Prohibitionism is the theory that it is possible to control behaviors by making the possession or sale of certain items illegal.
Prohibitionism may be a new word. It didn't come up in the online dictionary I tried, so I am taking the liberty of making my own definition.
Prohibitionism seems to have a long and sad history. It might almost be the basis of government. Behavior is difficult for a state to punish because it is difficult to prove. But if you can keep someone from having the tools necessary to perform the forbidden act, you have at least the illusion of control. If you want to stop people from smoking pot, it is difficult to catch them in the act; then prove that they did it. It is easier to search their persons and their houses to make sure they don't have the evil weed than to monitor their behavior 24 hours a day to detect the forbidden fumes. Pot prohibition has proven to be largely ineffective in preventing pot smoking, but it has been immensely profitable for a lot of people.
Of course there are many difficulties with pot prohibition. The government may jail people who only posses pot, but don't smoke it. It may jail people who didn't know they had the pot. There may be pot planted by criminals in and out of government service. Making pot illegal may contribute to the popularity of worse drugs like methamphetamine. If recreational drug use were legalized, methamphetamine would probably disappear just as bathtub gin did when alcohol prohibition was ended.
The case for drug prohibition rests on the theory that people get high and commit crimes. And it is true that some do get high and commit crimes, but it is also true that people who are not stoned commit crimes. And it is also true that people often get high and do not commit crimes. It is even true that people often get high and do useful work.
Prohibition of all sorts results in corrupted courts and police. It causes people on both sides of the issue to waste huge amounts of energy. Arrests, trials, and the associated paperwork and conflict are far from cost free. Punishing people who possess drugs or other forbidden objects on the theory that they are sure to use the objects for antisocial purposes punishes those who posses those objects even if the objects are never used for anti-social purposes. By its very definition, prohibition violates the age-old proscription against mass punishment of the innocent along with the guilty.
Prohibition punishes those who posses forbidden objects instead of punishing behavior. Effective minimization of anti-social behavior requires concentrating on those who actually perpetrate serious crimes involving serious immediate harm to real victims. Prohibition wastes resources and the credibility of the criminal justice system by punishing people who have not harmed society while allowing dangerous criminals to go free.
Prohibition has proven to be a bigger hazard to our health, our morals, our families, and our social system than the worst conceivable drug.
If a drug is truly deadly, few people will use it, no matter how pleasant the high. If a drug has long-term health effects, so does the prison sentence that is supposed to prevent its use. I have heard it said that a person's life expectancy decreases one year for every year she spends in prison.
Alcohol and drug prohibition have been thoroughly proven to have hugely destructive social consequences. They have also proved to be emotionally satisfying and immensely profitable for the prohibitionists. It's hard for me to figure out whether the prohibitionists are too dense to understand the crime against society they are perpetrating. Do they know their actions are causing far more misery that they are preventing? Are they evil enough to do anything in the pursuit of unearned wealth?
Prohibitionism is just another version of the “demonize and destroy” game that has been the cause of so much misery in human history.
The idea that it is possible to prevent murder and assault by making the possession firearms illegal is equally tragic. As technology improves, and hardware of various types becomes cheaper, the number of ways to murder or injure someone increases dramatically. Prohibiting the ownership of weapons prevents honest people from having the self-defense capability. As in other forms of prohibition, the only groups in the society that benefit are the prohibitionists and the criminals that make their living by circumventing the prohibition.
Nuclear non-proliferation is just prohibition writ large, and it is equally as counterproductive. It is really only an organized and somewhat respectable way for those prohibitionists who have nuclear weapons to terrorize those who don't. As long as we continue to make scientific and technical progress, dangerous weapons are going to become more widely available. Non-proliferation is bound to fail at some point in the future, and it may be the very near future. We need a Plan B.