Johann Hari had a brilliant in-depth article in The Independent last Friday where he drew parallels between the current prohibition of drugs and the US experiences of prohibition in the 1920s and early 1930s until it was abolished in 1933.
Here's are a couple of snippets:
When you ban a popular drug that millions of people want, it doesn't disappear. Instead, it is transferred from the legal economy into the hand of armed criminal gangs. Across America, gangsters rejoiced that they had just been handed one of the biggest markets in the country, and unleashed an Armada of freighters, steamers, and even submarines to bring booze back. Nobody who wanted a drink went without. As the journalist Malcolm Bingay wrote: "It was absolutely impossible to get a drink, unless you walked at least ten feet and told the busy bartender in a voice loud enough for him to hear you above the uproar."
Once a product is controlled only by criminals, all safety controls vanish - and the drug becomes far more deadly. After 1921, it became common to dilute and relabel poisonous industrial alcohol, which could still legally be bought, and sell it by the pint-glass. This "rotgut" caused epidemics of paralysis and poisoning. For example, one single batch of bad booze permenantly crippled 500 people in Wichita in early 1927 - a usual event. That year, 760 people were poisoned to death by bad booze in New York City alone. So many people became partially paralysed by an industrial alcohol known as 'Jake' that a shuffling, stumbling inability to walk was known 'Jake leg.' Wayne Wheeler persuaded the government not to remove fatal toxins from industrial alcohol, saying it was good to keep this 'disincentive' in place.Prohibition's flaws were so obvious that the politicians in charge privately admitted the law was self-defeating. Warren Harding brought $1800 of booze with him to the White House, while Andrew Mellon - in charge of enforcing the law - called it "unworkable." Similarly, the last three Presidents of the US have been recreational drug users in their youth. If the law was enforced in full, they would all have been ineligible to vote, never mind enter the Oval Office. Once he ceased to be President, Bill Clinton called for the decriminalisation of cannabis, and Obama probably will too. Yet in office, they continue to mouth prohibitionist platitudes about "eradicating drugs", and insist the rest of the world's leaders resist the calls for greater liberalisation from their populations and instead "crack down" on the drug gangs - no matter how much violence it unleashes
It's well worth reading the full article here.