Monday, June 4, 2018

The Volstead Act: What Did We Learn from Prohibition?

Prohibition only drives drunkenness behind doors and into dark places, and does not cure it or even diminish it. --Mark Twain

Nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced.
--Albert Einstein

Alcohol didn't cause the high crime rates of the '20s and '30s, Prohibition did. And drugs do not cause today's alarming crime rates, but drug prohibition does.
--James Carriger Paine

For every prohibition you create, you also create an underground.
--Jello Biafra

* * * *
The past several days I have been watching Ken Burns' disturbing documentary on Prohibition. It's impossible to watch this without thinking of its contemporary applications. (i.e. the war on drugs).

The cost of the drug wars is far more than simply financial. Tens of thousands of lives have been wasted (i.e. people killed) in Mexico alone by the gangs that have risen to power as a result of the drug trade.  It's a strange world we live in.

I keep trying to understand what makes it different this time. Maybe one difference is that nearly every politician and rich person drank some form of alcohol in those days. (Teetotaler John D. Rockefeller was likely an exception.) It is probably less likely that all our congressional reps are smoking weed, though I wouldn't be surprised to learn there's been recreational drug use in the Capitol. (Only speculation, of course.)

Maybe another difference is that pot has been portrayed as a gateway to more addictive substances. I'm guessing that not every beer drinker advances to gin and tonics.

* * * *
Communism is like prohibition, it is a good idea, but it won't work. --Will Rogers

* * * *
Several states have legalized marijuana now, and the push for legalization continues to extend to other states, so it will no doubt be a political issue for years to come. For this reason here are a handful of articles worth reviewing.

Prohibition Then and Now. (Constitution Center, 2012)

Prohibition: A Parallel to Modern War on Drugs (Seattle Times, 2011) Due to its proximity to Canada, Seattle featured prominently in the alcohol trade during Prohibition.

Though the Temperance movement began before the Civil War, it came to fruition only after the First World War settled. From the beginning there were leaders who had issues with this cause, including Abraham Lincoln who said, “Prohibition... goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man's appetite by legislation and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes... A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.”

Nevertheless, in January 1919 the 18th Amendment was ratified prohibiting the manufacture, sale, transportation, import, or export of intoxicating liquor. Woodrow Wilson vetoed the amendment, but was overruled that fall by Congress.

Across the Atlantic Winston Churchill said he believed Prohibition was "an affront to the whole history of mankind."

* * * *
There was no late night television in those days, but we can assume that Dave Letterman/Johnny Carson equivalents were poking fun of the situation. Here are some comments related to the evils of drinking:

Once, during Prohibition, I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water. --W.C. Fields

When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading. --Henny Youngman

Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza. --Dave Barry

Related Links
The Price of Prohibition (Reason Magazine)
Prohibition-Era Detroit
Read my 2009 commentary on this issue: Prohibition and the Drug Trade
Illustrations by Ed Newman

Meantime, life goes on all around you... 

1 comment:

LEWagner said...

The drugs that will never be prohibited by law are the high-profit chemical "meds" pushed by the pushers in white coats.
A VA doctor seemed taken aback when I told him when I was in my early 50s that I was NOT taking any "meds". I still don't take any, in my mid-60s, except for an occasional antacid or paracetamol. I do not plan to start taking them.
However, people with power and influence in "the system" cajole and even force people to take these "meds", though they know full well that they damage people's health and brain function, and that people have even died from the destructive "side effects".
There will be Justice, though very probably not in this life.