A viral image making the rounds last week (during the stoner holiday of 4/20) made a surprising implication: That ending the war on drugs could make life safer for police.
It argued that the war on drugs has been nearly as violent as the notorious years of Prohibition.
The post features images of police destroying liquor bottles and marijuana plants, with this text: "Did you know? More American police officers died during prohibition of alcohol than any other time in history. (Three hundred) died in 1930 alone. After prohibition ended, police deaths didn't reach 200 a year again until the year Nixon declared war on drugs."
However, PolitiFact North Carolina looked into the image and found it’s misleading. In the past few decades – even as the war on drugs has continued – there have been very few police deaths. Fewer police are dying now than a century ago, let alone during the violent years of Prohibition.
President Richard Nixon in 1971 declared "a full-scale attack on the problem of drug abuse in America." He called for harsher drug laws and millions of dollars in extra spending, and Congress complied.
Today, spending on the drug war has continued to grow, and the United States has either the largest or second-largest prison population in the world.
And yet at the same time, marijuana remains popular. PolitiFact NC found that the number of Americans who support legalizing marijuana outnumber opponents by about 2:1.
So there is demand for illicit drugs – which, just like during Prohibition, has created a lucrative black market for organized crime.
But the comparisons between Prohibition and the war on drugs fall short, for a number of reasons.
In short, the image’s statistics and the overall comparison are both misleading.
PolitiFact NC rated the image’s comparison between the two eras a Mostly False.
For more information on statistics about police deaths, drug usage and marijuana’s ratings in national polls, read the full fact-check here.
Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @PolitiFactNC
PolitiFact North Carolina
Speaker: A viral image
Statement: “After prohibition ended, police deaths didn't reach 200 a year again until the year Nixon declared war on drugs.”
Ruling: The numerical claim isn’t totally accurate, and it’s used to paint a misleading picture of the dangers to police posed by the war on drugs. In reality, police deaths are relatively rare compared to most other periods in U.S. history. In recent decades, about as many officers have died each year as during the early 1900s – and there are far more officers now than there were 100 years ago. We rate this claim Mostly False.