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Ban Buckfast? Nope. Prohibition never works


I’ve never believed in the Prohibitionist theory that if you forbid people from ingesting certain substances you think cause them to behave badly, they’ll become perfect little angels. That was the thinking behind America’s disastrous and stupid flirtation with the 18th Amendment to the Constitution (happily repealed by the 21st Amendment). Prohibitionists thought that “likker” was responsible for everything from crime and adultery to out-of-wedlock births, and that if they simply outlawed it, America would be a more moral, better-behaved country. Didn’t work, because it was based on a flawed concept that can best be expressed by the old saying, You can’t legislate morality.

That same muddled thinking characterizes this country’s failed “war on drugs.” Marijuana, at the very least, ought to be legalized and controlled (like alcohol and tobacco). This would not only pour money into the government’s empty coffers, it would reduce the number of non-violent prisoners in our states’ over-stuffed jails.

For many years there’s been an analog to all this with inexpensive fortified alcoholic beverages. Some holier-than-thou types are outraged that inner city liquor stores sell things like Night Train or Cisco which deranged people occasionally get drunk on and then go out and commit acts of mayhem. I myself live in the innermost parts of a violent city, so I, too, would like to see this kind of bad behavior disappear. But getting rid of inner city liquor stores isn’t going to solve anything. It’s a simplistic, knee-jerk response to a complicated problem that deserves much more careful analysis than just prohibiting stuff.

I was thinking of this because I just read how a Scottish Episcopal bishop, the Rev. Bob Gillies, is accusing the local Benedictine abbey of a “moral double-take” and anti-Christian behavior by producing a fortified drink, Buckfast, that’s said to be popular with “drinkers who are prone to committing anti-social behaviour when drunk, especially drinkers under 18 years.” Buckfast, also known in the Emerald Isle as “Commotion Lotion” and “Mrs. Brown,” is said to have “been mentioned in 5,000 crime reports by Scotland’s biggest police force in the last three years.”

It thus becomes a prime candidate for prohibition by people who mistakenly believe that, if you just outlaw it, those 5,000 criminals will realize the error of their ways, find religion, enter upon the true path of righteousness and morality, and become ideal citizens.

Can’t people see how dumb that is? Life doesn’t work that way. Young teenage hoodlums (and we have plenty of them here in Oakland) do the stupid things they do not because alcoholic beverages are available to them, but because their personalities are deranged. If Oakland outlawed Cisco, they’d drive over to Berkeley to buy it. If California outlawed Colt 45, they’d bring in truckloads from Nevada or Oregon. If the U.S. outlawed Colt 45 — well, we’d be back to Prohibition, wouldn’t we? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

So, Rev. Gillies, if you’re really concerned about crime, look to address its real causes, which usually concern schooling, parenting and peer pressures in the neighborhood. Banning Buckfast might make you feel better, but it will solve nothing. Prohibition never does.

  1. Carlos Toledo says:

    Right on. Perfectly put.

    As for a violence in your city, you should visit some big cities in south america, more particularly a country where people dance samba, to witness what violence is really like (aside from places officially at war).

    I lived in your area. That’s a walk in paradise compared to where i live now.

  2. If you want to talk about knee-jerk and simplistic, I’d say equating zoning laws with Prohibition fits nicely into that category. Furthermore, there’s a hefty dose of condescension in your characterization of advocates of zoning restrictions as “holier-than-thou.” The point to limiting the concentration of liquor stores — please note: limiting the concentration of the stores, not prohibiting the sale or use of the products — isn’t to convert anybody to moral and upright behavior. People ought to be allowed to get tanked on whatever rotgut they prefer and if they proceed to commit mayhem, well, that is indeed part of the price we pay for living in a free society. But that hardly means a neighborhood has to allow itself to be overrun with liquor stores, just as a neighborhood needn’t sit by idly when, say, the power company decides to build a coal-fired power plant in its midst. Prohibition is dumb; zoning laws aren’t Prohibition.

  3. Pete, I’d rather leave it to the free market to determine what stores can and can’t do business in a neighborhood. If there are too many of them, some of them will close. Also, many, maybe most, of these stores are operated by hard-working immigrants who have few other options for jobs. I would not want to see them suffer.

  4. Never seen Scotland referred to as the “Emerald Isle”, a sobriquet more common to Ireland.

    Always need a nitpicker that doesn’t comment on the meat of your point, Steve!

  5. I agree with most of the post, but also think there is just something wrong with an “institution of God” producing something which is aimed at furthering the problems of an already troubled segment of society. Goes right in line with God needing money. I just don’t get the whole concept. Along the same lines of outlawing suicide…what kind of punishment can you dole out for that?

  6. There exists a portion of society that insists upon sternly imposing their core values and beliefs on others. They are unable to grasp the idea that not everyone sees these things as they do. Wise policy making seeks to understand the behavior, acknowledge reality, balance interests, keep incentives positive, and minimize harms. For some reason, societies have had a very hard time doing this.

  7. Came across this post while searching for banned Buckfast…

    I myself live in Scotland and have to tolerate the excessive drinking and anti-social behavior of ‘neds’ (not Non-Educated Delinquents – some of them are educated!) throughout the local area.

    I have been young once as well and can remember tanking a bottl’ o’ buckie and feeling proud of myself in front of my peers. I also remember the next morning…

    I don’t mind the groups of neds at street corners, nor do I particularly mind the mischievous antics of said individuals while intoxicated. I do mind the broken glass lying around for my kids to play with (obviously from the Buckfast bottles). Is it too much to ask to put it in the bin…

    I suppose so…

  8. after reading the above article and comments i fealt it prudent to put my point over as a young (19 year old) drinker of buckfast, i am not a ned as the tabloids like to label buckfast drinkers i am in my first year of my chartered accountancy course and consider my self a level headed an mature individual, i wish to put the point across that is misbehaviour and antics of the “young team” would be perpetrated under the influence of some other alchohol, should buckfast be banned, i cant help but feel it is being made as the scape goat in this which hunt!

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