On the 80th Anniversary of Repeal of Prohibition, Why isn’t Marijuana Legal?

It is the eightieth anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition.

Among the many reasons for the popularity of banning alcohol in the US then were the concern of industrialists such as Henry Ford for the creation of a sober, industrious working class. Prohibition was in part intended to regiment and control working people and ensure they were productive, generating profits of which the corporations captured the lion’s share. Prejudice against German-Americans and their beer-making, in the wake of WW I, played a role, as well. The massive wave of immigration from southern and eastern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean (including Italians, Poles Jews and Lebanese/Syrians) also induced fears of rowdy foreign immigrants among the middle class Protestant women of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. The Ku Klux Klan was implicated in the anti-saloon movement and helped enforce prohibition, becoming a major force in states like Indiana (which it took over politically) and in the then Democratic Party. That is, Prohibition was about race and class in some large part.

The prohibition of marijuana, which had been legal most of American history, was also about race and class, and U.S. Commissioner of Narcotics, Harry Anslinger, deployed fear of Mexican immigrant labor to convince Congress to enact the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. Fear of African-Americans, white youth and jazz were also drivers of this legislation.

Despite the hysteria about immigrants and the burgeoning blue collar class, the mainstream of America abolished prohibition on December 5, 1933. Among the goals of the anti-dry politicians was to jump-start business in the early years of the Great Depression and to generate tax-revenue. (Restaurants, for instance, are seldom profitable without liquor licenses; when they are successful, they pay taxes. And covert speakeasies paid no taxes because they were illegal. In 1933 they could become legitimate bars and become part of the tax base for an impoverished city, e.g.)

Some 90% of the American population is still in the Great Bush Depression that began in 2008. Only the stockholders have really recovered. The actual unemployment rate is historically high, a fact hidden by the tinkering with the definition of unemployment. Shouldn’t we now be as pragmatic as FDR, and seek to end the Federal prohibition of marijuana, as well? It would be a boon to the economy and to a government burdened by debt. And, shouldn’t we be embarrassed, as a country with a very large and important Latino community, of the racist origins of this Prohibition? And, are we still afraid of youth and jazz?

Video resource:

Ken Burns’ “Prohibition: The Roots of Retribution”

9 Responses

  1. Thanks for covering this issue and doing so responsibly, Dr. Cole! Good to see you on board with making this country a better place.

  2. why no mention at all about the “prison industrial complex”, and the lavish federal funds to local police from the “war on drugs”. not to mention that Prohibition funded organized crime as well the current marijuana Prohibition.

  3. The real tragedy of marajuana illegality , is putting people in jail for minor offenses , such as posession, and use.
    How do we stop this gross use of Jails?

  4. The obsession that USans seem to have about “drugs”, like the concentration on “moral issues” of sexuality, contraception, abortion, adultery, is very strange when violence, surveillance, poverty, inequality are much more dangerous to the health of society than people’s personal habits if they are free to choose.

  5. Evalutions or Portugal’s decriminalisation of drugs show a number of benefits and no downside. Any government seriously interested in evidence-based policy and the welfare of its citizens should examine the Portuguese experience very carefully.

  6. Couldn’t agree more! It’s sad that we’re still so stuck on it politically. Can’t we just finally do the inevitable (legalize it), and move on?

  7. Smoking a little grass back at the hooch and listening to music on the stereo after I got off duty from the base hospital really calmed me down and helped me deal with and get through all the horrific things I saw as a medical corpsman in Vietnam. But I haven’t smoked a joint in many years. It just doesn’t interest me anymore. But grass should have been legalized many decades ago. Yet we are still living in the dark ages.

  8. If you want to curb gun violence in the US, legalizing Marijuana would be a giant step forward.
    The Drug Gangs that rule many parts of our major cities relie on profits from Pot sales to fund their turf wars

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