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Robertson, Rockefeller, and Prohibition

Here’s a letter to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal:

Dismayed at Rev. Pat Robertson’s call to legalize marijuana, Nelson Spear objects that “I have not encountered anyone whose success in life was enhanced by the use of marijuana or any other recreational drug.  On the other hand, I have encountered hundreds whose lives were decimated by the use of marijuana” (Letters, March 18).

Indeed.  But the same is true for alcohol – another drug that ruins many lives and contributes to no one’s “success in life.”*

In a move very similar to Mr. Robertson’s, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. – a life-long teetotaler and long-time proponent of alcohol prohibition – turned against prohibition in 1932 after witnessing its actual effects.  While “not unmindful” that prohibition likely prevented some people from becoming drunkards, Mr. Rockefeller realized that “these benefits, as important and far reaching as they are, are more than outweighed by the evils that have developed and flourished since its [prohibition’s] adoption.”**  To prevent these evils, Mr. Rockefeller called for prohibition’s repeal.

Too bad that too few people realize – as does the Rev. Robertson today, and as did Mr. Rockefeller 80 years ago – that government cannot prohibit private behaviors without unleashing consequences far worse than those of the prohibited behaviors themselves.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

* Although…!

** Letter from J.D. Rockefeller, Jr., to Nicholas Murray Butler, reprinted in the New York Times, June 7, 1932.

By the way, one of the best accounts of the pointless horrors of the ‘war on drug’ remains Randy Barnett’s 1994 essay, in the Yale Law Journal, entitled “Bad Trip.”