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November 29, 2007 - Pasadena Weekly (CA)

Editorial: Lapping Up Freedom

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If you are a member of the Dewar family, makers of fine Scotch whisky, Wednesday -- the anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition -- might as well be Christmas Day.

In celebration of nearly 75 years of our hard-fought freedom to drink, Dewar's is launching a nationwide campaign to formally recognize Repeal Day -- when the 21st Amendment was written to overturn the 18th Amendment, which in 1920 had made alcohol an illegal substance.

Back in the 1920s and '30s, lawmakers decided that stuff that ignites and peels paint should not be ingested. It made sense, but it was doomed to fail. Why? People liked to drink, if only once in a while, and still did it, even if it was illegal to do so.

What also made sense, though, was that a vast but informal underground network for drinkers to continue imbibing would be established during that 13-year dry spell, and that an organized gangster class, with influence and power never seen before, would grow up around the distribution and sale of "illegal" hooch.

Of course, to combat this rise in "crime" there was, equally predictably, commensurate growth in the fields of law, law enforcement and the administration of justice.

But besides being even more toxic and potentially lethal, what makes alcohol any different than heroin, cocaine, or any other drug that is prohibited primarily because of the damage it does to the individual who uses it? After all, aren't these all public health and safety issues?

Part of the answer to that question goes back to the cops-and-robbers apparatus that was set up to battle bootleggers and the likes of Al Capone.

Writing citations for "illegal" use or sale of alcohol may be a thing of the past, but the police state that emerged to control booze and its purveyors is not. Far from it.

Whereas cops back in the Roaring '20s accomplished their goals of maintaining law and order with a wink, a nod and an occasional bribe, law enforcement today isn't looking away from the modern version of the Prohibition "criminal."

Possession of cocaine, especially "crack" cocaine, can land you in federal prison for 20 years, especially if you are African-American.

When it comes to marijuana, Californians tried to make it a legal substance for treating chronic illnesses, but federal authorities are having none of that and are using every tool in their power -- including long prison terms -- to wipe out pot once and for all.

None of these other drugs have been responsible for killing countless people on our nation's highways -- like alcohol has -- but they nonetheless have created their share of life's casualties. But isn't that really the user's business, just like your mom or dad's alcoholism is really their business?

You see, without alcohol to use in harassing and arresting people for their own good, the system needed something new and just as dangerous to help justify and perpetuate the jobs and payrolls of enforcement personnel -- officers, prosecutors, prison guards, etc.

Unregulated and untaxed pot, coke and crank -- mind-altering stuff, like alcohol, that some people like to do once in a while -- fit the bill nicely.

The tragic irony of all this is that some of the same lawmakers who made fortunes by taking kickbacks and bribes from the tobacco and alcohol industries -- responsible for the deaths of untold millions -- are the very same people who wrote and supported draconian legislation prohibiting use of these other substances.

So whether you're tipping your glass or falling off your stool while celebrating Repeal Day next week, remember there are lots of other laws -- and more than a few lawmakers -- that need to be tossed before we can celebrate our alleged freedom without reservation.

Also remember to not let Repeal Day turn into .08 Day, one that really will live in infamy, at least for you and your loved ones.

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