Laws on the Prohibition of Alcohol


Prohibition laws require that people abstain from drinking alcoholic beverages. Americans were not the first to implement such laws. Before Prohibition became law in the U.S. it had been the law in Canada, ancient China, Finland, Iceland, India, feudal Japan, Norway, Russia, Sweden, in all Muslim countries and even the Aztecs had these laws. Prohibition is still in effect in all Muslim countries, but in all secular countries the laws on Prohibition ended up being repealed a decade or two after being introduced.

In Finland the Prohibition laws came about because the breweries lobbied for them. They wanted to eliminate the competition, which was hard liquor so that people would be forced to drink milder forms of alcohol like beer.

Prohibition the U.S. didn’t become law all of a sudden. There were Temperance movements flourishing throughout the 1820s, which was an entire century before Prohibition was passed as an Amendment to the Constitution and enforced throughout the country. Prior to that Prohibition had become law in Massachusetts and this was in effect from 1838 to 1840, Maine followed suit from 1846 to 1851 and then one by one other states passed their Prohibition laws. These laws served to drop the consumption of pure alcohol from 27 liters (7 gallons) to 8 liters (2 gallons) per person in the U.S. per year.

Aside from the Temperance Movement trying to outlaw the consumption of alcohol, the Anti-Saloon League went to work and were successful in making criminals out of anyone manufacturing or selling liquor from 1906 to 1913. They persuaded lawmakers that there were way too many drinking and gambling saloons, which numbered 100,000 throughout the U.S. in 1870, and this encouraged prostitution. In 1873 thousands of women clear across the country marched from their church service to the saloons in town demanding they close. All these women insisted they themselves were the true victims of all the drunken men.

During World War I the U.S. implemented a Wartime Prohibition Law in order to conserve grain stocks.

In 1917 Congress provided the required two-thirds vote to submit the Prohibition law to all the states in the Union. This became the Eighteenth Amendment and it was ratified on January 29, 1919. The law went into effect exactly 1 year later on January 29, 1920. Prior to that the National Prohibition Act was enacted, which gave the states all the guidelines for enforcement. This was more commonly known as the Volstead Act. By January 1920 the law had already been implemented in 33 states, representing 63% of the country’s population.

The Volstead Act was not about Prohibition per se; it was about enforcing the Eighteenth Amendment. President Wilson actually vetoed the bill, but Congress overruled his veto. The Volstead Act said that an “intoxicating drink” was any libation that had more than 0.5% alcohol in it. This was changed to 3.2% just prior to the Eighteenth Amendment being repealed.


The inevitable result of Prohibition was massive bootlegging. A large criminal enterprise rose up in the country with people like Al Capone making tens of millions of dollars annually in the 1920s. The Twenty-first Constitutional Amendment was passed by Congress to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment. The states began ratifying it, with Utah becoming the 36th state to ratify it, which occurred in 1933. For all the states to ratify the law repealing Prohibition took time and this continued to be the law in some states until 1966.

Contrary to historical and media reports, Prohibition was extremely popular at the time. It helped to reduce annual alcohol consumption per person in the country to 3.7 liters, which was less than a gallon. However, there was a rise in the crime rate during that time, although you couldn’t call it a spectacular rise. The Prohibition Party was established in 1869 and still exists today with candidates running for office in most states.


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