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Iran’s War on Booze Is Like America’s War on Drugs


After 40 years of booze illegality, Iran is getting hit with a dose of reality. Iranian officials are discovering that laws that criminalize the possession or consumption of alcohol do not work. According to an article in the Washington Post, public officials are acknowledging that there is a big alcoholism problem in Iran notwithstanding the fact that alcohol has been illegal since the Iranian revolution in 1979.

In other words, making booze illegal didn’t stop people from consuming alcohol or becoming alcoholics. The law simply did not work, not even when it was enforced with brutal punishments, like lashings.

Unfortunately, Iranian officials are not repealing their booze laws but instead simply educating people on the evils of alcohol and opening up government clinics to help people overcome their alcohol problems.

Does all this remind you of anything here in the United States?

There was Prohibition here in the United States. It didn’t work either. People continued to possess, distribute, and consume booze even though it was illegal to do so.

Like the Iranians, Americans learned a lesson about using the force of law to prevent people from engaging in self-destructive activity. It just doesn’t work.

Moreover, it makes the situation worse.

For one thing, the problem of alcoholism is driven underground, given that people are scared of being busted and punished. As the Iranians are discovering, when the government loosens up, alcoholics are more willing to surface and seek treatment in rehab clinics.

And then there is the issue of violence. Here in the United States, Prohibition gave rise to massive violence associated with the illegal distribution of alcohol. Al Capone comes to mind, along with Elliot Ness and the Untouchables, who were waging a violent war against Capone and other booze lords.  All that violence disappeared when alcohol was legalized.

Unlike Iran, the United States no longer has Prohibition. There are still plenty of alcoholics in the United States but few Americans are clamoring to make booze illegal again. Instead, Americans have come to accept that that there will always be people who drink or who drink to excess.

A question naturally arises: Why the U.S. war on drugs? It’s no different in principle from Iran’s 40-year experiment with a war on booze. It certainly is as big a failure as Iran’s war on booze.

One big similarity between Iran’s war on alcohol and America’s war on drugs is that many Iranians are dying from corrupted alcohol that is sold on the black market, just as many Americans are dying from corrupted drugs that are sold on the black market. That wouldn’t be happening if booze and drugs were legal.

There is also the issue of tyranny and freedom. It is not surprising that Iran has been putting people into jail or under the lash for engaging in purely peaceful, albeit self-destructive, activity. That’s what tyrannical regimes do. They destroy freedom.

While it’s easy for many Americans to recognize tyranny when it is committed by foreign regimes, it is much more difficult for them to recognize tyranny when it is committed by their own government. But tyranny is tyranny, whether it involves punishing people for booze or drugs and regardless of the particular regime that is doing the punishing.

Maybe, just maybe, the Iranian people will lead Americans to freedom by ending their war on booze. Or maybe Americans will lead Iranians to freedom by repealing their war on drugs.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.