Much of the reason governments claim to prohibit drugs is to protect citizens from harming themselves. These laws are enforced through arrests, fines and lengthy prison sentences. But does prohibition actually prevent drug use? No, education does.
Learning from Our Success In Decreasing Tobacco Consumption
After U.S. Surgeon General Luther B. Terry formally announced the connection of tobacco smoking to cancer in 1964, there has been a sharp drop in the percentage of American tobacco smokers—a decrease of 63 percent from its peak in 1963.
A Nov. 14, 2008 report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that fewer Americans are smoking cigarettes today than at any time in modern history. This 2008 government report stated, “The number of U.S. adults who smoke has dropped below 20 percent for the first time on record.” This is less than half of the 42 percent of Americans who smoked cigarettes in the 1960s. An early 2014 report on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Surgeon General Luther B. Terry’s announcement stated eight million early deaths due to smoking have been prevented.
Our experience with using education to decrease tobacco use is similar to the most effective drug law ever passed – the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. This federal law led to a quick and dramatic decline in the sale of patent medicines. That Act prohibited nothing. It merely required patent medicine companies to list a product’s ingredients on the label. Just people knowing what ingredients they were consuming in patent medicines ended what’s been called the “Golden Age of Quackery.” (1850-1905). The same effect of declining use has occurred with increased education and awareness about the adverse effects of tobacco, the most addictive conventional recreational drug known to man.
A September 2015 article in The Week said this.
In addressing the question of “Why have smoking rates dropped so dramatically,” fewer teens are starting to smoke in the first place, which helps. But a wave of state and city smoking bans for indoor spaces, including offices, restaurants and bars, have also made it increasingly inconvenient for existing smokers to light up outside the home. In the aftermath of those bans, a 2012 study showed hospitalizations for heart attacks and strokes fell at least 15 percent. The public-smoking bans did not merely force smokers to light up at home, as many health officials first feared, but have actually encouraged large numbers to kick the habit entirely. The percentage of smoke-free homes in Minnesota, following bans of restaurant, bar and workplace smoking, for example, grew from 64.5 percent in 1999 to 87.2 percent in 2010.
The article went on to say:
Television ads have proved a hugely successful way of rebranding smoking. One campaign in particular terrified huge numbers of smokers into chucking away their cigarettes: the 2012 “Tips From Former Smokers” campaign by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which featured harrowing videos of people who’d developed cancer, diabetes, emphysema and other diseases as a result of smoking.
There are millions of people who have never started smoking cigarettes due to the information and counter-advertising that resulted from this 1964 federal action. This led to widespread dissemination of the science documenting the health dangers of tobacco smoking. This success in reducing the use of this harmful drug, tobacco, was accomplished voluntarily without threat of criminal prosecution and arrest, imprisonment, probation or intrusive drug testing.
Help For Former Tobacco Farmers
Rather than accept the sage advice of the King County Bar Association to let the states be a laboratory for policy change as our founding fathers intended, some neoprohibitionists have thrown up barriers to harm reduction at every turn. Some objections border on the absurd. Whether or not concern about the economic fate of poor tobacco farmers is a genuine concern of those raising it, it can be addressed.
If there is a public-policy concern for the economic future of tobacco farmers, the United States could subsidize them to plant hemp or other grasses that can be used for biofuel. In areas where there is sufficient wind, some tobacco farms could be turned into wind farms.
Cannabis Use Rates vs. Tobacco Use
In contrast to tobacco consumption, marijuana use among the public skyrocketed in the mid-1960s. While cannabis use declined from the mid-1970s to the 1990s, its use has held steady since then at millions of daily users and tens of millions of occasional users. Over this same time period, state and local police have arrested over 25 million Americans for violating marijuana prohibition laws. These arrests are primarily for violations no greater than simple possession. As more citizens have had first hand experience with either recreational or medicinal cannabis they have come to appreciate/learn that the AMA was right in 1937 when they testified before the House Ways and Means Committee that “the AMA knows of no danger from the medicinal use of cannabis.”
Paul Armentano, NORML deputy director, commented on the U.S. policy regarding tobacco, “There’s a lesson to be learned here. We’ve cut cigarette smoking by half –- and we didn’t have to arrest 20 million Americans to do it.” That lesson is, trust people’s judgment, tell them the truth and let us learn from well-done studies, not junk science. Let state law, not federal law; address the issue of regulating medicine, as the Founding Fathers intended.”
This is an excerpt from my book Drugs Are Not the Devil’s Tools. The first edition is available now on Amazon and the second edition will be released in the Spring of 2017.