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marijuana plant

Prohibition shaped the United States socially, economically and legally in different ways. When prohibition ended, the United States realized the enactment had failed and brought several problems to the American landscape. The preventive problems included crime, violence and the economy. Over ninety years later, America is facing another umbrella of prohibition, which is clearly having the same effect as prohibition did in the early 20th century. The marijuana prohibition has brought new faces of organized crime that mirrors brutal gang leaders such as Al Capone and “Bugsy” Seigel. Did the United States learn from the effects of Prohibition in the early twentieth century?

Prior to prohibition, the country’s woes of violence, racism and family chaos took place because of the over consumption of alcohol. These claims established by the southern evangelicals were due to strong allegations that society was in a detrimental state because of the forces of booze in America. Alcohol consumption had been and was an important part of American daily life during the nineteenth century.

In the early nineteenth century, Evangelicals believed that the abuse of alcohol was harmful to society and called for the complete removal of its contents from the nation. Alcohol damaged the culture and family structure as, “it tore families apart, and money that should have been spent on family necessities was wasted at the grog shop, and the drunken husband often abused and neglected his wife and children.”[1] Good respectable men were quickly becoming lazy and irresponsible not only to their family but to their faith and the church. In response to this new culture the Evangelical church began supporting many temperance movements across the country including, The American Temperance Movement, and the American Temperance Union designed to demolish only hard alcohol. The movement was rapid and during the 1830’s the objectives had shifted, to include all forms of alcohol. Because of this change, other temperance groups began to grow. The groups began their battle at the local level and soon states began promoting abstinence from alcohol completely referring to it as teetotalism. By the 1850’s at least a dozen states had in place laws concerning the reduction of alcohol consumption or the eradication of it. Political conflicts and social struggles however, took center stage, the temperance movement faded, and some anti-alcohol laws saw cancelations or a full repeal. Although in a lull, for several years, the movement grew again when temperance groups began targeting other citizens concerning their objective. The final years of the 1800’s saw another growth of the temperance movement with a large number of members enforcing their beliefs into school curriculum. “The Women’s Christians Temperance Union convinced most states to adopt prohibitionist propaganda as a standard portion of the public school curriculum.”[2] The Anti-Saloon League also enforced its objectives of controlling the political spectrum around prohibition as it, “selected the officers who were to regulate and control its operations. It had its hand on the throat of legitimate business.”[3] Because of this shift in focus, the Anti-Saloon League influenced the entire spectrum of the prohibition movement including the passage of the eighteenth amendment, which abolished alcohol nationwide.

Prohibition   The Temperance movement along with the Anti-Saloon league began making victories in the smaller sectors by 1907 when Oklahoma became the second state to begin prohibition of alcohol. By 1915, their work had progressed to twenty-three states becoming dry.[4] The temperance movement attempting in correcting human behavior, extended its vision from a local fight to the state level successfully. Next, they made their way to the national level. In 1919, the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment occurred, outlawing the manufacturing, sales, and transportation of intoxicating liquors. The Amendment reads:

“Section 1. 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.”[5]

“Section 2. The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”[6]

“Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.”[7]

The passage of the amendment began a long chapter of enforcement of alcohol that Miron believes, “was consistently associated with higher rates of violence.”[8] The passage of the Eighteenth Amendment brought excitement to the temperance groups, as they believed the amendment would eradicate poverty, crime, alcohol, and broken homes. The hope was just the opposite as illegal bootlegging occurred along with rumrunners, illegal saloons, and corruption. Rapidly, citizens and leaders across America felt that the Volstead Act, the act designed to enforce prohibition, was unenforceable.[9]

Thirteen years after the Eighteenth Amendment had passed, congress decided to pull the plug on its experiment of an alcohol free nation. Crime, corruption, law-breaking and low economic downfalls had reached utter failure. The Twenty-First Amendment passed on December 5, 1933 repealing the unpopular Eighteenth Amendment and “was the first time a Constitutional Amendment had ever been repealed.”[10] The Amendment reads:

“Section 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.”[11]

“Section 2. The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.”[12]

“Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.”[13]

There were many objectives of prohibition including reducing corruption, consumption, and crime. The Bureau of Prohibition, the department of the federal government responsible for the enforcement of prohibition, witnessed all of the objectives fail. Prohibition became a corrupted era of time almost overnight. One of the main sources of corruption is that of The Bureau of Prohibition. High-level politicians down to the police officer on the street invited the source of corruption by accepting bribes from the organized crime leaders.

Another objective to prohibition was to decrease consumption of intoxicating liquors. By all accounts, this was successful, but only in its first year of implementation. The year 1921 marked the only year that alcohol consumption saw a decrease yet years after the initial decrease the consumption steadily climbed.[14] Despite enforcement of the law, consumption levels were steadily rising and passing pre-prohibition levels.

Finally, an objective of prohibition was to reduce violent crime rates in America. After the initiation of prohibition, crime in all sectors began to emerge. Because the transportation and manufacturing of alcohol became illegal, citizens whom were against its passing were ready to gain control of the production and sales of alcohol and benefit from its illegal stature. Organized crime was one of those sectors that would benefit from its forbidden status. Speakeasies or illegal bars began sprouting across the country. The people that owned these bars came from the mob or other sectors of organized gangs. Al Capone, one of the most famous gangsters of the time had led organized crime to the top as he took over many cities by paying off politicians and police officials. He began with bootlegging liquor, which led to the corruption of elections to take over certain areas of Chicago. He also was involved in gambling, prostitution but most of his income came from the sales of alcohol. During his reign, he was personally responsible for the deaths of many and organized the killings of hundreds of victims. The New York Times described him as, “the symbol of a shameful era, the monstrous symptom of a disease which was eating into the conscience of America.”[15] The responsibility of the steady climbs in certain type’s violence and amounts of crime committed falls under the increase of organized crime during the prohibition era. A study conducted on thirty major United States cities found that the number of crimes increased twenty-four percent from 1920 and 1921. Government spending for the law enforcement sector saw an increase of 11.4% and arrests made violating certain prohibition laws saw an increase of over a hundred percent. Prisons soon filled to their capacity and saw an increase of over 500 percent by 1932. [16] There are two major episodes of homicide spikes in United States history, which Miron believes, was due to prohibition of alcohol and other substances. During these two episodes that had high homicide numbers, 1920-1933 and 1970-1990 also saw forcible restrictions on hand guns and other weapons.[17]

The economy is an area, which also affected the bouts of prohibition. Removing alcohol from the public took away an important tax revenue from the government’s budget. With that, enacting prohibition took a lot of work force, which cost the government millions from their annual budget and added to their list of expenditures. The Bureau’s budget rose from $4.4 million to $13.4 million during the 1920’s.[18]

Lessons learned

The view of prohibition was a complete failure. Upon its repeal, America saw a dramatic decrease in crime and increase of jobs. The cost of its enforcement was expensive and the goal never achieved. During the time of its repeal, America began seeing efforts from the community to eradicate alcoholism. Volunteer efforts created Alcoholics Anonymous in 1934 to aid in that area.

America’s history with prohibiting drink failed and yet there are still prohibition laws enforced. One in particular is marijuana. Marijuana use in America has been around for centuries, yet today we see laws that eliminate its use. The history of marijuana in the New World came about through the slave trade of the sixteenth century. Africans made use of the plant in Africa through production, religious, spiritual, cultural, and medicinal purposes. The plant was sacred to the African people in many ways. Through the passage across the Atlantic Ocean, the plant made its way to America where it was not indigenous to the land. Hemp, marijuana’s close relative created many of the ships that brought Christopher Columbus and other explorers to the New World. Many of the resources that helped create these ships included rope, netting, and sails, which came from hemp.[19] In America, the use of the plant became popular because of its enriched fiber products. “the Virginia Assembly passed a law requiring every household in the colony to cultivate the plant because it had so many beneficial uses–for making fabric, paper products, cord, and other items.”[20] The use of smoking the plant was not yet established or known. By the middle of the nineteenth century, hemp was the third largest crop growing in America.[21]

During the middle of the seventeenth century, the use of hemp for medicinal purposes began to rise. One of the first mentions of hemp to help cure certain ailments came from an English clergyman Robert Burton, who “cited hemp as a remedy for depression in his book, Anatomy of Melancholy.”[22] Other authors began writing of other uses of the plant for burns, gout, bowel problems, and general pain control. One hundred years later, bottles of extracts sold in pharmaceutical shops throughout every major American city. When used for medicinal purposes people consumed the drug through a bottle of extract and not necessarily through smoke inhalation.

medical-cannabis-bottles   As the plant became popular for the use of pain control, many began to see its benefit as a method of pure relaxation. Mexico was the first to see its benefit in this arena. Many segments of the country widely accepted the use of marijuana because it was “cheaper than alcohol and easier to obtain.”[23] America in the early twentieth century began smoking marijuana due to the fleeing of hundreds of Mexican soldiers from the Mexican Revolution into the southwestern corridor of the United States. The Mexican inhabitants carried over the drug with them and as a result, Americans began seeing the usefulness of the drug to relax and become intoxicated. The influx of marijuana usage sparked the passage of the first ban against the drug in 1914 when a city ordinance in El Paso, Texas was passed because of the over usage of the drug interrupting American culture and life. The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 integrated a law on the national level, which listed a series of drugs deemed dangerous. Cannabis, alcohol, opium, and morphine were among the drugs listed. The act did not outlaw drugs but made it mandatory to label all harmful substances on the product if the drug was listed a dangerous drug. [24] Soon after, many states began adopting legislations that outlawed marijuana and other harmful or habit-forming substances.

Because of the current prohibition on marijuana, a plant useful to Americans for centuries, has the United States really learned its lesson from prohibition enforcement?

Most of the illegal drugs in the United States come from smuggling in the southwest border of the country. “In FY 2012, Border Patrol agents on the Southwest border seized more than 5,900 pounds of cocaine and more than 2.2 million pounds of marijuana.”[25] Mexico currently has the biggest impact on the drug industry in America. The biggest revenue maker for the country of Mexico is the sale of marijuana. Once the drugs arrive in the United States they are distributed to other areas immediately. The vast vacant land in the southwest makes America vulnerable to crime, trafficking, and smuggling. Because of this enormous land mass, “Mexican traffickers use every method imaginable to smuggle drugs into the United States including aircraft, backpackers, couriers, horses and mules, maritime vessels, rail, tunnels, and vehicles.”[26] The profit made from the sales of marijuana not only pays the drug cartels of the Mexico but also the profit feeds expenses, weapons, and the bribery of high government officials.

drug-cartels1The violence in Mexico surrounds itself around the cartels. There are three segments of crime: “intra-cartel violence which occurs among and between members of the same criminal syndicate, inter-cartel violence that occurs between rival groups, and cartel-versus-government violence.”[27] The violence within these sections always surrounds itself around the Mexican drug trade. “Since 2007, there have been over 22,000 drug-related murders in Mexico, as reported by the Mexican Attorney General’s Office.”[28] The Mexican Drug Cartels use of violence is nothing new to world of organized crime. We see similarities between the use of crime committed by the drug cartels and that of the organized crime in the early twentieth century. Mass graves, disposals of body parts in acid bins, beheadings, and public displaying of corpses are some of the similar tactics leaders of organized crime use in order to intimidate government officials investigating them. The crime committed by the drug cartels is just as violent from those of the early twentieth century organized crime fleet. These acts of violence occurring in Mexico spill over to neighboring border states such as California, Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Texas. Farmers and ranchers in these states have seen a vast number of threats and criminal activity on their property from drug cartels and other organized crime units of Mexico. NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams broadcasted in late 2011 concerning the threating violence occurring on America’s farms and ranches that border the country of Mexico. A south Texas farmer complained, “I’m a citizen of the United States. This is supposedly sovereign soil, but right now it’s anybody’s who happens to be crossing here. “I’m a little nervous being here right now. Definitely don’t come down here after dark.”[29] While some of the ranchers volunteer to help protect their land they also received threats, “A lot of them have been threatened not to call the Border Patrol or law enforcement if they see smuggling going on their property, otherwise they’ll be killed or their family members may be killed.”[30] The recent activity along the border shows the large-scale drug smuggling from Mexico into America.

Why is there a ban on marijuana and not alcohol? Investigations of health impact and consequences of both substances answer this question. “Illicit drug use in America has been increasing. In 2012, an estimated 23.9 million Americans aged 12 or older—or 9.2 percent of the population—had used an illicit drug or abused a psychotherapeutic medication (such as a pain reliever, stimulant, or tranquilizer) in the past month. This is up from 8.3 percent in 2002.”[31] The use of marijuana within these figures is lower than the usage of other harmful drugs such methamphetamines and cocaine. In a recent study from the British Columbia Mental Health and Addictions Journal, health related expenses for consumers of alcohol exceed that of marijuana by eighty percent showing that medical issues arise more commonly with consumption than marijuana.[32]

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 2006-2010, deaths due to excessive alcohol use for both men and women total, 87,798.[33] The CDC does not have a category for deaths related to excessive marijuana use. The usage and amount of deaths that occur in America because of excessive use of alcohol far outweighs that of marijuana. “In 2011, there were 2.6 million persons aged 12 or older who had used marijuana for the first time within the past 12 months; this averages to about 7,200 new users each day. By contrast there were 4.7 million persons aged 12 or older who had used alcohol for the first time within the past 12 months; this averages to approximately 12,900 initiates per day.”[34]

From all accounts, America’s experience with prohibition proves to be unsuccessful. In the early twentieth century the violence, crime, societal down fall and economic crisis shows that the United States could not legislate morality. Today we have similar experiences with the prohibition of marijuana. The drug cartels, violence, and organized crime issues mirror that of the twentieth century problem. Prohibiting marijuana brings in more problems with violence on the innocent lives of ordinary citizens while making the drug legal brings less problems on a citizens overall health. Should America legalize Marijuana to prevent another prohibition disaster? Prohibition reduces the health and welfare of drug users, subjects millions to crime, and destroys civil liberties. Prohibition creates racial hostility and pays billions of dollars to criminal activity. The United States has not learned from the mistakes made from enforcing prohibition and the continuation of its practice will only create a more costly and deadly outcome.



Primary Resources

Department of Homeland Security. “U.S. Customs and Border Protection.” http://www.cbp.gov/border-security/along-us-borders/overview (assessed March 23, 2014).

Drug Library. “Senate Judiciary Committee Hearings on National Prohibition- 1926.” http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/history/e1920/senj1926/default.htm (assessed March 23, 2014).

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol Related Disease Impact. http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/DACH_ARDI/default/default.aspx (assessed May 1, 2014).

National Institute on Drug Abuse. Various Research and Statistics. http://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics (assessed March 23, 2014).

Potter, Mark. NBC News. Along Mexican Border, US Ranchers Say They Live in Fear. November 25, 2011. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/45440385/ns/nbc_nightly_news_with_brian_williams/t/along-mexican-border-us-ranchers-say-they-live-fear/#.U361ertOWM8 (assessed May 22, 2014).

Schmeckebier,Laurence. “The Bureau of Prohibition: Its History, Activities and Organization.” Washington, The Brookings Institute, 1929. https://archive.org/details/bureauofprohibit001615mbp (assessed May 14, 2014).

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (NSDUH Series H-44, HHS Publication No. SMA 12-4713). Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2012. www.cdc.gov (assessed May 1, 2014).

The Federal Bureau of Investigation. Organized Crime Reports. http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/organizedcrime (assessed March 23, 2014).

Secondary Resources

Bergreen, Laurence. “Capone: The Man The Era.” Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, New York, 1994.

Cherrington, Ernest, Hurst. “The History of the Anti-Saloon League.” The American Issue Publishing Company, Westerville, Ohio, 1913.

Coker, Joe. “Liquor in the Land of the Lost Cause: Southern White Evangelicals and the Prohibition Movement.” Kentucky, University Press of Kentucky, 2007.

Cooper, John Milton. “Pivotal Decades: The United States 1900-1920.” W.W Norton Company, New York, 1990.

Hall, Wayne. 2010. “What are the Policy Lessons of National Alcohol Prohibition in the United States, 1920–1933?.” Addiction 105, no. 7: 1164-1173. SPORTDiscus with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed March 30, 2014).

Lee, Martin A. “Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana, Medical, Recreational and Scientific.” Scribner, New York, 2012.

Miron, Jeffrey A. “Drug War Crimes: The Consequences of Prohibition.” Independent Institute, CA, 2004.

Monk, Linda R. “The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution.” The Stonesong Press, New York, 2003.

Charles Hanson Towne, The Rise and Fall of Prohibition: The Human Side of What the Eighteenth Amendment Has Done to the United States (New York: Macmillan, 1923), pp. 156-61.

Wiebe, Robert H. “The Search for Order: 1877-1920. Harper Collins, Canada, 1967.

[1] Joe Coker, Liquor in the Land of the Lost Cause: Southern White Evangelicals and the Prohibition Movement, (Kentucky, University Press of Kentucky, 2007), 16.

[2] Robert H. Wiebe, The Search for Order: 1877-1920, (Harper Collins, Canada, 1967), 57.

[3] Ernist Hurst Cherrington, The History of the Anti-Saloon League, (The American Issue Publishing Company, Westerville, Ohio, 1913, 9).

[4] John Milton Cooper, Jr, “Pivital Decades: The United States, 1900-1920, W.W Norton Company, New York, 1990, 127.

[5] Linda R. Monk, The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to The Constitution, (The Stonesong Press, New York, 2003), 236.

[6] Ibid, 236.

[7] Ibid, 236.

[8] Miron, 43.

[9] York, 237.

[10] Ibid, 246.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid, 247.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Laurence Schmeckebier, The Bureau of Prohibition: Its History, Activities and Organization, (Washington, The Brookings Institute, 1929). https://archive.org/details/bureauofprohibit001615mbp (assessed May 14, 2014).

[15] Laurence, Bergreen, Capone: The Man The Era, (Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, New York, 1994) 19.

[16] Charles Hanson Towne, “The Rise and Fall of Prohibition: The Human Side of What the Eighteenth Amendment Has Done to the United States,” (New York: Macmillan, 1923), 156-61.

[17] Miron, 47.

[18] Schmeckebier.

[19] Martin, 15.

[20] Ibid, 16.

[21] Ibid, 19.

[22] Ibid, 22.

[23] Ibid, 39.

[24] Ibid, 41.

[25] Department of Homeland Security, “U.S. Customs and Border Protection,” http://www.cbp.gov/border-security/along-us-borders/overview (assessed March 23, 2014).

[26] Federal Bureau of Investigation, “Testimony of Kevin L. Perkins and Anthony P. Placido

Assistant Director, Criminal Investigative Division and Assistant Administrator for Intelligence

Drug Enforcement Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation,”  http://www.fbi.gov/news/testimony/drug-trafficking-violence-in-mexico-implications-for-the-united-states (assessed May 10, 2014).

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Mark Potter, NBC News, Along Mexican Border, US Ranchers Say They Live in Fear, November 25, 2011. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/45440385/ns/nbc_nightly_news_with_brian_williams/t/along-mexican-border-us-ranchers-say-they-live-fear/#.U361ertOWM8 (assessed May 22, 2014).

[30] Ibid.

[31] National Institute on Drug Abuse, Various Research and Statistics, http://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics (assessed March 23, 2014).

[32] Gerald Thomas, British Columbia Mental Health and Addictions Journal, 2009, 9. http://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/visions/cannabis-vol5/cannabis-tobacco-and-alcohol-use-in-canada

[33] Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Alcohol Related Disease Impact, http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/DACH_ARDI/default/default.aspx (assessed May 1, 2014).

[34] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, (NSDUH Series H-44, HHS Publication No. SMA 12-4713). Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2012, 55+58. www.cdc.gov (assessed May 1, 2014).