Brings the mind the common statement that those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.
An increasing number of world leaders are concluding that laws against drug consumption do more harm than good.
Tomorrow marks the 79th anniversary of the beginning of the end of the U.S. prohibition on alcohol. On that day in 1932 John D. Rockefeller Jr., a vociferous advocate of temperance, called for the repeal of the 18th amendment.
Rockefeller had not changed his views on the destructiveness of drink, and he asked for ongoing "support of practical measures for the promotion of genuine temperance." But he insisted that lifting prohibition was essenti al if America was to "restore public respect for the law."
Rockefeller's reversal came to mind last week when the Global Commission on Drug Policy issued a joint report "describ[ing] the drug war as a failure and call[ing] for a paradigm shift in global drug policy."
Like Rockefeller, the commission members do not embrace a laissez-faire policy toward drug use. But they recognize, as he did, that the attempt to use force to halt consumption has been disastrous. They recommend alternative approaches to controlling substances and more emphasis on treatment for addicts.
The parallels between the situation Rockefeller faced and today's scandalous war on drugs are dramatic. The wealthy philanthropist had begun his campaign against alcohol with great expectations. "When the Eighteenth Amendment was passed I earnestly hoped—with a host of advocates of temperance—that it would be generally supported by public opinion" and, he wrote, that teetotaling would eventually take hold.
"That this has not been the result but rather that drinking generally has increased; that the speakeasy has replaced the saloon, not only unit for unit, but probably two-fold if not three-fold; that a vast army of lawbreakers has been recruited and financed on a colossal scale; that many of our best citizens, piqued at what they regarded as an infringement of their private rights, have openly and unbashed[ly] disreg arded the Eighteenth Amendment; that as an inevitable result respect for all law has greatly lessened; that crime has increased to an unprecedented degree—I have slowly reluctantly come to believe."
He noted that any "benefits" from the 18th amendment were "more than outweighed by the evils that ha[d] developed and flourished since its adoption, evils which, unless promptly checked," were "likely to lead to conditions unspeakably worse than those which prevailed before."