October 19, 2012
What Rick Steves Doesn't Know About Prohibition
Yesterday, the travel writer was on
John Carlson's show,
plugging the latest effort to legalize marijuana in Washington state. (For almost all
practical purposes, it is legal in Seattle.)
During their conversation, Steves appeared to be surprised by Carlson's claim that Prohibition
had reduced alcohol consumption in the United States. But Carlson was right, as many
historians have concluded.
Here's a summary of the evidence from the
The consumption of alcohol overall went down by half in the 1920s; and it remained below
pre-Prohibition levels until the 1940s.
The best evidence for that decline that I've seen is the decrease in
Of particular importance was the discovery of a relationship between cirrhosis mortality
rates and per capita levels of alcohol consumption in the population. This relationship has
proved to be remarkably strong and has been consistently observed across time periods and
in various regions of the world (Bruun et al. 1975; Ramstedt 2001; Smart and Mann 1991).
. . .
Cirrhosis mortality rates in the United States have changed substantially over time. Early
in the 20th century, these rates were at their highest point. As shown in figure 2, overall
cirrhosis mortality rates declined precipitously with the introduction of Prohibition. When
Prohibition ended, alcohol consumption and cirrhosis mortality rates increased until the late
1960s and early 1970s, when these rates began to approach levels seen in the first decade
of the century.
(Cirrhosis rates fell from about 22 per 100,000 to about 11 per 100,000.)
What interests me about that exchange on the Carlson show is that Steves doesn't
know that Prohibition did, in fact, reduce alcohol consumption. Steves has been
advocating legalization of marijuana for years, and you would think he would have encountered
these facts about Prohibition.
Perhaps he has encountered this evidence and simply rejected it, since it isn't
convenient for his legalization argument. Almost everyone makes this kind
of mistake from time to time, even those who know about this trap, and try hard to avoid
it. (There are other, less pleasant, explanations for the gap, which I won't get into,
since I don't know enough about Steves' thinking. And I won't make the obvious
joke about the effects of marijuana on IQ.)
Cross posted at
Jim Miller on Politics.
(One can recognize that legalizing marijuana will increase its use, and its bad health effects,
including lung cancer — and still favor legalization, for many reasons. But I
do think that those who favor legalization should be honest about the costs, as well as the
Steves denies that legalizing marijuana will increase its use, but was inconsistent on whether he
favors increased use. I think he probably does, especially if it replaces alcohol.)
Posted by Jim Miller at October 19, 2012
06:40 AM | Email This
1. I'm torn on this issue. Not sure why we would maintain the 'legal' tag on alcohol when it causes so much damage to our country...guess it's follow the money and the high-powered lobbies?
With the strict enforcement on drinking and driving, the loss of so many lives as a peripheral and the terrible grief to families and loved ones I'm perplexed as to why we still consider alcohol 'legal'. We would and do term a human being 'illegal', yet consider this substance 'legal'...go figure. :)
2. Duffman, alcohol and marijuana are like everything else (e.g. guns), the responsibility is on the individual to use them appropriately. When they don't, they break the law. Lots of perfectly legal products are this way.
3. #2 Thank you; thus, may I assume you would vote 'Yes' on this issue.
4. @3 Yes, I am voting for it.
I think we can all agree that the prohibition against alcohol in the last century was a well intentioned idea that proved about as wrong-headed as anything we Americans could have come up with. I enjoyed Ken Burns documentary on Prohibition, and the phrase that struck me as the point of the documentary was this: It was harder to get a drink after Prohibition ended than when Prohibition was in effect. In other words, Prohibition did just exactly the opposite of its intended purpose. And it gave us organized crime to boot!!
We in Washington have the opportunity to assert our rights as a separate state when it comes to acknowledging a failed, 70-year-old federal policy when it comes to cannabis. I fully support I-502 as a step in the right dierction in bolstering individual liberty. Vot "YES" on I-502!!
I also have to throw my hat with the 'yes' party on this issue.
While it will be mainly symbolic due to the federal laws, it is still a start. While you are praising Prohibition for the decline in medical issues, you are ignoring the crime issues. Yeah, maybe cirrhosis went down, but lead poisoning went WAY up. If marijuana became legal, it would be one less thing the Mexican drug cartels would cause problems over. Just my observation.
(Full disclosure: I am not a pot smoker and I rarely drink.)
'I am not a pot smoker and I rarely drink.
You really should 'drink' often you know...water is very good for you. ;)
8. Perhaps Steves inhaled before the interview. :)
9. Well, as long as everyone understands that even if this passes, it legalizes nothing and will likely be tossed at the first federal hearing, then vote away.
@9 "Well, as long as everyone understands that even if this passes, it legalizes nothing and will likely be tossed at the first federal hearing, then vote away."
The Federal government cannot challenge the decriminalization/legalization aspect that basically wipes out all state and municipal laws in Washington against adult possession. The other parts can be challenged like the tax collection.
The Feds cannot penalize or countermand a state for simply removing laws from their own books. The Feds also cannot compel local, county, or state police to enforce Federal law.
State's rights, bro.
11. In my experience stoners will do almost anything to rationalize their abuse of pot. We have the appropriate amount of sorrow, disdain and hope for those who abuse alcohol, cocaine, meth, heroin, etc. But somehow potheads want to be looked at as respectable people who just happen to use marijuana. Um no. It's just another drug. Your either a stoner or not.
Are you implying that alcohol prohibition was a good thing because it reduced consumption? Really? Prohibition was repealed because the effects of prohibition were far worse than the effects of alcohol consumption. The same thing applies to marijuana prohibition.
As far as knowing the facts, this is the pot calling the kettle black. Using marijuana has no serious health consequences, either physically or mentally. Your claim that it causes lung cancer is totally off the wall. The largest study of marijuana users ever done (Dr. Donald Tashkin, UCLA) shows that people who smoke marijuana have fewer occurrences of lung cancer than people who don't smoke anything. Marijuana smokers who also smoke tobacco have fewer occurrences of lung cancer than those who smoke only tobacco
The problem here is not whether I am "for" or "against" state's rights, as anyone not disingenuous knows.
The problem is that federal law supersedes state law. Constitution 101 and that pesky 10th Amendment:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
federally, dope is illegal. This initiative does not delegate a federal power to the states. The 10th Amendment will keep it illegal.
Passage of this initiative will not make it any less illegal at the federal level. Passage of, for example, medical pot laws has not stopped the DEA and others from raiding suppliers. This initiative won't stop them from raiding these, either. Further, as I said, the first federal court this gets into will ever keep it from seeing the light of day.
And you really should look into what the fed can, or cannot do, before you shoot off your mouth on the subject.
Take this to federal court and it gets blown to pieces.
Since you asked.
14. I can't wait for cocain to come back as a viable product. Was society worse then? Maybe....but then again, probably not. I think sugar is worse..or maybe red bull. or anything that you over-indulge in. Gambling? Sex? Pringles?...you know once you pop you can't stop.
15. I take it from the article you feel that legislating behavior you disagree with is acceptable?
16. I take it from the article you feel that legislating behavior you disagree with is acceptable?
17. Your either a stoner or not
So if you drink alcohol you're either an alcoholic or a teetotaler? Makes as much sense. Tons of people smoke marijuana in moderation. This is about individual responsibility and liberty.
@13, Uh.. hinton, you may want to re-parse that sentence. "United States" refers to the United States of America -- e.g., the Federal Government. States (the word alone) refers to the individual States. People refers to the individual citizens.
Powers *NOT* delegated to the [Federal Government] by the Constitution, nor [powers] prohibited by [the Constitution] to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. The default position: The Federal Government has no power. The States (and individuals) hold all power except that is explicitly delegated to the Federal Government via the Constitution.
Your statement that "federally, dope is illegal" may be true but that doesn't make it Constitutional, and your quoted sentence in fact demonstrates the opposite. The Constitution does NOT delegate to the Federal Government the power to decide what substance an individual citizen may choose to ingest.
When die the "War on Drugs" with its accompanying hundreds of billions of dollars spent on it begin? Wasn't it in the 1970s during the Nixon administration?
There are other ways to achieve better health results than prohibition.
The drug policy of Portugal was put in place in 2000, to be legally effective from July 2001. The new law maintained the status of illegality for using or possessing any drug for personal use without authorization. However, the offense was changed from a criminal one, with prison a possible punishment, to an administrative one if the amount possessed was no more than ten days' supply of that substance.
There are, however, statistical indicators that suggest the following correlations between the drug strategy and the following developments, from July 2001 up to 2007:
- Increased uptake of treatment.
- Reduction in HIV diagnoses amongst drug users by 17%
- Reduction in drug related deaths, although this reduction has decreased in later years, and the number of drug related deaths is now almost on the same level as before the Drug strategy was implemented. However, this may be accounted for by improvement in measurement practices, which includes a doubling of toxicological autopsies now being performed, meaning that more drugs related deaths are likely to be recorded.
- Reported lifetime use of "all illicit drugs" increased from 7.8% to 12%, lifetime use of cannabis increased from 7.6% to 11.7%, cocaine use more than doubled, from 0.9% to 1.9%, ecstasy nearly doubled from 0.7% to 1.3%, and heroin increased from 0.7% to 1.1%. It has been proposed that this effect may have been related to the candor of interviewees, who may have been inclined to answer more truthfully due to a reduction in the stigma associated with drug use. However, during the same period, the use of heroin and cannabis also increased in Spain and Italy, where drugs for personal use was decriminalised many years earlier than in Portugal while the use of Cannabis and heroin decreased in the rest of Western Europe.
- Drug use among adolescents (13-15 yrs) and "problematic" users declined.
- Drug-related criminal justice workloads decreased
- Decreased street value of most illicit drugs, some significantly.
To my mind the approach Portugal has taken has shown much better cost/benefit results than an endless war on drugs and personal liberty.
According to a Wikipedia article, there's research that long term use of marijuana causes mental disorders.
This is a bit off topic, but a few years ago there were articles here about Rick Steves' video on Iran. The writer said that it seems that that Rick Steves' had a minder from the Iranian government. In his book, Travel as a Political Act, Steves acknowledges this. He also was subject to a long screening by the Iranian government before it approved his trip.
MBS @ 19,
Yes, you're correct. Portugal's approach makes much more sense.
The Supreme Court doesn't do a good job of enforcing the 10th Amendment. Otherwise, ObamaCare would be gone.
People growing or selling marijuana will be legally vulnerable even if it is perfectly legal and people are warned of any adverse health effects. Ask the tobacco industry.
23. I lean conservative and I'm voting for Romney and McKenna, but I'm also voting for this initiative. Marijuana has not been shown to cause cancer. In fact it has been shown to kill cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone. Also, while prohibition did cause increased usage, it certainly did not cause safer streets. Making marijuana illegal just puts all the money in the hands of criminals who don't ask for ID when kids try to buy it. It is know to be far safer than alcohol, as the lancet, a UK medical journal(among others) has reported. Also, I do not see this law being overturned. Precedent has shown that medical marijuana is allowed in 14 states without the federal courts striking down the laws. There have been raids on these medical shops, but many remain open. The federal government cannot force a state to have any law. The state is below the federal law, but that only means that they cant have a law that STOPS the feds from enforcing federal law. 502 is just the state saying, were not getting involved in arresting people for marijuana, but feds, you can do what you want. No conflict there.
24. Search the web for "The Emperor Wears No Clothes" by Jack Herer. Great researched facts about the demonizing and prohibition of the hemp plant.
From the links Jim cited:
It is not clear if Prohibition did reduce per-capita consumption of alcohol.
However, cirrhosis mortality in the United States, Canada, and some other regions began to decline in the mid-1970s, before per capita consumption rates began to go down (also see figure 2). This is the opposite of what would be expected based on the hypothesized lagged relationship between per capita consumption and cirrhosis mortality rates.
Note that the rate of alcohol consumption in the United States has declined over the past few decades, despite all of the money spent on advertising for alcoholic drinks, and the economic success of the very active craft brewing movement.
Perhaps he has encountered this evidence and simply rejected it, since it isn't convenient for his ... argument.
You'd know all about that, wouldn't you, Jim?
Your argument in #13 is the strangest one I've seen in a long time.
The 10th Amendment has absolutely no bearing on the constitutionality of Federal drug law. Quite the contrary; it says that unless there is a specific grant of authority to the federal government somewhere in the constition, that authority does not belong to the feds but instead remains with the states, or the people. Our predecessors, though misguided (imo) in enacting Prohibition, were at least honest enough to admit that they couldn't do it without a constitional amendment!
It's rude to stare at other people.You set me up!Good luck!You may choose whatever you like.Tomorrow will be a holiday.He sat with his arms across the chest.He sat with his arms across the chest.It is growing cool.How's it going? Suppose it rains,what shall we do?
Hinton: The tenth amendment is a reason that federal drug laws should be overturned, not state intiatives that get rid of local drug laws.
Please point to me where in the constitution the feds are authorized to prohibit drugs? Also explain why we amended the constitution to prohibit Alcohol?
29. I posted a comment linking to this article at Rick Steves' web site. It was deleted.
LesLein: I have had an exceptional number of comments deleted from this website, so unfortunately you can not really complain when other sites delete links to this one.