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Prohibition Laws Never Work

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Vice and morality laws - I call them "prohibition laws" because they try to prohibit certain actions - are typically shaped by cultural, religious, and societal norms. The larger problem is that, based on the evidence, they simply don't work. Most of these aim to regulate behaviors that are perceived as detrimental to individuals or society. They often focus on activities related to alcohol, drugs, gambling, prostitution, and obscenity, but are mostly focused on attitudes and actions that one group finds objectionable even if no one else does. Some societal attitudes change over time leading to adjustments in prohibition laws. There are some jurisdictions that have decriminalized or even legalized certain actions or attitudes that were once considered vices (e.g., marijuana).

Much of the controversy surrounding these laws regards their subjectivity, i.e., determining what is morally acceptable - and unacceptable - can be subjective and varies across cultures and time periods. To quote an old comedy movie where the protagonist asks, "how many people have you brutally murdered?", the response was "'Brutal' is a subjective word. After all, what might be brutal to one person may be perfectly reasonable to someone else."

Critics of these laws may also argue that they infringe upon individual freedoms and privacy, and that balancing enforcement with personal autonomy is an ongoing challenge. It’s important to recognize that a law, even if properly issued by a legitimate authority, is not truly a law if it conflicts with morality. The distinction between legal and moral is clear: what is legal isn’t necessarily moral, and what is immoral shouldn’t always be illegal. A classic example is slavery in the U.S., which was legal until the mid-19th century, but even before then was widely considered immoral. And while laws play a crucial role in maintaining order and justice, they must still align with our shared moral compass to truly serve society’s best interests.

"And if the music stops, there's only the sound of the rain. All the hope and glory, all the sacrifice in vain, and if the love remains though everything is lost, we will pay the price but we will not count the cost."


Good Intentions

If we've learned anything from the American Prohibition Era (1920-1933), it's that criminalizing an act or a product does not eliminate that act or product itself, but merely drives it underground. Yes, there were some distinct improvements as a result of passing the 18th Amendment (which prohibited the sale, distribution, and consumption of alcoholic beverages), at least for a couple of years. Many people were forced to "sober up" and change their lives. Worker production improved as a result of people not showing up to work intoxicated, so companies prospered. As an indirect result, families also prospered financially, and personal health began to improve. There were fewer incidents of alcoholism, cirrhosis, and there were fewer accidents. Domestic abuse, stealing, public intoxication, murder, theft, prostitution, and disorderly conduct incidents all declined significantly.

"If we burn our wings flying too close to the sun, if the moment of glory is over before it's begun, if the dream is won though everything is lost, we will pay the price but we will not count the cost."


Disastrous Results

But it also exposed a number of ugly societal aspects that had been previously hidden. Younger Americans wanted to drink because it was forbidden, outlawed, and exciting. Others did not want to be controlled by the government or denied the pleasures of alcohol. Organized crime exploded because of Prohibition making it difficult for Prohibition to be completely successful. The government lost millions (or billions) of dollars when Prohibition didn't allow them to make money off the taxes that would have been derived from the sale of alcohol. Many people died of alcohol poisoning from trying to make "bathtub gin", poor-quality alcohol that had no common control or regulation to act as guidance. Alcohol substitutes such as tobacco, marijuana, and hashish began to increase as more people started to use them. Prison population also increased by as much as 1000% because more people were being locked up in jails due to some illegal activity involving alcohol.

"When the dust has cleared and victory denied, a summit too lofty, river a little too wide, if we keep our pride though paradise is lost, we will pay the price but we will not count the cost."


The government, with the help of many "moral" organizations, had made a law intended to control a person's morality, but after twelve years of Prohibition, they started to realize that there were many more people who were willing to risk (and accept) the consequences in defiance of that law. Ultimately, Prohibition made enough people realize that laws cannot control a person's morality or their choices, and that each person's morality is up to that person. In the end, the 18th Amendment was repealed by the 21st Amendment.

Unfortunately, the government does not seem to have learned the lessons of the American Prohibition Era because, a century later, they are still trying to legislate morality, just not with alcohol.


Committee to Elect Darren Hamilton
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