In order to answer the question and fairly evaluate whether or not prohibition is indeed flawed, we first need to understand exactly what it is.
What is prohibition and why does it exist?
Prohibition started back in 1920 when the 18th Amendment was introduced. It meant that the making, purchase and sale of alcohol became illegal for four main reasons.
- It was thought that by banning alcohol, the supply of essential grains would be boosted.
- The nation turned against it when the US entered the war in 1917 as the Anti-Saloon League began arguing that it was causing damage to society.
- It was against God’s will
- It was believed to be wrong for Americans to enjoy alcohol while their youth were fighting a war.
In 1929, the introduction of the 21st Amendment annulled the country’s alcohol ban, but it wasn’t to stop there.
Over the years there have been a number of substances and behaviors prohibited throughout the US including alcohol, drugs and online gambling.
Essentially, a substance – such as alcohol or cannabis – or a pastime like online gambling is prohibited when the Government classifies that act as being harmful and without practical use.
Prohibition or regulation?
It’s generally considered that a governing body has three options: prohibit, regulate or do nothing, and the general consensus is that prohibition is the worst of the three.
Take the Dutch stance on marijuana use, for example. In a 2011 University of California, Berkeley, study it was found that although cannabis use in the Netherlands had grown slightly, since the steadily evolving legalisation of marijuana began in 1976, this legislation hasn’t encouraged people to go in search of harder drugs.
According to the study, cannabis is highly available to the Dutch youth, but rates of availability are nowhere near as elevated as those reported in the US. Equally, in the US, around half of people admitted to treatment centres for marijuana addiction are admitted through the justice system. In the Netherlands, however, only around 10% are admitted through these means.
A similar issue arises with the subject of online gambling too because, until a recent Harvard study, the only primary data included in any previous studies was based on ‘self-reported’ gambling behavior.
Harvard partnered with Bwin.Party, gathering primary data from their web users: 47,000 users, over 80 different countries whom made EU38 million in bets. Upon analysis of the data, and a critical look at previous research based – with which the paper described a “major concern related to the exclusive use of self-reports is that actual behavior and self-reports of behavior are often inconsistent” (Baumeister et al. 2007) – the study went on to suggest that the US standpoint on gambling might not be the best way to tackle the social problems it is capable of creating:
“US citizens might gamble online as much as they would have if it were legal, but use unscrupulous vendors to do so and lose the protections afforded by regulated, legitimate commerce.”
How is prohibition flawed?
It’s largely believed that prohibiting behaviours and substances can encourage the undertaking of criminal behaviour. When prohibition was originally introduced in 1920, it led to a hive of illegal speakeasies and a market which was perfect for the growth of smugglers and gangsters. In the end, it led to bloodshed in perhaps the most infamous battle of the time, the 1929 Valentine’s Day Massacre, when Al Capone’s men killed seven members of a rival gang.
By prohibiting an act it merely encourages average citizens to look for a way around the system, consequently classifying them as criminals. It also leads to a loss of revenue for the government and an inability to implement taxes on behaviours as people turn to external sources to gamble, import alcohol etc.
Prohibition also prevents industry regulation and this essentially opens the doors to organized crime gangs and foreign interests, just like those of 1920-29.
While on the surface it might seem like prohibition carries a number of benefits, in reality the best way of dealing with acts that are, or are going to be, prohibited, is to regulate them. By doing so, the government maintains control and crime is kept to a minimum.
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