Florida faces a Cuban migrant crisis

Alcohol ban in USA Why the prohibition didn't work in the USA

By Sebastian Moll

A hundred years ago, alcohol was banned in the United States. This changed the country fundamentally. However, very different from what proponents of Prohibition had hoped for.

New York - Broadway in Manhattan has seen many big festivals, such as the end of World War II, the legendary confetti parade for the Apollo 11 astronauts and the annual New Year's Eve party in Times Square. But there was probably no party like the one that raged here in the first two weeks of 1920.

The alcohol flowed freely in every café and restaurant - around the clock. The whole city wanted to get drunk, all supplies had to go. Because on January 17, 1920, the dry season began in the USA, which, in retrospect, lasted for almost 14 years and went down in history as prohibition.

At the forefront, a women's association fought against alcohol

The alcohol ban movement in America had started some 50 years earlier. With the growth of cities and the large waves of immigration after the civil war, alcohol consumption in the cities also became a visible problem. Bars and saloons sprang up everywhere, and rampant alcoholism, especially among working men, threatened to destroy families.

At the forefront of the fight against alcoholism were progressive women who, in addition to the ban on alcohol, also demanded the right to vote for women. One of the most important organizations in this struggle was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union with its pioneer Carrie Nation. The ladies had the strategy of storming into bars that at the time did not tolerate women and destroying the range of bottles by throwing a brick. None of the perplexed men dared to do anything against them.

During Prohibition, Americans drank more than ever before

The final push to pass the law came with World War I. The need not to drank the agricultural harvest as schnapps provided an important argument for the prohibitionists. Even so, even they were surprised when both Houses of Parliament passed the bill with an overwhelming majority. So at the end of 1919 a real panic broke out. Wealthy drinkers tried to buy up supplies for a lifetime. Elegant ladies let themselves be chauffeured through the city and loaded the trunk full.

The fear turned out to be unfounded. As we know today, more was drunk than ever before during Prohibition. In American cities, the famous speakeasies, back rooms, and backyard pubs sprang up on every corner, serving illegally. In black neighborhoods like Harlem, speakeasies became development laboratories for jazz. In the countryside, farmers began to distill “moonshine” - the infamous, high-proof whiskey that could cause severe physical damage.

Rum flowed in great quantities from the Caribbean to Florida

Smuggling flourished at the US borders. Rum flowed from Haiti, the Bahamas and Cuba in huge quantities into Florida's casinos, all of which were controlled by the Mafia. The upper class from the east coast arrived in the fall, wintered and created the elegant Miami we know today.

By the time Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president in 1933, prohibition had degenerated into a joke. The US public and politicians agreed that this constitutional amendment must be abolished. The experiment of a dry America had failed across the board. On December 5, 1933, Congress ended Prohibition. Still, it had far-reaching consequences. For one thing, it was a breeding ground for organized crime. On the other hand, it promoted the expansion of the police apparatus to the dimension we know today.

Harvard historian Lisa McGirr summarizes that the USA did not learn much from experience. The criminalization of light drugs like marijuana and the war waged against them with extreme effort and extreme brutality were just as unsuccessful as prohibition. Only now is one moving towards decriminalization. In doing so, one has lost sight of the health and social dangers of alcohol. It plays a role in a third of all violent crimes and is responsible for 10 percent of all deaths in America. However, there is a lack of money for education.

Today opioids kill tens of thousands annually in the United States

Perhaps, however, the recent drug epidemic in the US is finally a trigger for a rethink. The biggest drug problem in the United States today is completely legal pain medication. Criminalization doesn't get you very far here.

A small pill, a glass of water, swallow once and the pain will soon be gone. What sounds so simple has brought the United States the so-called opioid epidemic, which has been rolling through the country for 20 years. Pills resembling opium have made tons of people addicted. Many are switching to other drugs, including heroin.

The number of US drug deaths fell slightly in 2018 for the first time in two decades - but it is still at an immensely high level. In 2018, around 68,600 people died of a drug overdose, according to preliminary figures from the US health authority CDC. In more than two thirds of the cases, opioids were the trigger