There has been an interesting documentary series running on TV about Prohibition in the USA. Thus far we are up to the third of five installments  The 18th amendment, which invoked prohibition, is the only amendment to have ever been repealed. And for the simple reason that not only did it not work, it created a series of other problems.

I will confess that the 1920’s and 30’s is a time, which has always fascinated me. A period between two massive wars, which saw great wealth accumulated, followed by the 1929 crash and then depression.

Some interesting snippets from the documentary include the exclusions to prohibition, which included usage of wine for religious purposes. Apparently church and synagogue attendances increased and there were a surprisingly large number of applications for exemptions from “men of the church”.

Two of the most successful bootleggers were a former police officer and a lawyer. Both knew that the way to keep operating was to make sure everyone got paid. And of course Al Capone and a host of gangsters got wealthy providing liquor to the populace. Some specialized in deliveries to Congress!

In Australia a “prohibition light” occurred at a similar time. This was portrayed in Underbelly Razor. When the New South Wales government decided to ban the sale of alcohol after 6pm it did not stop people wanting to drink after work. No surprises then that criminals were happy to cater to and profit from the publics thirst and the governments incompetence.

As in the USA there was no impact on alcohol intake but crime and corruption flourished. The 6 o’clock swill as it became known was abolished in 1954.

There is no question that excess consumption of alcohol causes health problems. Moderate consumption does not. Attempts at prohibition have failed wherever they have been tried.

The arguments in favor of any prohibition always turn on the fact that the substance being banned is or can be harmful. That is not actually the point. The point is whether the prohibition achieves what is intended and without creating other problems, which may be worse than the one being “solved”.

Some 90 years on people of “earnestness” still think that prohibiting substances is the answer. This week’s guest post (see below) looks at the lack of progress and the costs thereof. Prohibiting drugs has had a similar effect to that of alcohol. Usage has not been reduced but criminals have become wealthy. The additional cost has been the loss of life especially in Mexico where there have been some 30,000 murders in the last five years.

Open slather is not the answer but neither is more of the same. Jails in the USA are beyond bursting point and here in Australia some 80% of inmates are imprisoned on drug related charges. Most of these are young men. They are all someone’s son.

Drug use is not good for health but compounding it with jail does not improve things. Yet despite what you may hear, the problems and indeed deaths related to prescription drugs dwarves that of illicit drugs. The lines between legal and illegal mood altering substances is extremely thin!

We need a major rethink in our attitudes to drug use across the board. This includes the use of legal and illegal substances and also the use of pills to make us feel better about life’s ups and downs.

Is it really better to take a Valium or Prozac than to have a scotch or a joint? There may not be an answer to that. Might it be better to deal with what is troubling you?  The answer is yes!

And as to the direction forward? The words of President, Jimmy Carter who told congress in 1977 “Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself” are a useful guide to the direction we need to head.