Rum and marijuana

As verbal warfare and crossfire over the legalisation of marijuana continues, it would surprise many people to know that alcohol, available everywhere in Grenada today, had to fight the same battle that marijuana is fighting for exactly the same reasons.

If we juxtapose them side by side in their early struggles for recognition amazing similarities, patterns, and parallels will emerge.

In the 19th century, global mass movements blamed alcohol for all the evils of society – crime, prostitution, poverty. Powerful special-interest lobbies spearheaded by national “temperance” campaigns pressured governments to outlaw the “demon drink”.

As we know, marijuana is called the “demon weed”. By early 20th century prohibition laws had banned the manufacture, transportation, sale, and import/export trade of alcohol liquors in United States, Europe, Asia, and elsewhere.

In 1920 the U.S. Congress mandated alcohol prohibition by the 18th Amendment of the Constitution, the highest law of the land, and offenders faced heavy fines and jail terms. However, government intervention in the alcohol market had an unintended socioeconomic backlash.

The ban created an artificial scarcity with skyrocketing demand prices and criminals saw a lucrative window of opportunity to make money by filling the vacuum.

The criminalisation of alcohol drove it underground to blackmarketers, contrabandists, bootleg smugglers, and rumrunners. Clandestine rum distilleries became flourishing backwoods industries of organised crime controlled by crime syndicates, drug tycoons, and the infamous mafia.

U.S. high-proof alcohol made by renegade manufacturers was given fancy names like “moonshine” and “white lightening”. In Grenada “mountain dew” (babash) remains a legacy from the “good old days” of prohibition. All this resonates with the marijuana struggles where dealers are forced to ply their illicit trade outside the law and have been on the run since the thirties.

U.N. Conventions have declared cannabis a prohibited drug criminalising it worldwide. The end results are violent gang wars, drug cartels, and drug trafficking everywhere with the negative social fallout.

Alcohol is classified as a depressant with an ethanol base compound. Chronic alcoholics risk contracting toxic poisoning, cirrhosis of the liver, cardiac arrest, fetal alcohol syndrome, deficient immune system, and brain damage. But numerous scientific studies extol the virtues of moderate drinking claiming its benefits for a healthier heart, cognitive brain power, longevity, obesity, libido, prostate and gallstones, and even arthritis. But NIDA statistics rate alcohol 40% more addictive than marijuana, a sedative medical experts claim has proven healing power for many ailments.

As a case study, U.S. prohibition lasted fourteen years (1920 -1933) wreaking havoc on the social fabric of the country in a period aptly called “The Roaring Twenties”. Consequently, concerned social scientists, religious movements, and economists of the time decided to petition Congress for the repeal of the law. They justified revocation on the following grounds. First, even in a theocracy under extremist Islamic fundamentalism governments cannot legislate morality in private life, and America was a democracy of fundamental human rights and freedoms.

Second, prohibition had failed its mission to curb the drinking of alcoholic beverages; instead it had increased it nationwide. The court system, police departments, and prisons were clogged with cases of alcohol infringements and the inadequate law enforcement authorities were overwhelmed by the deluge of crime.

Third, the prohibition of alcohol was perpetuating rampant corruption, bribery, extortion, and blackmail among politicians and law enforcement officials and misdemeanours and felonies like murder had increased a tenfold.

Fourth, prohibition had created a scarcity that was forcing people to switch to dangerous drugs like cocaine, opium, and heroin. In addition, much of the unregulated alcohol was killing people from lead poisoning and contamination whereas regulated production would guarantee consumer safety.

Fifth, government was wasting millions of tax revenue on enforcement expenditure and collecting nothing while drug magnates grew obscenely rich.

As shown, the pre-legalisation struggles of alcohol and marijuana share compelling commonalities, the parallels are real, the insights instructive. In context, the early alcohol experience is virtually a mirror image of the contemporary marijuana experience – like déjà vu all over again.

In the United States it took the amendment of an amendment, a procedure unprecedented in their constitutional history, to try to reverse the serious harm the alcohol prohibition law was doing to the country.

In December 1933, Congress repealed the prohibition law by amending the 18th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution with the 21st Amendment legalising the production, distribution, sale, and consumption of alcoholic liquors in all 48 States.

In Grenada today alcohol prohibition is not even in the laws of our constitution according to Minister of Economic Development. There are no market restrictions on production, distribution, or sale, and since there is no age limit on consumption even school children are free to drink rum “providing it is contained in covered vessels!”.

But with marijuana it is a different story. As Prime Minister Gonzales recently intimated, negative hysterics tend to be the instant knee-jerk reaction to the marijuana question.

Jay Bruno

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