Watch the full episode. See more Ken Burns.
The whole prohibition era raises some interesting questions. There's the obvious comparison to the current war on drugs, but I'd like to set that aside for a moment. Consider just pharmacological properties. Conventional people react with stunned disbelief if you rate alcohol's effects as comparable to that of other "hard" drugs. The reasoning seems to be that since alcohol is legal, then there must be some kind of medical rationale behind it.
That is, of course, utterly bogus. Alcohol is one of the more dangerous drugs—serious abuse can damage nearly every major body system, while just the other month the Lancet rated alcohol as the worst drug in existence. And yet, somehow modern countries seem to handle widespread alcohol consumption without societal collapse. The reason is entirely biological coincidence. Alcohol doesn't deserve its own category as the moronic "drugs and alcohol" phrase would have it, rather it is by far the easiest drug to make. Even other plant-based drugs have to be cultivated (and often bred to increase potency, which takes some skill), but alcohol happens all by itself, in things people normally eat and drink. It's no coincidence that humankind has been doing it for so long.
As a result, drinking has been deeply imbedded in the social fabric for thousands of years, and cultures around the world have developed elaborate rituals around the practice of drinking. This provides a set of norms around acceptable use, helps keep abuse down, and often provides abusers a way back to respectable society. Prohibition, on the other hand, creates a deviant subculture, with all its attendant problems.
Just saying there ain't a hell of a lot of light between opiates, for example (opium is to heroin as beer is to, say, Everclear), and booze.
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