Today is Repeal Day, which as most of you know is the holiday celebrating the ratification of the 21st Amendment and the end of Prohibition. To mark the occasion, Reason has put together an interesting video on the “The Man in the Green Hat,” Congress’s very own bootlegger:
Also of interest: This trailer for Breaking the Taboo, a new documentary narrated by Morgan Freeman about the failure of the War on Drugs:
“[E]ither the United States and its society, its government and its congress decide to drastically reduce their consumption of drugs, or if they are not going to reduce it they at least have the moral responsibility to reduce the flow of money towards Mexico, which goes into the hands of criminals. They have to explore even market mechanisms to see if that can allow the flow of money to reduce.
“If they want to take all the drugs they want, as far as I’m concerned let them take them. I don’t agree with it but it’s their decision, as consumers and as a society. What I do not accept is that they continue passing their money to the hands of killers.”
The first mixed drink went to Salem attorney David Sherman, who lives in rural Monmouth. Sherman helped Koontz in architecting the campaign. He was also on board eight years earlier when current Mayor John Oberst spirited a campaign to get beer and wine into Monmouth.
“Did you ever think you would see this?” Oberst posed, sharing a scotch and a smile. “We knew if we went for the whole hog back then it would have been voted down. It took people a little while to see that the whole town is not going to fall apart if we allow the sale of alcohol.”
Now, these spurts of [Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control] enforcement happen every once in a while and eventually things go back to normal after a quick flurry (i.e., bars make extra sure to have no drinks on the bar post 2AM, they watch out for stings with minors), but this time around, it was different. Maybe ABC workers are under pressure, maybe the state needs to generate cashflow, but whatever the conspiracy theory, it’s been more vicious than usual, especially among some of the city’s high-profile cocktail joints. […]
… the one garnering the most outcry from the cocktail bars is the crackdown on elixirs, bitters, and similar infusions. Technically, it’s illegal to modify liquors, per a Prohibition-era law that was put in place to ensure the public that bars wouldn’t tamper with the alcohol, unbeknownst to the customer. Obviously, nowadays, pretty much all of the well-known “artisanal” cocktail places make their own house syrups and whatnot, and it’s unlikely that a yuzu bitter (or whatever is in that 10-ingredient drink) is misleading the public. It’s one thing to crack down on underage drinking, but it’s another to take aim at the outdated laws, which one bar owner described as the equivalent of issuing multiple jaywalking tickets all of a sudden. It’s salutary neglect, you see.
Details are scarce, but this looks like another example of archaic post-Prohibition laws failing to keep up with modern drinking culture. The law was probably written to prevent fraudulent practices such as refilling expensive liquor bottles with cheap hooch to fool customers, but applied literally it apparently also forbids the creative use of spirits as raw ingredients in infusions and such. Uses like these do not mislead or harm consumers in any way; only the government benefits from suddenly enforcing these old regulations by collecting the associated fines.
Writing in Slate today, Deborah Blum shines light on the little-known Prohibition horror in which the US government deliberately poisoned the nation’s industrial alcohol supplies:
Frustrated that people continued to consume so much alcohol even after it was banned, federal officials had decided to try a different kind of enforcement. They ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols manufactured in the United States, products regularly stolen by bootleggers and resold as drinkable spirits. The idea was to scare people into giving up illicit drinking. Instead, by the time Prohibition ended in 1933, the federal poisoning program, by some estimates, had killed at least 10,000 people.
Read the whole thing here. Like Blum, this is an aspect of Prohibition I’d heard about but never read a full account of, so I’m grateful that she’s giving it the attention it deserves.
The wrong lesson to take from this is that we’re more enlightened now. Poisoning the alcohol supply was an egregious abuse, but it’s a small step from that to forcing terminally ill AIDS and cancer patients to give up the marijuana that suppresses their vomiting, to mention just one of the most tragic casualties in the War on Drugs. With prohibition of any kind, grotesque absolutism often leads the government to choose killing its citizens over letting them get high.
Hey everybody, I hope you’ve got some fun things planned for tonight. A long flight, a time change, and Reason magazine’s 40th anniversary party kept me far too busy yesterday to catch up on internet at happenings. I’m at Murky now, checking in briefly before heading over to Cato for what looks to be one of the most popular events ever held there. Jeff and I are going to have our hands full getting drinks to the thirsty libertarian masses.
There’s a lot of Repeal Day writing coming out today, including one op/ed from me in the American Spectator discussing the spiritual heirs of the Temperance movement (which, as Radley learned, is still active!).
I plan to post a more complete roundup soon, but in the meantime here are two excellent pieces from historian Maureen Ogle (author of Ambitious Brew, a book on the history of American beer that I’m currently enjoying). In the first she examines Prohibition’s legacy of regulations that hamper today’s boutique producers of spirits, beer, and wine. In the second she hopes we toast not alcohol itself, but rather our right to enjoy it. Read them both, and be sure to check out her weblog too.
Radley notices that the House of Representatives is considering a resolution to recognize the upcoming 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. Read the whole thing here. Who else but Congress could make Repeal Day sound so boring? One excerpt:
Whereas passage of the 18th Amendment, which prohibited `the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors’ in the United States, resulted in a dramatic increase in illegal activity, including unsafe black market alcohol production, organized crime, and noncompliance with alcohol laws;