If there is one thing that history has taught us, at least for those that paid attention, it’s that prohibition has always failed. On January 17th 1920, Prohibition of alcohol went into effect and within an hour, there were armed robberies of trucks carrying alcohol.

Typically it would have been silly to rob a truck for booze, but with the creation of the 18th amendment, also came the creation of a new valuable product in demand that was now banned, creating a lucrative market. Every thug and opportunist in the nation was ready to make their fortune, and thanks to draconian enforcement, tax payer money, and a 13 year push by the Prohibitionists to “rid” the U.S. of alcohol, many did make their fortune, often violently. 

Instead of ridding the United States of alcohol, they put it in the fast lane, opening up international crime trading routes like never before seen. From Canada to Mexico, the booze flowed in, the money rained down and the streets ran red with blood.  The 13 years of the failed 18th amendment finally caught up with Americans, and its repeal came.  The ruthless booze tycoons like that of Al Capone were finally stripped of an artificial market and denied the ability of booze to fill their coffers. However, as the blood stained streets of the 1920’s faded away, so too did the lessons learned from a brutal and bloody period in the United States.

Fast forward to today. In 1970 Nixon declared a “War on Drugs,” and ever since the policy stuck. What have we to show for it? Like that of alcohol in the 1920’s, we have seen the rise in crime, more availability of illicit drugs, a better quality and more pure product, and brutal cartel and gang violence. In the 1970’s police were seizing heroin by the pounds, today they are seizing it by the metric ton(s). Heroin is more pure today, and it’s cheaper than ever before. Despite this however, we have continued to carry on failed policies that took only 13 years for us to reverse once before. Now it’s been over 40 years and what was so obvious in 1933 with the repeal of the 18th amendment, still has not clicked with the American people.

FDA Targets Cigarettes

The FDA now is considering banning menthol cigarettes. Their claim is that they are more harmful than regular cigarettes, so something must be done. This begs the question however, at what point does a free society say enough is enough? Should Americans not have the right to do with their bodies what they wish so long as they do not harm others? This nanny state approach by government has reached a point of absurdity, when you have soda being banned and highly taxed, or salt removed by law from a restaurants table. Is this no longer the land of the “free?”

Thomas Jefferson once stated,

“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

Was Jefferson not right in his position of government power? We have allowed for the overreaching of government to take root in this nation, and it has allowed for some very odd policies and laws to come to fruition. Some may be surprised to find out that there is already a gray market on cigarettes in the United States. Unlike a black market, where the contraband is prohibited outright, a gray market is trade in something that is quasi legal, in this case, cigarettes.

Because of very high taxes in states like New York, cigarettes have become a very profitable market. People are buying cigarettes in states where their cheap and then trafficking them into high tax states to sell for a profit. After all, high taxation is prohibition lite, and artificially raising the price of a high demand item only does exactly what outright prohibition does, which is create an illicit market which in turn breeds crime, even murder. In 2010, NPS reported the following,

“The rewards, and the risks, of dealing in contraband cigarettes became quite clear recently in northern Virginia, says Capt. Dennis Wilson of the Fairfax County Police Department. Undercover investigators working with his department “had two cases where contacts that we were working with had asked us to murder their competition,” Wilson says. “We were able to fake the murder of the individuals.

‘Well, we used some theatrical make up, photographs of the individual on the pavement with blood around the head,” Wilson Says. “That was sufficient for them.’

The investigation resulted in the November 2009 arrest of 14 people tied to the contraband cigarette ring. Investigators say that murder-for-hire is a logical extension of the trade in black-market cigarettes.”

Now, with the outright ban of menthol cigarettes on the table, law enforcement is speaking out, stating that doing so would only create another black market for organized crime to exploit, and would serve no value to the public. CNBC last September, 2013 reports the following,

“A number of current and former top-ranking law enforcement officials from the tobacco-producing South have blasted a potential menthol cigarette ban as the Food and Drug Administration weighs restrictions on those products, contending that prohibition will spur smuggling, counterfeit cigs and other organized crime.

‘The contraband market would thrive under a ban, and would increase criminal activity, including activities by organized crime and terrorist groups,’ wrote Paul Carey III, chief of enforcement for the Northern Virginia Cigarette Tax Board, in a letter submitted to the FDA’s online comments section.”

It would seem yet again we have come full circle, and now this nation faces another Prohibition of a common item in the name of the public health.

Peter Hamm, spokesman for a group known as the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, stated “the law enforcement officials who wrote comments to the FDA should be asked if they “think that heroin and yellowcake uranium should be legal because in the absence of them being legal it leads to a black market.”

“That is really the logical flack in the whole counterfeiting and smuggling argument … It’s an industry-generated farce,” Peter Hamm and his group supports an outright menthol ban on health grounds.

While comparing menthol cigarettes to uranium or heroin seems extreme, Perhaps Peter Hamm has not paid attention to the last century, because bans as we have already seen, do not work. It’s funny that he brings up the legalization of heroin as a basis for banning menthol cigarettes. The fact is, there are law enforcement that do in fact believe heroin should be legalized and controlled, and is rooted in solid evidence for such a position.

“Heimer, an infectious disease specialist who teaches in the schools of medicine and public health, said by the mid-90s the Swiss had 65 to 70 percent of their heroin addicts on methadone (as opposed to 15 to 20 percent of U.S. heroin addicts). But the rest of the Swiss addicts were doing what addicts do, hanging out, hurting themselves and causing trouble.

So, the thought went, what if we give them the drug they actually want, in a controlled setting? They asked themselves if it was ethical, and determined that it was.

The results for more than 1,000 participants, measured after the first year, were remarkable. The physical and mental health of the participants improved markedly. Full-time employment rose from 14 to 32 percent, while unemployment dropped from 44 to 22 percent. A third of the addicts left the welfare rolls.

Crime — both the number of people committing crimes and the number of crimes — dropped 60 percent. Income from illegal or semi-legal activity dropped from 69 percent to 10 percent. Cocaine use among the addicts dropped from 35 to 5 percent. Those in unstable housing situations dropped from 49 to 21 percent, while homelessness dropped from 12 percent to none. The Swiss were so satisfied that it stopped being a trial and became public policy.”

Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, and the Netherlands implemented such a program as well.  Since 1994, they have not had a single death from overdose.

To argue that a choice be taken away from the individual because it’s not good for them and on the grounds of “health” for justification smacks not of  individual liberty, but that of fascism. In 1802, in a letter to Thomas Cooper, Thomas Jefferson stated the following,

“if we can but prevent the government from wasting the labours of the people, under the pretence of taking care of them, they must become happy.”

In a free society there will be risks, and those risks are up to the individual to take on. Granted, you must have some regulation and oversight and but law should be there to protect us from the harm of others, not from ourselves. At what point do we as Americans finally put away this notion that we can legislate “morality” when it comes to our health or laws of consent between adults who harm no other?  We have imprisoned millions on laws of “consensual crimes” and have nothing to show for it but overcrowded prisons and a booming black market.

When Einstein first came to the United States in the 1920’s for a Nobel Piece prize during prohibition, He stated the following as his first impression of the United States,

The prestige of government has undoubtedly been lowered considerably by the prohibition law. For nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced. It is an open secret that the dangerous increase of crime in this country is closely connected with this.”Albert Einstein, “My First Impression of the U.S.A.”, 1921






Nick is a former Arizona police officer and deputy.  He is a Kaplan University Counter Terrorism and Homeland Security major, recently graduating with highest honors.  Nick is a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, The National Society of Collegiate Scholars, the Golden Key International Honor Society, Alpha Betta Kappa Honor Society, and Alpha Phi Sigma Criminal Justice Honor Society. He has appeared as an expert commentator on Fox News Radio, and has been published in academic journals as well as Police One. Nick Can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Dialn0911

Learn more: