Though, of course, it depends on what your definition of success is.
Prohibition, the Volstead Act, the Eighteenth Amendment, was passed to curtail the plague of drinking with its host of terrible social repercussions. During its thirteen years (the “roaring twenties” into the beginning of the Great Depression) it did nothing to stop the consumption of alcohol, as it was intended to, but it did create mass contempt for a misguided law, many criminal millionaires, a wave of violence and a very lucrative, highly structured black-market industry which came to be known as Organized Crime.
Well-meaning citizens, and a certain proportion of religious fanatics, racists, xenophobes, enraged teetotalers, militantly organized to get the Eighteenth Amendment ratified in 1920. It then became unconstitutional to manufacture, transport or sell intoxicating spirits for the purposes of relaxation or enjoyment.
There was massive enforcement of the Eighteenth Amendment, on a scale unimaginable for the Fourteenth Amendment, which merely sought to protect the new freedom of millions of recently freed slaves. During Prohibition there was a surge in general lawlessness, thousands died getting high on bootlegged ‘bathtub gin’ and the murder rate spiked as bold, suddenly wealthy criminals who had no hesitation to use machine guns on competitors, cops and bystanders used such weapons.
Prohibition was repealed in 1933 when the Twenty-first Amendment was ratified. Americans had far worse problems by then than enforcing a useless, failed war on illegal booze. Hitler had already come to power in Germany. 1933 was a low point of the Great Depression, millions stood on line for bread and watery soup. And so forth. The Volstead Act had done its work, and good riddance.
Now we fast forward to 1970 and the reign of President Richard Nixon. It was the height of the rising “Culture War” and Nixon, although reputedly brilliant, was widely hated by millions of liberals and young people, whose pinko hatred he returned with grim, paranoid resolve. He was known to drink a lot of alcohol when under stress, and he was under continually escalating stress. Millions of his enemies were out on the street, loudly protesting the Vietnam War, the Draft, the continued de facto and de jure racism of our great freedom-loving democracy.
Nixon signed The Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”) into law in 1970, with the avowed purpose of regulating dangerous drugs that people increasingly used to get intoxicated, to run wild, to turn on, tune in, drop out. This federal law criminalized the distribution and possession of certain dangerous controlled substances and mandated harsh punishments of up to years in prison for the possession and use of such substances.
By a felicitous coincidence, under this law’s federal criminalization of drugs like marijuana, it was possible to arrest and imprison as many of Mr. Nixon’s hated enemies, including but not limited to Hippies and Yippies, as was deemed necessary, anywhere in the United States. These degenerate dope smokers, like jazz musicians, certain Negroes and many itinerant Mexican migrant workers before them, were now felons who could be put away under a federal law.
But how do you justify these arrests and long imprisonments for something it was possible to see as an infraction essentially no more evil than drinking a beer?
Schedules of dangerous, unlawful drugs were created as part of the CSA. Drugs were organized into legal categories, with Schedule One containing all the most dangerous drugs. These were drugs like heroin, with a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use in the United States. These drugs were deemed extremely destructive, even under controlled medical supervision, drugs so harmful that even research on these terrible substances was generally banned.
Naturally, marijuana is a Schedule One drug, classified with the most pernicious drugs known to man. Oddly, cocaine, produced pharmaceutically and used by dentists and millions of others, was not included on Schedule One (heroin was much more prevalent in 1970, cocaine didn’t come into its own until later). Marijuana and cocaine, two of America’s most popular illegal drugs, are at the heart of the ruthless, highly lucrative, decades-old international production and smuggling cartels that kill thousands every year in places like Mexico.
Forty-six years later — leaving aside the many actually murdered during this almost half century of surprisingly unsuccessful new Prohibition — millions of dope smokers have been arrested, imprisoned, lives ruined by criminal records, professional licenses revoked, because the CSA has never been adjusted to reflect current research on the many now amply demonstrated medical uses of marijuana.
States that have legalized medicinal and even recreational marijuana have to be careful to narrowly tailor their laws to dance around the detailed prohibitions of the CSA, which can be brought down upon the states at any time, at the pleasure of whoever is running the federal agency at that moment.
Our current president, Mr. Obama, widely seen as a very cool guy (and, of course, also widely hated as such), can breezily joke about how high he got as an undergraduate. He’s cool, you know, and in 2016, as he departs into the free market for millionaire speakers, he doesn’t have to pretend he never inhaled. Sure, he outgrew it, obviously, hasn’t smoked that shit in decades, but, you know, back in the day, yo…
Nixon drank himself sick in the White House every night during the months leading up to his resignation as a paranoiac who abused presidential power and sanctioned illegal activity to bolster his chances to win a presidential election he would have won by a landslide in any case. He got sweatier and shakier, and aged visibly, during those days and the booze he was sucking down was certainly no help.
But nobody ever accused Dick Nixon of being the sort of heinous criminal who would ever smoke a joint, by God. Ironically, a little weed might have actually helped him out. I hear, under medical supervision, it can have a therapeutic effect on things like PTSD, panic, shattered nerves.
As for those who think marijuana should be taken off Schedule One of the CSA as a dangerous drug with no redeeming use — well, Mr. Obama as a private citizen will likely one day make a very cool, funny speech about it. And we’ll all laugh, because most people by then will know he’s right, though, of course, millions will spit the fucking “n-word” at their TV screens and bitterly suck down their shots as they curse our permissive culture of drug addicts obscenely dancing their gay, miscegenating way to hell, and taking our great nation with it.
There’s no pleasing some people, I’ve noticed.