Prohibition Then and Now

“Policies informed by authoritarian impulses always come cloaked in virtue.” ~ University of Vermont professor Aaron Kindsvatter

My recent visit to the Prohibition Museum in Savannah, Georgia, made me think of the federal government’s marijuana prohibition.

The museum showcased all the government propaganda about alcohol and the follies of Prohibition. Yet, all I could think about was parallels to the current government propaganda about marijuana and the follies of the war on drugs.

Prohibition lasted from 1920 until 1933, due to the Eighteenth and Twenty-first Amendments to the Constitution.

A resolution proposing the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution was adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives on December 17, 1917. The Senate passed the resolution the next day. The Free Society Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $13.55 Buy New $17.54 (as of 04:55 EST - Details)

The ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment was completed on January 16, 1919. It took effect on January 17, 1920. The amendment contains three sections, but section one is the onerous one:

After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all the territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

Although the Eighteenth Amendment doesn’t actually ban the consumption or possession of alcohol, it effectively curtailed the legal use of alcoholic beverages in the United States.

The “appropriate legislation” passed by Congress to institute Prohibition was the National Prohibition Act, also known as the Volstead Act, after Andrew Volstead (1860–1947), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee from 1919 to 1923. It stipulated that “no person shall on or after the date when the eighteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States goes into effect, manufacture, sell, barter, transport, import, export, deliver, furnish or possess any intoxicating liquor except as authorized in this Act.” Anyone caught with alcohol was presumed to be in violation of the law:

After February 1, 1920, the possession of liquors by any person not legally permitted under this title to possess liquor shall be prima facie evidence that such liquor is kept for the purpose of being sold, bartered, exchanged, given away, furnished, or otherwise disposed of in violation of the Provisions of this title.

It was up to the possessor of alcohol to prove that it “was lawfully acquired, possessed, and used.”

The Eighteenth Amendment was repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment. It was proposed by Congress on February 20, 1933, and ratified by the requisite number of states on December 5, 1933. The effective date of the amendment was December 15, 1933.

During Prohibition, the federal government violated individual liberty, stymied free enterprise, and trampled property rights as it never had before. Although there is a Prohibition Party, its presidential candidate only received 5,617 votes in the 2016 presidential election. Aside from some foolish and ignorant fundamentalist Christians, few Americans long for the days of Prohibition.

Except when it comes to drugs.

Drug prohibitionists are colossal hypocrites. Most of them drink alcohol and object to the reinstatement of Prohibition, but at the same time they favor the government locking up their fellow Americans in a cage for consuming a substance that the government doesn’t approve of.

Every bad thing that could be said regarding drug abuse could also be said of alcohol abuse — and even more.

Gun Control and the Se... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: null Buy New $5.95 (as of 11:36 EST - Details) Alcohol abuse is a factor in many drownings, suicides, fires, child abuse cases, divorces, and many types of accidents and crimes. The number one killer of young people under twenty-five is alcohol-related automobile accidents. Alcohol abuse is also one of the leading causes of premature deaths in the United States. And it can be a contributing factor in cases of cancer, mental illness, anemia, cardiovascular disease, dementia, cirrhosis, high blood pressure, and suppression of the immune system.

Drug prohibitionists are also enemies of the Constitution. The Constitution not only doesn’t mention alcohol or drugs, it nowhere authorizes the federal government to regulate, monitor, or restrict the consumption, medical, or recreational habits of Americans. At least when the Progressives wanted the government to institute Prohibition they realized that an amendment to the Constitution was needed. Not so with modern drug prohibitionists. The Constitution be damned is their attitude, even among Republicans who call themselves “the party of the Constitution.”

Alcohol prohibition was evil then, and drug prohibition is evil now.

Oh, and I highly recommend a visit to the Savannah Prohibition Museum.