By Virgil Vaupel
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Revisiting The 18th Amendment


Once called the “Noble Experiment” and actually named the National Prohibition Act of 1919, and written not by its sponsor Andrew J. Volstead of Minnesota but by Wayne Wheeler of the Anti-Saloon League, the Volstead act went into effect on Jan. 1, 1920, much to the dismay of about 80% of the general population.

To this day it has been the only amendment to be repealed. Woodrow Wilson vetoed the act but was overridden by Congress the same day, Oct. 28, 1919, and Prohibition began January 1920.

There were some “provisions” to this act that are very similar to some of today’s provisions about some drug use. One that pops into mind is that during Prohibition one could get a doctor’s prescription for alcohol to be used medicinally. Today that provision covers marijuana use and the many prescription drugs in common usage.

Another is that it became illegal to carry a hip flask. Today it’s drug paraphernalia that’s illegal to carry.

One was not allowed to give alcohol to anyone other than immediate family or legitimate guests in your permanent residence. Today one cannot even offer someone an aspirin much less a hit of oxycodone or Vicodin.

The most famous evangelist of that era, Billy Sunday, proclaimed, “The rein of tears is over. The slums will soon be just a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jail houses into storehouses and corn cribs.” How’d that turn out for you Reverend Sunday?

In addition to being ineffective, Prohibition was counter-productive in that it led to heavy and rapid binge drinking. When one took the time to drive to a speakeasy, say the correct password and risk getting tossed into jail, it was for the sole purpose of getting drunk as quickly as possible and getting outta Dodge.

Be patient here friends. I’m getting to the point.

This is sort of a reply to Bonnie Davidson’s excellent article on drugs in Valley County, which appeared in last week’s Courier.

In Bonnie’s story, if you were to replace the word “drug” with “alcohol,” “drug task force” with “The Untouchables,” “methamphetamine” with “JW Red,” “drug transportation” with “bootlegging” and “moonshine still” with “meth lab,” you could almost imagine you were reading a story from the New York Times dated Feb. 12, 1927. Journalist H.L. Mencken wrote, “Five years into Prohibition have had, at least, this one benign effect: they have completely disposed of all the favorite arguments of the Prohibitionists. None of the great boons and usufructs that were to follow the 18th Amendment has come to pass.”

I know … that word “usufructs.” You might think I simply made it up and inserted it herein. You’d be wrong. Look it up.

Mencken went on to write, “There is not less drunked-ness in the Republic, but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not less but vastly greater. Respect for the law has not increased, but diminished.”

In Texas, one county may be “dry” but the next will allow alcohol. Some clubs charge a membership fee, but you bring your own bottle and can’t take what’s left of it when you leave. They charge a good price for “mixer,” however.

Now don’t get your tights in a twist. I’m NOT saying I think drug use should be legalized. And I DO NOT advocate Prohibition … again. I’m simply pointing out the similarities betwixt today’s “scourge” and the “scourge” of almost a hundred years past.

Alcohol use and overuse has its drawbacks, but it seems to be more socially acceptable to admit to a night of alcoholic debauchery than to tell people you were incredibly zonked out on heroin.

One of the problems with drugs, as I see it, is that the government is at loggerheads trying to figure out how to allow it and put high taxes on it.

Another is the safety of drug use. Meth is probably the worst due to the very lethal natures of the ingredients that go into making the stuff. Bathtub gin would make you blind … and dead. Meth will make you blind … and dead.

What I see here is a classic “Catch 22.”

Legalize drugs and take the manufacturing out of the hands of incapable science students with a death wish and a crushing desire to be able to pay their tuition and allow credible pharmaceutical companies to manufacture and sell them under safe and sterile conditions? Put exorbitant taxation on the products?

The latter of those two would raise the crime rate with people committing crimes to get money for their legal drugs.

Can a person get “hooked” on drugs more so than on alcohol, or for that matter cigarettes and chew? Is it easier to get clean and stay clean from alcohol than from drugs?

Is a driver more impaired when driving under the influence of alcohol rather than marijuana?

Yikes! So many questions … so few answers.

That’s it for now folks. Thanks for listening.


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