August 1, 1917. The United States Senate passed a resolution presenting the Eighteenth Amendment to the states for ratification. On January 16, 1919, Nebraska became the last state to ratify the amendment, and, after the passage of the Volstead Act soon after, the manufacture, sale, and transportation of intoxicating liquors, or alcohol, was prohibited in the United States.
Once alcohol was removed from the legal free market, the job of meeting the demands that many Americans still had at the time for their booze fell to the Black Market. The Prohibition Era gave rise to notorious gangsters like Arnold Rothstein, and, most infamously, Al Capone. Once Congress realized the utter failure of prohibition, the Twenty-First Amendment was ratified on December 5, 1933, and the Eighteenth Amendment was officially repealed.
October 27, 1970. Congress passed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, which, after a few modifications, gave the Drug Enforcement Agency, an unelected agency that answers to the Executive Branch, the power to decide which drugs get to go on the market. In June 1971, President Richard M. Nixon declared drug abuse to be “Public Enemy Number One,” and the War on Drugs began. In 1973 the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) was created to consolidate efforts to control drug abuse.
During the Reagan administration in the 1980s, the War on Drugs was greatly expanded. Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which allocated $1.7 billion to the war, and established mandatory minimum laws for various drug offenses. Much like the outcomes after the passage of the Volstead Act and the beginning of the Prohibition Era, the War on Drugs and the federal prohibition on narcotics opened the door for cartels to meet the high demand in America through the Black Market. Criminals across Mexico, Central America, and parts of South America became incredibly wealthy, violence across these regions increased, and, to this day, we are currently facing an opioid epidemic that is taking the lives of 115 Americans every day.
As in so many other areas of our constitutional Republic, federal intervention usually does more harm than good. The same is true for the federal prohibition on drugs. Not only does the Constitution not give the Federal Government, much less the unelected DEA, authority to regulate narcotics, but, if we were to interpret the document as it was written and ratified by the Founders and their posterity, state laws that allow recreational drug use are constitutional, as are those that prevent it.
Indeed, one of the most iconic symbols of American culture, Coca-Cola, used cocaine as a primary ingredient in its beverage during the late 1800s. Opium was the dominant narcotic in California, particularly amongst communities of Chinese immigrants, and was used to relieve all sorts of aches and pains. There is a history of drug, alcohol, and tobacco use that is deeply ingrained in American society.
Then there’s immigration. One of the hot topics in American politics today continues to be the building of a border wall. President Trump has made the wall a key piece in his strategy on ending illegal immigration. While the wall may indeed slow down the flow of migrants crossing the border, it does not address the root of the crisis. Many migrants trying to cross the border today aren’t even migrants, but rather asylum seekers escaping violence in what is known as the Northern Triangle. This region consists of three countries: Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. These three countries are currently ravaged by drug trafficking, gang violence, and corruption. The source of all this violence is rooted in a legacy of civil war during the late 20th century. Once these wars ended, demobilized, unemployed men with easy access to weapons saw wealth and opportunity in forming organized crime syndicates in the drug trade. Today, 90% of documented cocaine flows through the Northern Triangle.
One of the pillars of the conservative movement is the belief that we should interpret the Constitution as it was written by the Founders, and that the Federal Government should have only the power that was given to it in writing. A federal prohibition on narcotics is not found anywhere in the Constitution, and agencies like the Drug Enforcement Agency are products of the administrative state that has grown unchecked in Washington since the New Deal.
Prohibition is fiscally irresponsible, as seen in the Drug War’s 40-year $1 trillion price tag. History is also not on the side of prohibition, since we have the failures of the Eighteenth Amendment to look to. Finally, to solve the illegal immigration crisis, we need to address the problem at the source. Ending the federal prohibition on narcotics can and should be a conservative position.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.