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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
The Wickersham Commission Report on Alcohol Prohibition - 1930


I have signed the report of the Commission, although as is probably inevitable when eleven people of different antecedents and temperaments endeavor to agree upon a contentious subject, it is more or less of a compromise of varying opinions. In so far as it states facts, I believe it to be generally accurate. Every effort has been made to make it so. I should have preferred to have it state more facts and fewer broad generalizations from unstated facts. But the difficulties in securing accurate statistics, owing to the unsystematic and unscientific manner in which they are commonly kept in this country, often makes it impossible to get reliable statements of fact, although there may be sufficient available information to afford a fairly reliable basis of generalization.

I am in entire accord with the conclusions "that enforcement of the National Prohibition Act made a bad start which has affected enforcement ever since"; that "it was not until after the Senatorial investigation of 1926 had opened people's eyes to the extent of law breaking and corruption that serious efforts were made" to coordinate "the federal services directly and indirectly engaged in enforcing prohibition," and that not until after the act of 1927 had extended the Civil Service law over the enforcement agents, were there the beginnings of such an organization as might have been expected to command the respect of other services, the courts and the public, and thus secure reasonable observance of the law and enforcement of its provisions as well as other laws are enforced. Until then, too, enforcement largely had expended itself upon a multitude of prosecutions of petty offenders; it measured success in enforcement by the number of cases--most of which were trivial and in few of which were substantial penalties imposed. I cannot believe that an experiment of such far reaching and momentous consequence as this of National Prohibition should be abandoned after seven years of such imperfect enforcement and only three years of reorganization and effort to repair the mistakes of the earlier period. The older generation very largely has forgotten and the younger never knew the evils of the saloon and the corroding influence upon politics, both local and national, of the organized liquor interests. But the tradition of that rottenness still lingers, even in the minds of the bitterest opponents of the Prohibition law, substantially all of whom assert that the licensed saloon must never again be restored. It is because I see no escape from its return in any of the practicable alternatives to Prohibition, that I unite with my colleagues in agreement that the Eighteenth Amendment must not be repealed and differing with some of them, I have been forced to conclude that a further trial should be made of the enforceability of the Eighteenth Amendment under the present organization, with the help of the recommended improvements. I am entirely in accord with the views expressed in the Report that Prohibition cannot be accomplished without the cooperation of the States and the active support of public opinion. This cooperation has been and still is sadly lacking in many States. Even where there is an adequate State law and a good State law enforcement organization, public sentiment often prevents enforcement. The crucial inquiry respecting the National situation is whether it be too late to expect or to hope for any more favorable turn in public opinion as a result of better organization and methods of enforcement and a campaign of exposition of the evils of the old state of affairs and the dangers of a return to the saloon and corrupt saloon politics. I think that if a proposed amendment to the Constitution simply repealing the Eighteenth Amendment, were to be passed by the requisite majorites in both houses of Congress and submitted to the States, to be considered by Conventions called for the purpose in each State, the delegates to be chosen in an off year and the Conventions to be held in a year when there is no presidential election, we should have intelligent discussions of the question and a result which would reflect the sober informed and deliberate opinion of the people. Such a procedures might remove the issue from party politics. If the result were to support the Eighteenth Amendment, public opinion would promote observance and sustain a reasonable, intelligent enforcement of the law such as would furnish a test of Prohibition that would conclusively demonstrate whether or not it is practicable. If the preponderating opinion should oppose Prohibition, the way would be opened to a revision of the Amendment such, for example, as the one recommended in our report.

Even then there would remain the difficult question of how to allow the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors without the return of the saloon. The best method thus far suggested is a modification of the Swedish system. Yet I have great doubts if such a system would work in our country. I think the pressure to obtain books authorizing purchase of liquor would be so irresistible, that all benefits of the system would be lost; of else, the intrigues of organized liquor interests would exert such influence in Congress, that the distinctive characteristics of the system would be destroyed and an abundance of liquor soon flow for all who wished it. The whole subject is one of great difficulty. There is room for difference of opinion on most of the elements involved. Therefore, despite the well financed active propaganda of opposition to Prohibition and the development of an increasingly hostile public opinion, I am not convinced that the present system may not be the best attainable, and that any substitute for it would not lead to the unrestricted flow of intoxicating liquor, with the attendant evils that in the past always were a blight upon our social organization.


Washington, D.C., January 7, 1931.


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