– When Rush published his Moral and Physical Thermometer, which laid out the stages and consequences of drinking alcohol (from happiness to suicide) in 1784, the city was quite in the grips of the original English immigrants who followed William Penn. “By the 1920s,” Okrent said, “the population had totally changed.” Where much of the energy behind Prohibition came from conservative white Baptists and Methodists who held political power in the South and Midwest, by the time the 18th Amendment was enacted in 1919, the cities were teeming with African-Americans, and immigrants from Ireland, Germany and elsewhere. So, Okrent noted, even as “Drys” like former Philadelphia Phillies outfielder and evangelist Billy Sunday could draw tens of thousands to anti-booze revivals, “Wets” placed orders for Kerper’s notorious gin. “Imagine the most corrupt police department in America,” Okrent said. “Philadelphia’s was way beyond that . . . The ability to be a city cop was an invitation to bribery.” “It was much easier to get a drink during Prohibition than after Prohibition,” he said. “During Prohibition, you could get alcohol 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You could sell anything you want and pay no taxes. “After Prohibition . . . ” Okrent raised his pint toward the old liquor licenses hanging above our heads. Today McGillin’s, or any bar, can be shut down if it violates any of a thousand different rules. Hours of operation, taxes, underage drinking, health codes – the list is long. “The truth is,” Okrent said, “the arrival of appeal meant it was actually harder to get a drink.”
Not really a history guy but stories like this still get my attention. Drys vs. Wets. The Quakers getting run out by a bunch of blacks, foreigners, and ruffians. Being able to get shitfaced at a speakeasy with no closing time, taxes, or regulation on what booze they could sell? Apparently drinking was way more fun when it was illegal.
Once the government stepped in all the fun immediately stepped out. One day you’re a 16 year-old getting drunk at 5 AM off cider moonshine laughing it up with the cop you just slipped a $5, and the next you’re banned for being underage and your favorite drink no longer exists.
Imagine the same thing happening to pot. Right now it’s pretty easily accessible and can be purchased tax-free at any time, but let a decade pass after marijuana gets legalized. All the fun will be gone. What was one an activity assisted by the excitement of getting caught will turn into a fat dude in sweatpants outside a Wawa complaining about how his strain has gone up 2 bucks over the past month.