6033 spews:

    By the way, if the History Channel is to be believed, prohibition did put an end to one rather unhealthy aspect of pre-prohibition drinking.

    It wasn’t unusual prior to prohibition for taverns to sell draft beer by the bucket. Some families would send their kids to the tavern to get the daily bucket of beer filled for dinner. But since draft beer spoils quickly after being removed from a refigerated barrel, it has to be consumed within a few hours.

    I can tell you from experience, working in a bar at age 18, that the smell of stale beer in the morning can be rather sickening.

    So patrons were essentially encouraged to drink the beer all night long until it was consumed, rather than waste it. This certainly encouraged drunkeness and the social cost which accompanies it.

    But the end of prohibition brought in taxes and the liquor stamp, which couldn’t be affixed to a bucket of beer. So the bucket of beer dissapeared, in favor of bottled beer which were properly labeled and taxed. The bottles didn’t encourage consumption as much, in that they could easily be left to be consumed the next day, or the day after that.

  5. 6

    Brenda Helverson spews:

    hp6033 @ 3 & 5, Thanks! That was interesting. I had never considered the “concentrated dose” aspect. I suppose that hash and hash oil might be yet another example.

    I’m voting No on the liquor Initiatives. Right now the point of sale is disconnected from the income stream to the State. A State liquor store clerk can check every ID and can refuse a sale without affecting his salary (he may even be rewarded for his diligence) and if he bends the rules, the State Clerk is a lot easier to catch.

    Private sellers have an immediate profit motive and the outcome, particularly for buyers with inadequate ID, is hard for me to dismiss.

  6. 9

    spews:

    @5
    I can tell you from experience, working in a bar at age 18, that the smell of stale beer in the morning can be rather sickening.

    If you want to experience that smell at maximum strength, walk down Bourbon St one morning during Mardi Gras. The whole street is just covered with beer-soaked garbage…

  7. 11

    Mr. Cynically Crazy spews:

    This one of those issues that seems such a no-brainer I just can’t even understand WHERE the disagreement comes from.

    Democrats and rational folks who use science know for a fact that marijuana, even the ‘stronger’ stuff today is less, and certainly no MORE, harmful than a carton of Camels or bottle of vodka. So…er…no scientific reason for it to be illegal.

    Republicans hate big government intruding in our lives and telling us “free people” how to live (unless you’re gay). So Republicans should support this since it involves a less intrusive government and more “freedom”(tm).

    So WHO’s arguing that the government SHOULD tell us what to do on a product that’s LESS dangerous than other currently available products? An eight year old can buy a bottle of Tylenol today, pour that into a bowl, eat it and die (shortly)…since it will shutdown your liver. But that’s legal. Marijuana which doesn’t cause as much cancer as cigarettes (legal) or damage your internal organs as much as Tylenol (legal) or lead to as many driving deaths as alcohol (legal) is being held off by the government why? Because of a 1910s-1940’s silly magical superstition about “jazz” and the devils weed and how it might make a black man have the nerve to look into a white woman’s eyes or even step on her shadow. Think that’s silly…it’s also true, actual reasons for used back then. Now a days, not sure what the reasoning is….

  8. 12

    spyder spews:

    Just a small point. Prop 19 is rather poorly worded, and would encourage corporate agriculture to engage in the growing of marijuana and hemp.

    This would certainly reduce the illegal marijuana trade from Mexico, and significantly lower the price which would be offset by increases the taxes (and thus bringing in substantial revenue). It will also provide opportunities for clone development and developers.

    On the other side, it will hurt the medical growers substantially, both economically and politically. That in turn will reduce the availability of large quantities of cash into the green economies of the current growing regions of CA. It may also increase the need for security personnel to monitor the large scale farms, thus inviting private security armies into the picture. It isn’t hard now to jump on a farm and steal some tomatoes and corn, but imagine if those fields were bud waiting to be harvested.

  9. 14

    Michael spews:

    @13
    Oops, no linkage.

    href=”http://www.youtube.com/user/FLuffeeTalks#p/u/3/zL27ggTJMhk”