What Prohibition can teach us about the way we think about drugs today.
There's actually some cool history here.
I don't think it's hyperbole to suggest that beer is one of mankind's greatest inventions of all time ever in history.
It's hearty (mostly), it's cold (usually), and it just makes you feel really super great (please drink responsibly).
For years now, I've been telling anyone who will listen that beer is so delicious and magical that it deserves its own holiday.
So imagine my surprise when I learned that it actually has one.
April 7 is National Beer Day.
National Beer Day is an unofficial holiday. You won't find it on any government calendar. But people all across America are celebrating.
(In basically the way you'd expect.)
(Seriously, please drink responsibly.)
But contrary to popular belief, National Beer Day isn't just some fake-ish holiday invented for bars to sell a little more booze and blown way out of proportion by the Internet.
(I mean, it is that. But it's not just that).
So buckle up, America. I'm about to lay the True Meaning (tm) of National Beer Day on you.
(Yes, Virginia, there is a coconut cream stout on draft).
Prohibition started in 1920 mostly because alcohol abuse was a serious problem — a nightmare for families and communities all across the country.
People thought banning booze was just the solution America needed.
But banning booze wasn't a great idea. Instead, it was an even bigger nightmare.
Just ask your great-grandparents.
Crime skyrocketed. Violent gangs ruled the streets. And corrupt city, state, and federal officials made law and order a joke.
It only took us 13 years to realize this mistake.
When America finally came to its senses in 1933 and was like, "You know what? People are going to drink regardless. So maybe turning the alcohol industry into a massive, violent criminal enterprise isn't such a great idea after all," people breathed a huge sigh of relief.
The point being?
People are going to do what they do. Criminalizing it just drives it underground, wrecks communities, and makes it more dangerous.
Here's where we are now: As of 2013, there were roughly 1.5 million Americans in state and federal prison. About a fifth of them — over 300,000 people — are there for drug offenses.
Many of them for just using drugs, not even selling, growing, or making them.
Even during Prohibition, there was no penalty for drinking booze — only for manufacturing or selling it. But today, you can be thrown in prison for using drugs in the privacy of your own home. On felony charges. Which follow you for the rest of your life.
On March 31, 2015, President Obama commuted the sentences of 22 people, almost all of whom were drug offenders serving decades-long prison terms. Some were even serving life sentences.
This is a step in the right direction. But it's not nearly enough.
Now, before you start getting all like, "Who is this moral degenerate who wants us all to start getting high on demand with reckless abandon and no consequences," I'm not suggesting legalizing drugs. I'm not even suggesting that the most hardened drug dealers and manufacturers shouldn't serve time in prison. Drugs destroy people's lives, and it's not unreasonable to suggest that contributing to that should come with some kind of cost.
What I am suggesting: Let the punishment fit the crime.
It's time to lower penalties for nonviolent drug offenders — and drastically lower them (or eliminate them) for nonviolent drug users.
If we can at least be as sensible about drugs in 2015 as America was about alcohol drinkers after Prohibition, we'd all be much better off.
So on National Beer Day, the most solemn of all holidays, let's all raise a glass to legally indulging in your vices.