006: The Social and Political History of Prohibition with William Rorabaugh

If you dive deep into the history of federally forbidden substances, you start to see clear parallels in the history of alcohol and cannabis when it comes to how prohibitions occur (and why they fall apart). Dr. William Rorabaugh is here to talk all about it.

Dr. William Rorabaugh is a Professor of History at the University of Washington. He’s also the author of several books, including The Alcoholic Republic: An American TraditionAmerican Hippies, and Prohibition: A Concise History. Outside of writing and teaching, he’s held several distinguished positions, including Board President for the Alcohol and Drug History Society and Managing Editor of the Pacific Northwest Quarterly.

Today, Dr. Rorabaugh joins the podcast to talk about how the staggering amount of alcohol Americans drank on a daily basis in the 1800s inspired the temperance and prohibition movements, how the absence of an income tax stopped full prohibition from happening until the 20th century, and why it completely failed to keep America dry.

From there, he traces the history of how reinstatement led to the creation of Liquor Control Boards as we know them today and how states are now using them to regulate cannabis (and the unique challenges they face in doing so). Finally we touch on the numerous health and safety issues that he’s concerned are going under-researched as cannabis use expands in America.


  • How the temperance, prohibition, and abolition movements intersected, crossed paths, and built momentum in the 19th century.
  • Why alcohol and marijuana have been prohibited (and made legal again) during periods of great civil unrest.
  • Why 19th-century prohibition attempts reflected anti-German and Irish immigrant sentiments – and how World War I led to the rapid passage of the 18th Amendment.
  • How Washington state uniquely handled the licensing process for illegal alcohol providers in the early 1930s – and why this would be so difficult to achieve on a national level.


It’s actually the absence of an income tax that prevents prohibition from being done for such a long period of time.” – Dr. William Rorabaugh

As long as you have the federal laws that are on the books and the court rulings that have come prior to this, it makes it very hard to create a legal industry.” –  Dr. William Rorabaugh




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