006: The Social and Political History of Prohibition with William Rorabaugh
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 Tradition, American 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
- Dr. William Rorabaugh
- The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition
- American Hippies
- Prohibition: A Concise History
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TRANSCRIPTRead the Transcript
Rick Kiley: Hello, everyone, and welcome back to The Green Repeal. Today, we’re going to continue our look back at prohibition that is prohibition with a capital P but more from the social and political perspective. You’ll learn just how much Americans were drinking before prohibition, spoiler alert: it’s a lot, and how anti-German sentiment resulting from World War I was a major driver towards prohibition. Providing all this insight today is Dr. William Rorabaugh, Professor of History at the University of Washington. Dr. Rorabaugh has enjoyed an extremely distinguished career. He’s published several books including The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition, American Hippies, and his most recent, Prohibition: A Concise History. Dr. Rorabaugh earned his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley and 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. He’s a wealth of knowledge about prohibition and numerous additional subjects and a fun guest. We really hope you enjoy the interview.
Jeff Boedges: Alright. Welcome back to The Green Repeal. Today. I’m your host, Jeff Boedges. I’m with my partner, Rick Kiley.
Rick Kiley: Hello.
Jeff Boedges: And we are going to talk to a very special guest today. Today, our guest is William Rorabaugh. He’s a retired professor from the University of Washington. He’s got a Ph.D. in American history. He’s also the author of numerous books, including and these are in no particular order, The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition, Prohibition: A Concise History, and my favorite, American Hippies. All about you, Rick.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, man.
Jeff Boedges: So, that being said, so why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself? And can you give us your elevator pitch on who you are and what you hope to discuss today?
Dr. William Rorabaugh: So, I was looking for a dissertation topic as a history graduate student in Berkeley in the early 1970s and stumbled across a whole set of temperance pamphlets from the early 1800s, which was rather odd that such pamphlets had made their way all the way to Berkeley. And I thought about this. I thought that must mean that actually, such pamphlets were very common. “Gee, why were there so many temperance pamphlets being published? Gee, maybe it’s because there was a lot of drinking.” So, all of that led to my book not being about the temperance movement. Many people read about the temperance, but instead about the drinking that led to the temperance movement, Americans in the early 1800s were drinking a record amount of alcohol about three times as much per person as today.
Jeff Boedges: Does that include Missouri?
Dr. William Rorabaugh: In fact, it’s very close to the maximum amount of alcohol that a human body can actually take in.
Rick Kiley: We Americans, we like to go big. It’s funny. It almost sounds like the temperance movement was like a drunk idea that a bunch of people they got so drunk, they’re like, “You know it would be great.”
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Well, it was not. It was the other way around. It was the people who weren’t drunk who decided, “Oh, my God, this is getting out of hand.”
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: But it was based on a real problem, in other words. So, what happened is Americans were drinking, the average, the typical adult white male was drinking about a half a pint of whiskey a day.
Rick Kiley: That’s eight ounces, correct?
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Yes, yes.
Rick Kiley: I’m just trying to do the math for people. Today, we’re pouring one-and-a-half ounce shot.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: We’re drinking about a third as much of that. Yeah.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. That was the equivalent to about six drinks.
Jeff Boedges: Yeah. Five or six.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Yeah, it was a lot of drink but what it was is they weren’t going to like getting drunk to get smashed, although they did that too sometimes but they were drinking with – they had whiskey with breakfast. Usually, watered down. It was water and whiskey. That was usually what it was. So, they had whiskey with breakfast. They had a whiskey break at 11 a.m. They had whiskey with lunch. They had whiskey in the afternoon. They had whiskey with dinner. And of course, they had a nightcap with cheap whiskey. So, they were kind of buzzed all the time. They were never so much drunk as they were just buzzed all the time.
Rick Kiley: Sure.
Jeff Boedges: We had some whiskey clients who’d like to bring back those days.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Well, that could be but I think that does explain why it did become known as the Alcoholic Republic and why there was a temperance movement because the original temperance movement was a group of doctors and ministers and business people who said there’s too many people getting too drunk too much of the time and we’ve got to cut this back. And they did not advocate the abolition of the use of all alcohol. They just said there should be moderation and they thought beer and wine were okay. In fact, they even served wine at their temperance meetings, which is really interesting but they were really against – yes, but they were against whiskey. So, why was whiskey being dropped? The answer was that whiskey was really, really cheap, right? It is cheaper to distill whiskey than it is to brew beer. Right? Isn’t that interesting? But the reason we don’t see it that way is because of taxes. The government taxes whiskey a lot higher than it taxes beer for a very good reason, to kick people away from such heavy substances that have so much alcohol in them.
In the early 1800s, Americans had poured across the Appalachian Mountains into the Midwest and in places like Ohio and Kentucky, and Indiana. They were growing corn and corn grew there better than it did in the east, which meant they had a huge corn surplus.
Jeff Boedges: That really changed.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: And the local population, of course, couldn’t absorb this corn because they were all corn farmers. So, what they did was turn their corn into whiskey and then ship it to the East Coast as whiskey in order to sell it for cash to raise some cash. So, whiskey was their cash crop.
Jeff Boedges: But what drove the demand? Why drink whiskey instead of a glass of water? Or milk?
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Oh, well, actually, because the water was often unsafe.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: If you think about it, and alcohol does kill bacteria so there is actually a legitimate reason for having alcohol mixed into the water. And that was one of the major reasons.
Rick Kiley: Wasn’t that why, I mean, in other in like Scotland, like you say it’s water of life and part of it was that, in fact, water was dangerous and this at least had been distilled so you knew that it was free of charge.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: It did kill the germs and you could preserve it without any refrigeration too, right?
Rick Kiley: There you go.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Unlike some other things. And coffee and tea had to be imported and they were expensive and rare and they didn’t become common until about 1830-ish, 40, and of course, the temperance movement promotes the switch from whiskey breaks to coffee breaks. Now, that’s actually part of the transition. By the time you get to the California Gold Rush in 1850, you have a lot of coffee being consumed.
Rick Kiley: All right.
Jeff Boedges: So, if you’re a prohibitionist or somebody who’s trying to outlaw alcohol, don’t they realize, though, that if they do that, then that there’s going to be public health issues with waterborne illnesses and things like that they were trying to avoid by drinking whiskey in the first place? Did they have an answer to them?
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Well, one of the keys and the reform movement is to provide safe water supplies. And New York City opens its Croton Aqueduct upstate New York water because Manhattan Island didn’t have very good wells and there was a lot of bad water on Manhattan and so New York City actually had bigger drinking than others. People who traveled to New York from Philadelphia or Boston noticed that people in New York drank more whiskey than they did in Philadelphia or Boston. One reason was the water was so bad. So, bringing in the good water in the 1840s was actually one of the reasons, one of the ways to try to get people away from whiskey and Philadelphia also built a big public water supply system and eventually Boston did as well. So, improving public water supplies actually is part of the early temperance movement. Now, you mentioned prohibition. And the key is, you know, when is this switch from being temperance to being prohibition?
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Jeff Boedges: Right.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: And the answer to that is around the 1830s the evangelical Protestants in the north, who were also often abolitionists were very strong in this movement to diminish the use of alcohol and they finally decided that you couldn’t ask people to drink moderately because it didn’t seem to work. They all promised to drink moderately, but they still drank. It’s not that moderately, so you had to ask them not to drink. And so, it turned into teetotalism, where you took a pledge and you promised not to drink and that became a hallmark of becoming an evangelical. You proved that you were actually, you know, part of your conversion experience for becoming an evangelical was to give up alcohol, and that remains true for many evangelicals to this day. So, that was kind of the basis of this. And then half of the population stopped drinking as a result of that. And so, by 1850, half of Americans didn’t drink at all, and those are the evangelicals and because of the association of the anti-liquor movement with the anti-slavery movement, southerners were very suspicious of this. And so, the anti-liquor movement didn’t have as much strength in the south as it did in the north, which is interesting. It’s only after the civil war that southerners joined the anti-liquor movement. And of course, Southern evangelicals, Baptist, Methodist become a big part of that after the Civil War.
But after you’ve managed to persuade half the population to quit drinking, it naturally occurs to the evangelicals, “What about the other half?” And so, that’s where the idea of prohibition comes in. “We gave up our alcohol. Now we’re going to force you to give up your alcohol,” and the religious denominations that never really accepted the idea that giving up alcohol have any religious basis at all were Catholics, Jews, and Episcopalians. I mean, they simply did and then, of course, Christian, I mean, how do you reconcile wine as part of the Christian sacrament and of course, wine is also in Jewish rituals as well. So, how do you reconcile that with the idea of prohibition or with the idea of giving up alcohol together? So, they had big philosophical debates. And what the evangelicals concluded is the wine as mentioned in the bible isn’t really wine.
Jeff Boedges: Yeah. It’s grape juice.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: It’s just grape juice.
Rick Kiley: I mean, it is blood, right?
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Yeah. It’s interesting how people can argue themselves into… We know today from chemical tests on the residues of ancient jars and, in fact, it was wine.
Rick Kiley: Interesting.
Jeff Boedges: Father Welch’s I think had that corner market, right?
Rick Kiley: Well, it’s interesting. They argued themselves into conversion into Islam, right? I mean, no drinking at all. Just right there. That didn’t happen either.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Yeah. It is interesting. So, you could suggest there’s like evangelical Islamic resonance there.
Rick Kiley: It’d be interesting to see.
Jeff Boedges: Yeah, we’re going to get hate mail for that one.
Rick Kiley: Well, I mean, it’s history. It’s not…
Jeff Boedges: Let’s take a quick step back really, if we can because you did mention the fact that there were some ties between abolition and prohibition or at least temperance movement.
Rick Kiley: Yes. I’ve never heard that before.
Jeff Boedges: And also, from reading some of your materials, it looks like there were people that were preaching temperance the minute they got off of their boat in the United States in the mid-18th century, you know, so it seems like it goes back a ways.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Okay. There’s a little bit as it goes back to before the revolution. The first two groups to turn against alcohol are Quakers and Methodists. And the Methodist movement, of course, starts in England. It’s a reformed movement inside the Church of England. It only becomes a separate church later on and they turn against alcohol because of drunkenness. They’re primarily concerned about drunkenness. And there’s a big binge of drunkenness in England because of cheap gin, which is cheaper than beer. And eventually, the British government figures out the solution to this is to tax gin. So, that’s more expensive than beer and that solves the problem. But there’s a gin craze and so that provokes the Methodists into that anti-alcohol stand. The Quakers are a community of merchants largely and they’re engaged in international trade and Quaker merchants had to trust other Quaker merchants in other cities. And if you found out that your partner in another city somewhere else, actually was an alcoholic, well, it wasn’t good for business, because alcoholics tend to not take very good care of their business.
And so, businesses will collapse and you’d end up owning a whole lot of debt as a result of it. So, the Quakers in Philadelphia put in early rules about abstaining from, again, hard liquor from rum or whiskey or gin, but not from wine or beer. Only from hard liquor.
Rick Kiley: Interesting.
Jeff Boedges: It sounds like when you go to a dinner party and your wife says, “Stay away from the whiskey, just stick with the wine and the beer.”
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Yeah. Well, but there is an association of different beverages with different behaviors. It’s interesting. It’s not strictly about the amount of alcohol. If people drink whiskey, they can expect to get drunk. If they drink beer, they may expect I don’t get drunk on beer. And actually, it is harder to get drunk on beer because you have to drink so much of it due to the volume of water that’s there.
Rick Kiley: Well, today’s beer is getting a little stronger.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Today’s beer is a little different though. Yes, one Belgian triples.
Rick Kiley: It’s a glass of wine essentially in a size of a beer.
Jeff Boedges: Okay. So, let’s get down to the abolition part here. So, you mentioned the sort of either it’s a tie or they’re sort of battling for attention but where does abolition and temperance sort of start to cross paths?
Dr. William Rorabaugh: How do they fit together? It’s because they both come out as the evangelical movement, and the evangelicals in addition to what they want to reform the society, I mean, they’re interested primarily in religious reform of the individual through salvation, but they also see changing people’s behavior. You change the society by getting people to change their individual behavior. That’s their theory. And so, changing the behavior about drinking is one thing and then they’re very concerned about slavery. Not actually, sadly, because they care very much about the slaves, but because they care about the souls of the slaveholders, and they say the slaveholders are being corrupted by this because it’s about sloth and lethargy and allowing other people to do your work. Now, exploiting slave labor is bad for the slaveholder. And in the end, they will end up going to hell, quite literally, because they’re slaveholders and so that’s their motivation for wanting to see slavery end.
Rick Kiley: What?!
Jeff Boedges: The rationale was actually not quite apparent. Was there a same rationale for alcohol that alcohol cause sloth? What deadly sin did alcohol cause?
Dr. William Rorabaugh: It is. In the case of alcohol, it was more obvious that alcohol was associated with crime, violence, wife-beating, child abuse, and family destruction, and poverty and guys literally drinking up there, because it is mostly a male drinking problem, you know, guys drinking up their paychecks and leaving their wives and children starving quite literally. I mean, you got to remember that people didn’t have a whole lot of money so drinking up your paycheck was actually something that people could do.
Jeff Boedges: Was there a time when they said, “Well, what are we going to focus on? We can’t save everybody today so we’re going to work on slavery first, and we’re going to work on alcohol second,” or…?
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Well, I think that’s where the splits, you know, it’s not so much a split is most of the people in both of these movements agreed with the other movement, except we’re Northerners. They agreed with both of us, but they decided for whatever personal reason, to put their emphasis on one or the other. And it may have come from personal experience. Think about if you grew up in a family with a drunken father, that might very well cause you to think that that was more important. On the other hand, if you had some kind of experience with slavery, maybe you had traveled to the south or lived there for a time. Harriet Beecher Stowe who, of course, writes Uncle Tom’s Cabin, became strongly interested in abolitionism because for a while she lived in Cincinnati and she visited plantations across the river in Kentucky. And that really influenced her to become an abolitionist, seeing people who were actually slaves. You know, if you think about it, if you lived in New England your whole life, you wouldn’t see any slaves so maybe you wouldn’t think about that.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I think it’s just interesting the perspective of the people who are in the temperance movement were worried about the slave owners, but not necessarily the diminished human rights of the people that were actually the slaves where It feels like that shift happened at some point and I would imagine, you know, that’s what helped gain some momentum for slavery being outlawed.
Jeff Boedges: I don’t think Lincoln ever mentioned this law being one of his major concerns.
Rick Kiley: No, or like really worried about this slave owners’ soul, so I got to say…
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Well, Lincoln’s the more modern person.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Yeah. So, at some point like that switch had to happen.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: It’s important to remember Lincoln is born in 1809 and the big day of the evangelical revivals was the 1820s and 30s. So, Lincoln was a little young for that. He was kind of post that. He grew up as a frontier lawyer in the age of railroads, and he’s much more about the modern society that’s being constructed. You know, he was a trial lawyer and was the most successful trial lawyer in Illinois and had the equivalent of an income of maybe $800,000 a year in today’s money as a trial lawyer.
Rick Kiley: Not bad.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: He’s good at talking to juries.
Rick Kiley: Sure.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: So, this is why you go into politics, right?
Jeff Boedges: Yeah. Passionate speaker. All right. Well, one of the things I remember reading about in your writings was that it seems like prohibition, real prohibition, not just temperance but prohibition seems to come up either in its passage or its repeal in these times of great civil unrest. So, Civil War, personal war, depression, Vietnam, and I think even today when you start looking at the potential repeal of cannabis laws that this is a fairly tumultuous time in American history.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Right. It does, especially politically. The 1960s was culturally tumultuous but didn’t turn out to be politically tumultuous. The political revolution failed, but the Cultural Revolution succeeded but if you look at the sort of prohibition movement is also stimulated in the 1840s and 50s, which is there’s a big movement in the 40s and 50s, to have local or state prohibition. And they passed a prohibition and I think it’s like 11 – all of the New England states and a number of other northern states, Delaware as far south as it goes, but all of those laws are repealed very quickly because the state’s cities lose tax revenue out of it. So, it’s like you end up with unlicensed sales. It doesn’t abolish alcohol sales. It just abolishes the licensing system. You know, the moral thing about it is that this is the heyday of Irish and German immigration. And of course, the Irish are, you know, they invented the word whiskey as well as a lot to do with the substance of whiskey. And big distillers both in Scotland and Ireland and then the Germans, of course, are associated with beer drinking, and beer-drinking culture and the beer gardens. And so, German culture was very much revolved around beer gardens.
And so, these two immigrant groups a lot of their culture was about sites, saloons, or caverns or beer gardens where alcohol was consumed. And so, they were incensed that the evangelicals saying you should give up alcohol. And, of course, the Irish were all Catholics, about half the Germans were Catholic, so religiously, they have no reason to want to do what evangelicals wanted anyway. So, there’s this a lot of this movement for prohibition in the 1840s and 50s is really a backlash against immigration.
Jeff Boedges: Right. So, it’s basically racism can legalize through different ways.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Well, I mean, you have to remember the evangelicals are, you know, they impose no alcohol standard on their own church members. They’ll throw you out of church if you drank. So, there is a belief system that godliness requires abstinence. So, they have a firm belief in that. They also believe quite sincerely that all crime and poverty and urban misery is caused by alcohol. We know, of course, that’s not necessarily the case but they believe that. And because of that, so to simply say, “Oh, it’s right.” I mean, of course, it is racist or ethnic. I don’t like to use word racism.
Jeff Boedges: Yes,
Dr. William Rorabaugh: You’re talking about white European groups but it’s clearly anti-Irish and anti-German. It clearly is. And yet at the same time, there is something else going on there so it’s more complicated than that. It’s a mixed reaction.
Rick Kiley: Right. So, were these like in the areas where there was high German immigration and Irish immigration? Did we see like local laws being passed to curtail prohibition like to prohibit alcohol like did that start to generate locally?
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Depends on how many German or Irish voters there are, doesn’t it? Because, you know, if there are a lot of immigrant voters, no, you don’t see such laws passed locally.
Rick Kiley: Right.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: But of course, if it’s a town that’s 70% evangelicals, then you might see a law like that passed. Now, whether it’s enforced in the Irish neighborhood is another matter. That’s another consideration is the actual enforcement. And of course, one of the ironies of this is so the prohibitionist by the 1850s when these laws are passed and then collapsed pretty quickly, their conclusion is, “What we really have to have is national prohibition.” It’s not that the idea of prohibition doesn’t work. Instead, we haven’t done big enough then you go bigger. So, after the Civil War, where there’s kind of, you know, the slavery issue comes front and center in the late 1850s. Prohibition sort of disappears for a while and everything’s all about slavery. And it’s only after the Civil War ends that you began to see a return of the issue of alcohol. The Civil War plays a role in this in a different way. One-quarter of Union Army soldiers were immigrants. One quarter. It’s doubtful that the North could have won the civil war without those immigrant soldiers. And of course, they’re overwhelmingly Irish and German.
And the German soldiers introduced the other soldiers to beer because beer is basically an urban beverage. People who grew up on farms don’t have – you can make a sort of homemade beer, but it’ll spoil rapidly. It isn’t very good. And German beer is much higher quality because of the way it’s aged, the lagering process, you know, the aging process for the beer. And so, German-lagered beer comes in. The other thing that comes out of the Union army is baseball. They played baseball in camp.
Jeff Boedges: You cannot have beer without baseball.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: They go together. Exactly. That is a great lithograph showing a baseball game at Andersonville in the prison in Georgia for the Union.
Jeff Boedges: Wow.
Rick Kiley: I mean, hot dogs, they must – didn’t they come from Germany?
Jeff Boedges: The wieners did.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Baseball? No. Baseball is developed in the – there’s an English game that kind of is, you know, sort of the origins of it but it’s actually developed in the United States. It’s developed in the northeast in the Philadelphia New York area.
Rick Kiley: Sure.
Jeff Boedges: Yeah.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Sorry. We were talking about hot dogs. I was just wondering.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Oh, hot dogs? Yeah. That’s German. Of course. Yeah, absolutely. And that’s associated with beer too.
Rick Kiley: So, we had this confluence of…
Dr. William Rorabaugh: So, after the civil war when America is becoming urbanized, beer becomes more important and then also taxes play a role in this. Alcohol was untaxed in the United States all during this early period, except for licensing fees at the local level that allowed for unlimited sale. So, it’s in the city’s interest to issue as many licenses as possible in order to get as much revenue as they can and then send the licensee’s interest to sell as much alcohol as possible in order to profit because they have this fixed cost that they have to absorb, which is the license fee. So, the way that taxation was done is go out problems you might say. It causes difficulties. And so, during the Civil War, Lincoln puts on alcohol taxes to help pay for the war and the temperance people go along with us because they can get a high tax. Lincoln puts in a high tax on whiskey and distilled spirits, medium tax on wine. There’s very little wine drunk in America, by the way, so only rich people who imported from Europe and it’s very small, and then a very low tax on beer.
Well, the distillers naturally resented this because they’re stuck with the high taxes and the brewers, of course, they don’t mind paying these. And the brewers by the 1860s are almost all German immigrants just about all of them. And so, they don’t mind paying these high taxes because they’re lower than the whiskey taxes. So, a dry form of whiskey to beer and they say and it’s a very shrewd comment on their part. They say, “Look, as long as the federal government gets a lot of tax revenue from alcohol, they will not ever put in prohibition. This will stop prohibition.” And it’s a good argument and in the 1880 to 1920 period, federal liquor taxes account for 30% to 40% of federal revenue every year.
Jeff Boedges: Yeah, it’s a big number.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: It’s a huge part. The rest of it is customs duties, by the way. So, it’s a huge part of the federal budget. And when the income tax amendment is adopted in 1913, one of the arguments made is now we’ll be able to have prohibition because we’re going to have an alternative tax that we can use instead of the alcohol tax.
Rick Kiley: Right. Yeah.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Yeah. And it’s actually the absence of an income tax that prevents prohibition from being done for such a long period of time.
Jeff Boedges: Well, those were good times. Here’s less money. I know you can’t drink anymore.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, that’s the second time we’ve heard about that, that it’s really interesting the income tax helps make prohibition happen. I mean, everyone loves income tax.
Jeff Boedges: Was it done intentionally though? That’s my question.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Well, income taxes were done by the progressives thought that rich people should pay the ability to pay. Rich people had more money and they’re the ones that should pay. And why should tax drinkers, I mean, and the amount of drink that people consume is not going to be that much different between rich people and poor people so you’re having a much higher tax rate on poor drinkers than on rich drinkers.
Rick Kiley: Right.
Jeff Boedges: Okay.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: So, that was the argument. It’s always the argument about consumption taxes versus income taxes that they’re more progressive.
Rick Kiley: I want to touch on something else you said because we had a guest on an earlier episode, we’re talking about cannabis and the history of it where she was suggesting that part of the cannabis criminalization and the Narcotics Act that was passed in 1970 was due in part by Richard Nixon wanting to be able to arrest hippies, basically arrest people that were protesting the Vietnam War, and he used essentially the criminalization of cannabis as an opportunity to pick these people up on these charges and get them like off the streets and a reason to arrest them. You were mentioning like that these laws might be being passed to be anti-Irish, anti-German immigrant, like it seems like there’s a little consistent thread here of saying, “I’m going to pass a law that has to do with this one thing, consumption of alcohol, consumption of cannabis, but really, I have an ulterior motive. My ulterior motive is I want to get these types of people to not be heard or not be on the streets or not be in my neighborhood,” like, does that sort of jive with what you’ve seen and read about and written about?
Dr. William Rorabaugh: I certainly understand why some people made that argument but I think it is more complicated. I think that the motivations are usually multiple, I think Nixon’s case, I mean, to jump ahead is largely about his campaigning in ‘68 on law and order. So, once you campaign on law and order, then naturally you’re going to enforce better or have stronger anti-drug lobbying. It sort of goes with that. Whether it’s really specifically about antiwar protesters, I think is a little hard. It is maybe about the attack on youth culture. Perhaps we could see it that way and Nixon certainly didn’t represent a “Middle America,” which had many different meanings, but middle-aged Americans are part of the meaning of Middle America. So, perhaps he was trying to say that as well. I think that, well, anyway, it can go back to the story of sort of how we got prohibition nationally in 1920. I mean, if it hadn’t been for World War I, that would never have happened. I mean, you realize that that probably half of progressives and the progressive era which starts around 1900 and lasts until 1917 when the US enters the war, about half of progressives endorsed prohibition and half did not.
So, this was not a movement that some people who were conservative were for prohibition and some people who were for progressive were for prohibition. So, it splits. It doesn’t entirely and yet there is a connection between the progressive movement and prohibition, and it’s this. The progressives believe that government should be more powerful and should regulate and control particularly businesses. And there’s anti-trust is largely what they talk about, and the income tax, well, prohibitionists say also the government should control. In this case, the government should control alcohol by abolishing it so there is a belief and a confidence in the power of government on the part of both. Now, it’s interesting that Southern progressives are especially likely to be in favor of prohibition and I think that’s largely because there’s so many evangelicals in the South. You know, every southern state except Louisiana, which has this big Catholic population, but every other southern state had a Baptist Methodist majority. Now, they were heavily evangelical. And so, for Southern progressives, they are doing this in conjunction with the churches and the churches are a big part of their political campaign, both as prohibitionists and as so-called progressives.
But by emphasizing prohibition as the key reform of the Progressive Era, and that’s what Southern progressive say, it means that they don’t have to deal with race, they don’t have to deal with income inequality, they don’t have to deal with any of the issues that would set off the southern elite. So, they can attack this issue and talk about crime and poverty and blame it all on alcohol. They can stay away from issues about the way the southern elite has exploited black labor even after the end of slavery in a tenant-farmer relationship and so forth and they don’t have to talk about that. So, they’re progressive in a certain way, not the same way as northern progresses.
Rick Kiley: Interesting.
Jeff Boedges: Yeah.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: So, what happens then is many, many more local communities go dry. Those are the ones, of course, run by evangelicals and then entire states start to go dry in the period after 1900. The anti-saloon league is the political organization that really organizes this. The WCTU, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union plays a role in this as well. The WCTU provides the woman power that passes out leaflets, mails envelopes, knocks on people’s doors, gives people literature, and members of the WCTU of course lobby their husbands, their sons, their brothers, their fathers to vote against alcohol. And so, there’s a big movement on the part of the – and the anti-saloon league also works through the churches as well. And the churches, probably 75% of the active members of the church are women. So, this is part of a rising women’s movement, which ultimately, of course, leads to women’s suffrage in 1920. And there’s a connection between the rise of women’s suffrage and the rise of prohibition.
And, of course, the main opponents of women’s suffrage in many states are salon keepers. Because they perceive that if women get the vote, the first thing these women are going to do is put them out of business, right? Because the WCTU, which became the world’s largest female organization, it had 200,000 members in the United States and it had 300,000 members in the entire world, it was active in many different countries, including India. Well, Hinduism and prohibition and Muslim and prohibition and so forth kind of go together and it was active in Scandinavia and it was active in Greta and so forth. So, the WCTU plays a role all the way from the 1870s on, but particularly in conjunction with the anti-saloon league, which is more politically savvy than the WCTU and maybe because it has male leadership is more in, you know, inside politics, you might say. And so, that’s how the prohibition movement gets states to begin to go dry. And then they have a strategy by 1910 that it in a state like New York, I mean, you have New York City, which is a wet city. I mean, New York City has always been a wet city. There’s no way that New York City is ever going to vote that go dry.
So, what do you do? You use rural upstate New York to vote statewide prohibition and impose it on the city. That’s what they do.
Rick Kiley: Sure. Yeah.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: And then, of course, to make sure it stays that way, you need a national constitutional amendment. That way the West can’t get back in and repeal it. And so, they start lobbying for the amendment in 1913 and who’s financing all the wet politicians? Well, it’s interesting. The whiskey industry had been discredited, partly because when you saw people drunk, reeling down the street, they were usually drunk on whiskey. So, whiskey was associated with public drunkenness in a way that beer was not. And the whiskey distillers had cheated on their taxes and been caught doing this in the Grant administration. And so ever after the 1870s, no politician wanted to ever take any money that was connected to whiskey. So, whiskey was like a bad industry, right? Bad reputation, shady people who cheat and so forth. The beer industry, having always paid their taxes didn’t have that problem.
Rick Kiley: Good name citizens.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: And they were good citizens, come on, so they then were the ones who of course paid for the wet politicians. However, wet politicians don’t really want to be, you know, mouthing the lions of the salons and saying, “I got my money from the saloons.” So, the saloon keepers being German, donate their money to an organization called the German-American Alliance, the German-American Alliance which was set up by the Kaiser as an official German government agency in the United States for German immigrants in the United States, and claimed 2 million members by 1910. One-quarter of the population of the United States in 1910 was a German ancestry. So, this was big.
Rick Kiley: Wow.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: And what many people suspected was that the real purpose of the German-American Alliance was to help Germany if Germany ever got into a war in Europe because it was an official German government agency. So, the brewers and the saloon keepers put their wet money through the German-American Alliance, which then donates it to the wet politicians who say, “I’m getting support from the German community and I’m advocating beer gardens because that’s what Germans do for their culture. This is all about German culture,” and that argument works up until 1914. And what happens in 1914?
Rick Kiley: World War I.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: World War I starts in Europe and even though the United States is not in the war for another three years, Americans sympathize with the British and French, partly because of the German invasion of Belgium and the way the Belgians are treated, and partly because the British and the French start borrowing money from American banks. And then they use this money to buy American military supplies and ship them to Britain and France. As a result of this, the whole American economy booms economically but all this prosperity is being created by debt that is owed and if the British and French lose the war, what’s going to happen to the New York banks? They’re going to go out of business. I mean, it’s going to cause a huge depression. So, the US is sucked into the British-French position, even before the German U-boat Campaign in early 1917, which leads Wilson to ask Congress to declare war against Germany. And so, public opinion turns against the Germans and there’s also a lot of German sabotage.
We know now and this was not reported in the newspapers at the time because the insurance industry asked the newspapers to not report it but the German government was sponsoring sabotage in the United States against any company that did business with Britain or France and there’s factories that are blowing up. Well, it’s mostly arson. The biggest one was a million-dollar arson fire at a Bethlehem Steel Plant in Pennsylvania and it was big stuff. And the dries say that it’s the German-American Alliance that’s behind the espionage.
Jeff Boedges: Interesting.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Because they were sponsored by the German government and they had taken a pro-German war position ever since 1914. And so, they’ve got to be the ones who were organizing the espionage. And so, they accused the brewers being of German ancestry of being in on this. So, they now have the brewers in a very defensive position. Late in the war, the British captured documents that showed who actually ran the German espionage in the United States. Do you know who it was?
Jeff Boedges: The whiskey people.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: No. The German ambassadors.
Rick Kiley: Happened in double day. Sorry.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: The German ambassador to the United States was running the sabotage system.
Rick Kiley: Wow.
Jeff Boedges: Wow.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Through the German Embassy in Washington. What do you think of that?
Rick Kiley: We did not do a good background on him.
Jeff Boedges: Yeah.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Well, it did…
Rick Kiley: Did he come like with a recommendation from his like mom?
Jeff Boedges: If he’s wearing one of those helmets with a spike on it. It’s like do you really want that guy to be ambassador?
Dr. William Rorabaugh: This is why you perhaps tape-record ambassador’s conversations that you’re suspicious about.
Rick Kiley: All right. All right. All right. Wow.
Jeff Boedges: So, all that money then dries up. Is that what happens?
Dr. William Rorabaugh: So, the money dried. So, in the 1916 election where Wilson’s running for a second term, the wet money dries up. The wet candidates have no money and they lose in a landslide and so the dries win overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate, which makes it possible to pass the 18th amendment to the Constitution during the war. Wilson has war declared in April of 1917 and it’s December the amendment passes out of Congress and goes out to the states for ratification. And it’s ratified in record time. It’s ratified faster than any other amendment today. And it’s ratified in January of 1919 proving that it was really popular. It was ratified ultimately by 46 of the 48 states. The only two that didn’t ratify were Connecticut and Rhode Island. I can’t really explain why those two but they didn’t.
Jeff Boedges: They’re confused because they were dry states already.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Yeah. Well, there were a lot of Catholics in Rhode Island. I mean, that’s a lot of people in that one but I don’t know. Maybe they like their alcohol there better or something. It’s hypocritical or something. Anyway, they didn’t go along with it, but everybody else did. And so, it showed that it really did have enthusiastic popularity and a lot of it was kind of wartime sacrifice. The dries made the argument, “Young Americans are being sent to France to dock. The least we at home can do is give up alcohol.”
Rick Kiley: Sure.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: So, it’s presented as a wartime sacrifice.
Jeff Boedges: That’s a weird argument especially since when they went to Europe they were drinking like fish, I’m sure.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Well, this is great. I mean, one of the soldiers who came back said, “Yeah, we weren’t here to vote,” and that’s when they put prohibition in and there’s some truth in that too. Those soldiers were not around to actually vote on it. Right? They were gone. So, all the young men were gone at the time. But, yes, in France they drank a lot of wine. That’s where Americans learned to drink wine maybe. You know what the army used instead of alcohol to try to get people off alcohol?
Jeff Boedges: Saltpeter or what?
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Cigarettes.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It would have to be.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: That’s where cigarettes have come in. Cigarettes prior to World War I are used only by prostitutes. Men smoke cigars.
Rick Kiley: Only?
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Women smoke cigarettes and it’s only women of a certain type to smoke cigarettes. So, they were for prostitutes only. And so, the war changes that because the doughboys go over there and the US Army provides them with free cigarettes as a substitute for alcohol.
Rick Kiley: Wow.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: And it’s better on guard duty because if you’re drunk, you may fall asleep but nicotine keeps you awake.
Rick Kiley: Got it.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: And they all come back addicted as a result.
Jeff Boedges: So, eventually they get prohibition through. They, I’m going to say, sneak it through or basically take advantage.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Well, it’s wartime hysteria and the anti-German part of it is a big part of it, isn’t it? I mean, the brewers are all Germans so let’s punish the German brewers.
Jeff Boedges: So, why eventually, in your opinion, did it start to fall apart?
Dr. William Rorabaugh: I think it starts to fall apart almost immediately in some places. In New York City, I’d say prohibition lasted about 10 seconds. They had a big celebration like New Year’s Eve, the last day of legal liquor and at midnight, that was the end of legal liquor. And so, they did all the things you do on New Year’s Eve at midnight and then, of course, they put down their glasses and they said, turn to the waiter, they said, “Where’s my next drink?” That’s how long prohibition lasted.
Jeff Boedges: Nice.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Yeah. It was not enforced really in New York. When prohibition came to an end, it was voted on in each state and the vote in New York City was more than 40:1 in prohibition. There was no support at all. So, in the early 20s, alcohol consumption is probably about two-thirds lower than it was before prohibition. So, there is a big reduction. This is the era when there are mom-and-pop operations. Moonshine means alcohol made by people at home.
Jeff Boedges: Right. Legal distilling.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Bootleg means imported. And of course, most of the imported alcohol actually comes from Canada. So, Americans being handed moonshine and bootleg liquor from Canada, but in the early 20s, it’s harder to find alcohol than it was before prohibition and also the quality of the product is pretty poor. So, it’s dangerous perhaps and it’s illegal too. So, there are reasons why the – and people are caught up in this patriotic anti-German stuff. But when you make a substance illegal, what it does is it causes that substance or substitute to come back in a stronger form. And the reason it comes back in a stronger form is that there’s risk associated with carrying it around and so you want to make sure if you’re going to carry something around that’s illegal and you might get caught, it’s going to be worth your trouble. So, beer basically disappears except in really big cities. New York and Chicago always have beer during prohibition, but other places, not so much because beer is bulky and hard to hide. How are you going to hide a beer truck? You know, it’s just too bulky. Whereas whiskey, you can hide in bottles in the panels of a car and all sorts of hiding places.
And so, distilled and distilling is cheaper and easier to do than brewing. You’re not paying any taxes. You might as well not pay taxes on the hard liquor instead of not pay taxes on beer so you get more kick for the money. What the prohibition did do was it drove up prices that also meant there was no quality control and there were people who died from poisoning, you know, alcohol poisoning for a lot of alcohol was made out of wood. You know, wood alcohol is poisonous. So, that’s one reason why the amount consumed was not all that great. But then as the decade goes on, you get the cartels, right, the drug cartel, the alcohol cartel.
Jeff Boedges: The mafias and the mobs.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: And the most famous, of course, is Al Capone, who takes over Chicago and he brews beer in Chicago, but he also sells spirits. The spirits he sells mostly come from Canada. They’re imported either via Detroit or from rum row, which is a series of ships that are stationed offshore that go from Boston all the way to Virginia and they’re just beyond the three-mile limit. At night, because they’re beyond the limit, the US government can’t do anything about them and at night, the small speed boats come out from shore and load up and go back to shore within 10 minutes before the Coast Guard can do anything. And the boats that the bootleggers had could outrun the Coast Guard because they went to all the shipyards that had built all the Coast Guard boats and got the blueprints and then asked the same shipyard to build them a ship that was faster.
Rick Kiley: Wow.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Pretty clever wasn’t it?
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Jeff Boedges: Well, it’s not technically illegal to ask for a faster boat.
Rick Kiley: So, correct then. Yeah. Wow. So, with all the enforcement, I think, as we know, from all the movies we’ve seen, you’ve seen Eliot Ness and all that, like most of the enforcement seem to fail across the board. Like on a large scale like, why is that? Is it simply because enough people wanted to buy it that they were going to continue to demand it?
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Yes. Basically, yeah, because that’s the problem and the lesson is that if half the population wants to drink, no ground numbers, I mean, it might be a little more, a little less, but around half, how on earth can you expect that you’re going to impose controls on that many people? If it’s 2% of the population, that’s different but if it’s 50% you can’t do it. It’s impossible. And even in places that were dry, my father grew up in an evangelical small town in Pennsylvania and he said there was one bar in town and during prohibition they had the front door locked and the shade strung and every kid in town know that if you went to the back door and rapped three times, you could get in. So, even during prohibition, in this little dry town, they still had alcohol. It’s just a stranger walking down the street who couldn’t find it. That’s all.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Jeff Boedges: Got it.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: So, it comes to an end because in the late 20s, the mob is taken down and St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago in 1929 even though we call a massacre and that they publish the photos of the bodies in the newspapers and so it horrifies people, even though it’s actually like seven people who were murdered, but that really causes revulsion against Capone and his methods, his violent methods. And then people look at Capone as taking in 200 million a year untaxed, pays no income tax. There’s no alcohol tax, and he’s selling bad liquor, and all the speakeasies in Chicago are forced to carry his brand of liquor. His agents go around and come into a speakeasy and say, “From now on, you’re buying from us or we’ll burn your place down,” and he’s got half the cops in Chicago on the payroll. He takes over two suburbs of Chicago and runs their city governments. You know, he’s a real menace.
And John Rockefeller Jr, who had financially supported prohibition who was a Baptist and a teetotaler, never drank in his life, had given in what would be in today’s money like millions of dollars to put prohibition in, turned against prohibition at the end because of the violence. He said what we’ve created is a monstrosity. Instead of having a legal system for sale, we now have an illegal system and we get no tax money out of it and we have to pay money for enforcement. So, instead of making money out of alcohol, the government is spending money trying to enforce this and the enforcement doesn’t work. The federal prisons were clogged, state prisons were clogged with prisoners arrested on alcohol charges. Plea bargains were common because the courts were clogged. It took two years to get a court date in federal court of any kind for any case and so the pressure was on the prosecutors not to prosecute people but they could do plea bargains and people would agree to pay fines. And, of course, the boot people like Capone had no problem with paying from people’s fines, right?
Rick Kiley: Sure.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Some saloon keeper gets arrested. Who’s selling his beer? You go ahead and pay his fine and get him out within an hour after his arrest. So, the failure of enforcement and the lack of tax revenue and it still might have lingered a while but what really did it in was the Depression, because as soon as the Depression hits, it’s like every government in the United States, tax revenues just drop off. How do you collect property taxes from people who don’t have any jobs and can’t pay them?
Jeff Boedges: Don’t have any property.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: How do you collect sales taxes or income taxes plummet because incomes go way down? So, how do you get any money? You’ve got Capone with all this money, not paying anything. It’s like, “Well, actually, we need liquor taxes,” and that’s what really brings about repeal.
Jeff Boedges: Okay, cool. So, you live in Washington.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Yeah.
Jeff Boedges: You got a front-row seat through the legal cannabis movement. What can you tell us? How’s it been like the repeal of alcohol prohibition? How’s it been different?
Dr. William Rorabaugh: It’s been very different and I’m always surprised by it, actually. But if you think it’s true, you’ll see maybe why. In 1932, Roosevelt won a huge victory. One controlled the House and Senate, ran on repeal, put in legal beer under the 18th amendment. It was agreed that beer – you could make beer legal under the 18th amendment and he put in legal beer in March of 1933, which also when he put in taxes for legal beer and the states and cities around the country immediately made beer legal so they could tax that as well. So, that was a real in market point of Roosevelt’s commitment to repeal. And then the 21st amendment, repealing the 18th is passed by Congress actually before Roosevelt comes in and goes out to the states and is submitted to state conventions which are elected by the voters. And it’s basically a popular wet-dry election in all the states that vote on it, and it wins in all the states that vote on it except the Carolinas, which is interesting. And then, well, in North Carolina, we know it was the combination of the Baptist and the bootleggers that defeated it. The bootleggers didn’t want to lose their market and the Baptist went through.
I don’t know about South Carolina. Anyway, in December of 1933, the 21st amendment repeals the 18th and so alcohol, basically, is back in a legal mode but what Roosevelt does when he does the NRA in early ‘33, he puts in codes for the hard liquor industry, wine industry, beer industry which specify how alcohol has to be done/handled. And this is also in the federal tax code that’s passed in ‘33 and what it does is it forces the states to adopt a three-tier system for sales and marketing. And this is also true for the federal government. You have to be licensed. If you’re going to handle alcohol, you have to be licensed both by the federal government and by the state government. So, the difference between what happened after prohibition and before prohibition with alcohol was the three-tier system. When Roosevelt’s elected President in 1932, he brings in big majorities in the House, the Senate, and all over the country states that are controlled by Democrats so he has an easy path.
He provides good leadership, and he can repeal. He can put beer in under the 18th. amendment in April of 1933, and the 21st amendment which is set the Congress even before Roosevelt is inaugurated is ratified in December of 1933. And Roosevelt through the NRA puts in the three-tier system which means that alcohol, retailing, wholesaling and production are separated. You cannot have a tied house. You cannot have a saloon or a pub owned by a producer. A producer must sell to a wholesaler who must sell to a retailer. And the reason for that separation was because before World War I, 70% of the saloons in the United States were owned by the brewers and the brewers made all the profits and the saloon keepers were forced into doing illegal gambling and prostitution and illegal drugs and other things in order to make a living because they were pressured because there were too many outlets. And so, Roosevelt tries to handle that problem by separating the production and the market, the wholesaling and the retailing.
And the states liked this as well because now they can put in state alcohol taxes at the wholesale level. Since all alcohol that’s produced out-of-state has to be sold to an in-state wholesaler, that’s how you can collect the tax on it. It’s easier, cheaper, and more reliable to collect the tax from the wholesaler than it is to try to collect it from the retailers. The retailers have a lot more incentive to cheat and it’s much harder to monitor hundreds of thousands of retailers. So, that’s the reason for that. So, Roosevelt’s system puts in, in every state except one adopts the State Liquor Control Board. So, the State Liquor Control Board controls the number of licenses, controls the licensing process, writes the rules about what you have to do in order to be a retailer, what you have to do to be a wholesaler, and how the importation is going to be done and how the taxes are going to be collected and so forth. And so, that system remains in effect to this day.
Rick Kiley: Oh, yeah.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: So, what we did with alcohol is we moved from a system of the Wild West before 1914, where practically all alcohol was sold untaxed, except for these local licenses, to a system where there was no legal alcohol. Both of those systems failed and then we tried to protect public health, public safety in order to have a regulated system. And so, we went to a heavily regulated system. So, the question you asked was, how does this relate to cannabis?
Jeff Boedges: How does it compare? Yeah. What’s going on?
Dr. William Rorabaugh: How does it compare? And the answer is, I thought when Washington State adopted legal recreational cannabis, medical marijuana in Washington had never been very controversial and had seemed to work pretty well and there was no controversy about it which, of course, probably one reason that recreational marijuana passed but recreational marijuana immediately caused all sorts of problems. And one of the problems was that it was a voter initiative and this was also true in Colorado. The Colorado initiative I think was more sophisticated and envisioned a legal cannabis industry whereas the Washington initiative imagined large numbers of individuals growing their own personal pot and then maybe selling a little bit to their neighbors. It was kind of a hippie model. And of course, it was naive, because that’s not what, you know, if you’re going to have a cannabis industry, it’s going to be an industry and it really is going to have industrial dimensions to it.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: In order to sell this to the voters, the Washington initiative, also put in promises of tax revenues that were sky high, and the only way to actually – it promised huge revenues and the huge revenues would come about from really high taxes. Well, the first immediate problem was that the legal recreational marijuana was really expensive compared to medical marijuana which the initiative did not touch. So, why on earth would anybody who was getting medical marijuana want to switch? It was insane. It made no sense. And then what about illegal marijuana, which turned out to be really cheap because there’s no tax. And so, even today, it took the state years before they finally merged the medical and recreational marijuana outlets into a single system, which they finally were able to do, but the taxes are still higher are such that they’re so high that illegal marijuana is cheaper. And so illegal marijuana remains a big issue in Washington state because of the tax policy. This is in contrast to what was done in 1933 in Washington State.
Washington State being on the Canadian border was particularly susceptible to whiskey from Vancouver coming across the border during prohibition. And so, in 1933, the state recognized this and put in state liquor stores and licensed all the bootleggers in Washington. They were all invited to apply for licenses. And they were told, “This is your chance. You can go legit. But if we catch you doing anything illegal, you’re going to lose your license. It’s not going to be a suspension. It’s going to be we’ll kick you out.” A World War I retired admiral ran this program. He was great. Admiral Gregory was his name. And what they did down to 1940, they kept the taxes low at first, so that bootleg liquor would not come in and being significantly cheaper. It was a little bit cheaper, but, I mean, hey, if you’re doing bootleg, you don’t know what you’re getting. So, when you were drinking legal liquor, you had a much better chance of getting your real liquor that was not adulterated. And so, you could have a little price differential and it was okay. So, that drove the bootleggers out and by 1940, Gregory had gotten rid of quarter of the licensees because they had violated the laws in sales and mostly it was sales to minor. That was the main thing they were violating but he combed all the bad apples out of the barrel, called them out of the barrel.
Jeff Boedges: He also put all the bootleggers out of business.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: And put the bootlegger out by having the low tax and then by 1940, the taxes are high. And we’ve had high priced distilled spirits in Washington State ever since.
Jeff Boedges: Right. So, do you think that’s something that your state legislators could have actually paid a little bit better attention to when they legalize?
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Yes, absolutely. But I’ll tell you what the real difference is and this is key. The federal law is still prohibition, right? That’s the problem. I mean, we’ve got legal marijuana in many states now but the federal law hasn’t changed. Enforcement as a federal law has changed, perhaps, but not the actual statute. And 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 to say, “Well, this is a state industry, then somehow we’re going to be legal even though the federal system says that it’s illegal.” That makes it really hard.
Rick Kiley: But when prohibition was being repealed, didn’t individual states start to repeal it statewide before the 21st amendment was passed?
Dr. William Rorabaugh: There were some states that repealed and New York being the most famous. There were some states that repealed their state enforcement and Maryland boasted that they never had any state enforcement before, during the 1920s even, but there were a small number of states that did that. And even so, the feds had enforcement everywhere and there was always the risk of being you know. I mean, it’s true. One of the reasons prohibition fails in New York City by the late 1920s is that you have 100 federal enforcement officers in the whole city of New York and 30,000 speakeasies. There’s no enforcement. I mean, it can’t be. So, it’s nonsense and there’s no state action at all at that point. But in 1933, you know, there are a few states that remain dry in the 1930s, but not many, and most states want the revenue. It’s the reason they go wet, it’s not so much.” In fact…
Jeff Boedges: Yeah. There’s no altruism around drinking, that’s like “wouldn’t it be great if everybody got drunk?”
Dr. William Rorabaugh: It’s interesting. The 36th day to ratify the 21st amendment was Utah, which I always thought was not an accident. They purposely wanted the Mormons to be the ones that would put wets back in. And of course, in Utah, the only way to get a liquor license in Utah was to be a Mormon. The Mormons would only trust Mormons. Well, of course, Mormons don’t drink but, I mean, we wouldn’t want to trust someone who wasn’t Mormon to sell. They might sell alcohol to drunks or children or whatever. So, they have to be a church member to get a license.
Jeff Boedges: So, the federal government when they finally legalized alcohol again in the United States you mentioned that, basically, that they dictated the three-tier system. There’s nothing like that in cannabis right now.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Correct.
Jeff Boedges: You know, I’ve seen basically there are completely vertically integrated companies right now that basically handle all aspects of distribution from seed to sale.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: That’s correct, because there’s no federal as long as there’s – because there’s going to and then the question about importing things across state lines, which is already an issue as you probably know, there’s this, you know, big move by Nebraska sheriff’s to arrest people as they cross the border from Colorado.
Jeff Boedges: I hadn’t heard that though.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Oh yes, it has. As people cross the border coming from Denver across Nebraska, the local sheriff is making a lot of money stopping people and then searching them for legal marijuana that they bought in Denver because it’s not legal in Nebraska or at least it wasn’t as of…
Rick Kiley: Interesting.
Jeff Boedges: Time to drive through Kansas. Just saying.
Rick Kiley: Maybe you got to go north. Yeah.
Jeff Boedges: Go through Montana.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Go to Canada.
Jeff Boedges: Alright. So, do you feel like if we were able to institute a three-tier system that some of the tax issues may be ameliorated?
Dr. William Rorabaugh: I would hope so. But you have to admit that in the present political environment in Washington, it would be difficult for anybody to propose anything that could pass and actually get signed into law. I mean, at the present time, in 1933, you had the confluence. First of all, Roosevelt was personally popular. He was extremely competent. I mean, let’s emphasize that and he controlled the House and Senate totally. So, any bill he proposed would pass pretty quickly. So, he was in a position of, you know, he was able to assert and establish leadership and he was smart enough to know what needed to be done. And he had a political position that enables him to accomplish it. And right now, you know, the federal government doesn’t seem to have the capacity to function.
Rick Kiley: Well said.
Jeff Boedges: Well said. Very politically correct. All right. One of our previous guests also postulated on the possibility that perhaps the party in power right now may capitulate and say, “You know what, we’re going to legalize it as a way to sort of Governor Mark to help get a few of those flagging. Yes, flagging support for the party.”
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Get a few votes? Well, that’s a possibility. I wouldn’t entirely rule out anything along those lines. As long as the states continue to do what they’re doing and move more and more in the direction of legalization, then that puts more and more pressure on the federal government to finally come up with. After all, the federal government’s losing tax revenue, right?
Jeff Boedges: Yeah, for sure.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: That’s the most obvious.
Rick Kiley: Definitely. And they’re spending money on prosecuting and criminalization, do you know? Less and less.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: I don’t think they’re actually doing much prosecution, at least in most parts of the country. One of the things that people forget and actually the story of prohibition on this is relevant, law enforcement in the United States is actually local or state. It’s not federal. And so, you can have the FBI or the DEA or whatever, but they don’t really have the resources to do much in the way of prosecution. They can prosecute a few cases but they have to be very careful about picking and choosing the cases because in a lot of cases if the case can be prosecuted by the locals rather than the feds, the feds would rather that it be done by the locals because of their restrictions on resources. And of course, if the locals have a legalization policy, they’re not going to prosecute anybody. I mean, they’re not going to do that. That’s not going to happen. So, you have a lot of tension I think between the state and federal prosecutorial systems which is caused by the differences in the statutes. And how marijuana ended up in such a dire legal status it’s largely because of Harry Anslinger. You do know that?
Rick Kiley: Oh, yeah. We’ve spent actually a couple of hours talking to people just about that by itself. They are, in fact, separate entire episodes of this podcast.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Yeah. That’s fine.
Rick Kiley: We’ve gotten a lot of that stuff out there and, yeah, it’s a crazy story. Again, like everything that you’ve told us today. Super interesting stuff.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: I mean, you ask a question like, where does this all go? Or how does this evolve?
Rick Kiley: Make your prediction.
Jeff Boedges: We ask everyone.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Well, I’m willing to do just one prediction. I think that there are surprises ahead of us. I’ll tell you the thing that’s most disturbing. Illegal substances are impossible to research. Okay. And so, we don’t know the long term health consequences of the use of marijuana, because no one can research. And this has been true for 50 years. And so, there was some research done earlier, but it was pretty primitive compared to the kind of research you can do today. And the truth of the matter is that we didn’t know too much about alcohol. We had a lot of propaganda from the WCTU but we knew very little about how alcohol actually worked in the brain, for example. And one of the parts of the negotiation that ended prohibition because it was done by negotiation in 1933 was that the liquor industry would sponsor alcohol research on how alcohol worked inside the human body, and this was done at the Yale Center for Alcohol Studies, which later became the Rutgers Center For Alcohol Studies.
And a lot of research in the 30s and 40s was about rats. As one of the researchers said, “Fortunately, we know more about rat drinking than human drinking.” But the rat research actually turned out to matter in the long run because rat brains and human brains actually do show a lot of similarities. And once we got brain scans, and you could see how dopamine actually works in the brain and you can see the triggers and you could see how someone who becomes an alcoholic actually has their brain changed, so that the way the drug affects the brain actually is different than it is for someone who’s not an alcoholic, you can understand how alcoholism actually works on the metabolic level. Well, that’s actually very important research. And it leads to things like harm reduction programs and Mothers Against Drunk Driving and designated drivers and zero tolerance, I mean, all these policies which sometimes have been called Neo-prohibition of the last 30 or 40 years are really rooted in the fact that there’s an overconsumption problem for the people who have that problem.
I mean, it’s obviously not true for most people who drank but for a small number of drinkers, there’s a crisis that’s there. And so, trying to reduce the odds of people developing that it’s actually important. It’s important public policy. So, one of the questions you have to ask is, what’s the role of marijuana in intoxication in a more generalized way? And how does it affect the human brain? Is there an addictive aspect of marijuana that’s similar to or quite different from alcohol? And here’s one statistic I’ll throw out that sort of raises the question. So, one of my friends locally is a local judge and he says that in his court, he has three times as many cases of driving under the influence, as he did before legalization of recreational marijuana and the entire increase is due to marijuana. And what’s interesting to him is that he never had cases of people using medical marijuana in his court for drunk driving. That never happened. And I think it has to do with the circumstance that people who define themselves as using marijuana medically are using it in a way even medically may be more psychological than it is physical but nevertheless, they’re using it in a way that doesn’t lead to this kind of behavior.
But I think one of the reasons that intoxication with marijuana makes actually cause more of vehicular problems than alcohol is that most people when they’ve had too much to drink, they know it. They may choose to drive anyway, bad idea, but they do know that they’re drunk, but I think marijuana sneaks up on people and I think they’re intoxicated with marijuana and don’t realize it. And marijuana makes people feel all-powerful and they get behind the wheel and, of course, it destroys the sense of time, right? That’s one of the characteristics of marijuana is that it causes a distortion in the sense of time. So, they think they’re just driving fine. When in fact, they’re driving very radically and you know, they can’t walk a line and so forth. But one of the problems he has in court is, in these cases, the only thing the police can do because at the present time, because of the absence of research on an illegal product, we don’t actually have presently a method to detect whether someone has a measurable amount of marijuana in their system that would make them “intoxicated” and all you can do is ask people to walk the line.
Jeff Boedges: It’s all behavioral.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: That video is not very convincing to jurors, so you’re much less likely to get convictions than you do with the so-called alcohol blood test, which is actually the…
Rick Kiley: Breathalyzer.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Well, the breathalyzer, which is actually now on a flashlight that’s not shined into the person’s eyeball. I mean, that’s how they actually do it at a traffic stop.
Rick Kiley: So, I think one prediction then you’re saying there will be a very good DUI test for cannabis in the very near future.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: I’m sure there had better be a whole lot more testing, a whole lot more research, and a whole lot of concern about what. Of course, maybe the self-driving automobile will solve the problem.
Rick Kiley: It’ll solve a few problems, I think.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: So, this might actually work out in an ironic way.
Rick Kiley: It’s also like my kids never having to drive.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: No. I think there’s another issue that’s shown up in one piece of research and it’s just one piece and so you have to look for a lot of replication before you draw total conclusions, but what the researchers did in this case was they followed for three years with brain scans a group of teenagers who were daily pot smokers beginning at age 13. And it’s kind of unusual for kids at 13 to be daily pot smokers. So, you’re dealing with a pretty heavy early pot-smoking group and they smoke pot daily for three years and they had their brain scanned all the way through and what alarmed the researchers about this was that the adult synapses that have to close off in the brain didn’t close. In other words, they’re in an arrested state of childish development. So, one of the questions you have to ask is, is legal marijuana going to produce a generation of brain-damaged children who can’t become adults?
Rick Kiley: It’s funny. I thought you were going to ask has it already produced?
Jeff Boedges: Yeah.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Well, I don’t think it was that many. You know, one of the things and this is again another difference between medical and recreational marijuana in Washington State, in the era of medical marijuana, you never heard cases of children having edibles.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Because medical marijuana wasn’t dispensed that way.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Jeff Boedges: Yeah. There’s always going to be the issue of control though.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: And now you’ve got, in fact, I suppose one of the main ways that pot stores have survived given the lower prices that the medical marijuana places have had is by offering more enticing merchandise and that means largely edibles. And so, the edibles fall into the cupcakes and candies. I mean, the children are attracted to sweets and so there are all sorts of stories of a fourth-grader bringing cupcakes from home to class not realizing that they were mother’s cupcakes for adults.
Jeff Boedges: Special cupcakes. Yeah. But I think there’s going to be controlled issues as there are in wine and spirits. I mean, it’s easy for kids or it has been easy for underaged children to get a hold of alcohol throughout the years. That’s a constant battle. I think that battle will be the same in cannabis. I think there’s going to be and I do also agree with you though, at least like within the spirits industry, you know, they self-police and they will not allow you to put things that are attractive to children on the packaging or to make packaging that is enticing to children in any way. And I think that’s something that’s probably missing in these early years of legal cannabis.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: And again, some of that’s because of the absence of federal regulation because a lot of that would be handled through the Federal Trade Commission, which would regulate the content of advertising for products that were or perhaps through the Food and Drug Administration. That would be another place that you would regulate content of that sort. You would have government research that would back up why it had to be a certain way because you can’t do that. Neither of those agencies are involved in this. And you think about many states don’t really have the money to do any kind of research. So later, they’re not in a position to ebb. They can’t impose a policy because it would seem arbitrary. It has to be based in some kind of study and then the study has to be done first. So, that’s where there’s a problem. I think in here, what I see is that the retailers are actually making their own merchandise, so it’s not selling mass-produced merchandise. It has to follow certain prescriptions as what comes out of your bakery in the back of this? It’s very difficult for the state to kind of regulate that.
Rick Kiley: Well, we’re going to have to hope that they get it right soon.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Well, I think I mean, given the way this is moving and public opinion is ahead of political opinion, you’ll notice, because the states, the early states all adopted both medical and recreational marijuana by initiative, not by votes of legislators.
Jeff Boedges: Yeah. Well, that’s because it would take forever.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Well, I think it’s because the liquor industry is very powerful in the legislature, and in many cases, the liquor industry, maybe correctly fears that this is an alternative that could cut into sales.
Jeff Boedges: That is an episode that we are going to record in the future. You may be on that one as well.
Rick Kiley: William, thank you so much for your time today.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Sure. Okay, I enjoyed it.
Jeff Boedges: It was fantastic for us. You’ve taught us a lot, a lot of things we didn’t know and so thank you for that. Hopefully, again, we’ll get you back on another episode because I think there’s probably about 27 topics that you could cover quite adroitly and we would love to delve into them. But for today, I think that’s going to be our show. And yeah, thank you for being on. We can’t wait to have you on again.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Okay. I’ll send you my resume and pics.
Rick Kiley: Cool. Thanks so much. Cheers.
Dr. William Rorabaugh: Okay.