Since we all know that television presents a wholly accurate reflection of social realities rather than a meticulously streamlined, demographic-tailored representation, it would be fitting to consider HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” as demonstration of the perils intrinsic to illegalization of certain recreational substances.

Here we have Nucky Thompson, treasurer of Atlantic City in the ‘20s, who staunchly supports Prohibition on the one hand and acts as black market booze smuggler on the other.

It would be difficult to formulate a more concise indictment of two-faced moralizing and bureaucratic hypocrisy; that it applies just as easily to present-day controversies over anti-drug legislation is just gravy.

I certainly don’t mean to imply that all those in favor of stiff restrictions really just want a piece of the illicit action (though I wouldn’t underestimate the extent of corruption in certain circles).

Still, one would hope that most of us know better than to buy into those cartoonish scare tactics proffered by social conservatives as a means of justifying the status quo.

As such, it is plainly absurd to give drug offenders sentences rivaling those doled out to thieves, murderers, etc.

That someone could receive a permanent black mark for what amounts to a victimless crime is beyond unjust, a reminder of the frivolity and backwards morality pervading our legal system.

Even from a practical perspective, the logic simply doesn’t add up.

Surely now more than ever it would be helpful to cut down on prison funding; why, then, do we continue to allocate exorbitant amounts of taxpayers’ money towards the incarceration of those posing no tangible threat to society?

Never mind the kind of revenue that could be pulled in if the government chose to regulate the selling of marijuana.

I’ll admit this gets trickier when it comes to the hard stuff – strongly as I believe in a person’s total rights over their own body, I can’t help but feel a little queasy at the prospect of, say, heroin being freely available and permitted.

Taking this line of thought a little further, however, leads me to consider that these kinds of substances are already easily attainable through a thriving black market, the business models of which are engineered to breed and nurture addiction.

Under government control, the circulation of narcotics could be tightly monitored, their prices jacked up to discourage dependence.

I’m not saying this is airtight by any means, but there’s got to be an alternative to the counterproductive draconian methodologies currently in place.

Whether or not we see any meaningful reform, though, rests largely on the government’s willingness to put the common good above special interests whispering in its ear. As has been demonstrated numerous times, this is not a good bet. It is instructive to recall a driving force behind marijuana’s illegalization.

Concerned over the threat hemp presented to the paper industry, William Randolph Hearst threw his weight behind a blizzard of yellow journalism insisting on the dangers of the reefer and connecting its effects to (imagined) racial violence.

These efforts, in combination with Hearst’s hefty political clout, played an integral role in the ultimate prohibition of cannabis.

That countless people have been, and continue to be, incarcerated on account of such duplicitous motives provides some serious face-palm material.

One suspects that similar maneuvering persists today by way of the alcohol and tobacco industries, explaining the reluctance of officials to tamper with clearly anachronistic laws.

Certainly this has nothing to do with protecting people from themselves, as booze has been proven time and again to be considerably worse for you than pot.

It can only be hoped that reason will eventually win out over obstructionism and the law will focus on those who have done something to merit its attention.


Justin Levesque can be contacted at


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