The American public has shown proper concern over the increasing use of addictive narcotics. National policy now reflects a sensitivity, too, toward the hazards of tobacco. Little is said, however, about the enormous consumption of alcohol and the resulting effect in traffic accidents, personal health, family life, and economic waste.
Attention is currently focused upon the wide use of marijuana, particularly among the young. It is probably true that penalties against users and peddlers of dope have not corresponded with the dangers inherent in the various drugs; federal law sets the sentence at two to ten years with a fine of $20,000 for narcotics and marijuana, yet LSD possession is treated as a misdemeanor with a $1,000 fine and a sentence up to one year. But the Nixon administration’s proposal to ease penalties on users can hardly be expected to discourage consumption.
It is interesting that the federal government can and does deal decisively with potentially harmful substances such as cyclamates. And recalling the thalidomide tragedy in other countries, we can be thankful. But on alcohol we continue to drag our feet and give indirect comfort to young marijuana users who can point to hypocritical standards.
This neglect is partly the residue of the reaction that set in following Prohibition, and partly the result of the dwindling influence of the anti-liquor lobby. But America cannot afford to keep its eyes closed to the alcohol problem much longer. If modest, reasonable steps are not soon taken to regulate the flow, we will face a sudden, new awareness of the dangers and the temptation again to over-react.
Legislation is now pending in Congress requiring beverages that are more than 24 per cent alcohol by volume to carry a warning that they are hazardous to health and may be habit-forming. It deserves priority consideration.
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