Editorial: Young Entrepreneurs and the Culture of Prohibition 2/12/99

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Adam J. Smith, Associate Director, [email protected]

This week in Middletown, NY, an 11 year-old boy was charged with selling marijuana (mixed with oregano) and soap shavings (which he passed off as crack cocaine) to his fifth-grade classmates. The boy was charged with criminal sale of marijuana and the sale of an imitation controlled substance and released to the care of his mother pending a court appearance next week.

So here we are. Several decades and hundreds of billions of tax dollars spent on the drug war, this moral crusade to "protect America's children" from illicit substances, and we are down to this. 11 year-old children selling drugs to each other, mimicking the actions of the most financially successful young people in their communities and taking part in the one of the most profitable business enterprises on earth.

Did "drugs" make this child into a dealer? And a crooked one at that? Or is it the culture of prohibition that has saturated our society and our children's reality? The fact is that during alcohol prohibition, gangsters like Al Capone, his criminal empire built on the sale of illicit booze, were cultural icons. Bootleggers and rum-runners were glamorous men, living life on the edge, and were, for certain economic strata of children, the most outwardly successful role models around. In those days, entire high schools were shut down due to mass drunkenness, and hip flasks were worn by trendy teens. Today, with alcohol legal and regulated, there are no stories of pre-pubescents selling whiskey to their classmates. Today it is drugs.

It is an easy mistake to make, really. Drugs are bad for kids, and so we outlaw them. But that doesn't work, and so we pass even tougher laws. The reality, however, is far more complex. Part of that reality is the fact that prohibition does not, cannot control contraband. In fact, what we have done is ceded control to a criminal element, and to our children. Another part of the reality of prohibition is that the markets we have created, and the wares that those markets offer are a magnet for a certain percentage of kids. Not bad kids necessarily, but adventurers. The ones who, in different times, dove off cliffs into the river or who jumped their bikes over rows of garbage cans. In clinging to a policy which assures our children access to these substances, no proof of age required, we have created, in the words of the law, an attractive nuisance. And our children are drawn to that nuisance like flies.

In Middletown, NY, an eleven year-old kid sells mostly phony "drugs" to his eleven year-old classmates. He did not, we can be sure, invent the idea himself. He was simply doing something that goes on in every single town and city across our nation, day and night, every single day of the year. Now we must decide what to do with him. Is he the most evil child in his school? Or is he simply the most enterprising? And what will we do with all the others like him, thousands and thousands of them, and most just a few years older than he? This is the fallout from the culture of prohibition. It is a culture that we adults have created. So that now, in the midst of our boondoggle crusade to protect the children, we find that we cannot build the prisons for them fast enough.

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Issue #78, 2/12/99 Announcements | As Certification Debate Nears, Mexico Declares "Total War" on Drugs | White House Releases Drug Strategy Amid Criticism from Reformers | New York State's Top Judge Calls for Rethinking of Rockefeller Drug Laws | County Requests Federal Okay to Conduct Medical Marijuana Study | Impact of the Closure of a Needle Exchange Program | Editorial: Young Entrepreneurs and the Culture of Prohibition
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