Friday, 17 January 2020

anti-saloon league

With legislation drafted by the above interest group and taking much of the public by surprise by its severity and abrupt enforcement, the Volstead Act (named for the bill’s manager and sponsor in the Congress, chairman of the Judiciary Committee) came into effect just after the stroke of midnight on this day in 1920, meant to carry out the intent of the eighteenth amendment to the US constitution, establishing the prohibition (but not definition, see also here and here) of intoxicating liquors in the country.
Ultimately nullified by the passage of the twenty-first amendment thirteen years later, the production and distribution of alcohol, once the domain of legitimate business, became contraband and the quarry of organised crime syndicates, smugglers and gangsters who were quick to capitalise on this underground market. Moreover, despite the ban on recreational use, alcohol was still inchoate with medical exemptions and the bill recognising the need “to insure an ample supply and promote its use in scientific research and applications in the development of fuel, dye and other lawful industries”—a supply from which it was tempting to siphon off the top. Frustrated by this losing battle, government authorities enlisted an army of chemists to shift their enforcement methods to one of sometimes deadly deterrence. There were many methods of denaturing industrial grade spirits including non-lethal ways to render them undrinkable but often the cheapest and most expedient way was to add a bit of toxic methyl alcohol to random batches and let the public witness the consequences. This paternalism may have killed ten thousand individuals during Prohibition. The eventual repeal returned the management of controlled-substances to the individual states.