The unusual link between Prohibition and Roe v Wade

What Prohibition Can Teach Us About Marijuana Legalization — and Other Tales From Last Call Author Daniel Okrent


If you think Roe v. Wade was a wise decision, you can be grateful for Justice Brandeis’s dissent in a famous Prohibition case, Olmstead v. United States, where he wrote about the citizen’s “right to be let alone” – words cited by Justice Stewart in Roe.

Comment: I'm currently reading this book. Another interesting note:

one of the very few positive consequences of Prohibition was the reduction in drinking. There was a very steep reduction immediately after it went into effect, but even the ensuing years of speakeasies, bathtub gin, cross-border smuggling, and every other manner of law-breaking did not bring drinking back to pre-Prohibition levels. At the end of Prohibition, Americans were consuming approximately 70 percent as much alcohol as they had in 1914. (Demographic historians use that as a base year, as many states began to pass sharply restrictive liquor laws around that time.)

In fact, it wasn’t until 1973 that we returned to pre-Prohibition levels of alcohol consumption, and only a few years later the per capita consumption figure began to decline again. Even now, we’re only inching our way back to the 1914 high-water mark. (Or maybe I should call it the “high-alcohol mark”!)

One figure we’ll never reach again: the 7.5 gallons of absolute alcohol the average American drank in 1830 – the equivalent of 90 fifths of 80-proof liquor, or nearly three times as much as we consume today.


  1. I have to wonder if (per Paul's admonition to Timothy) the reduction in drinking has something to do with the availability of clean drinking water and such. Liquor and coffee were two ways people thought to obtain something safe to drink, especially on the Oregon Trail.

  2. I just started that book too, after hearing the author interviewed on NPR. Fascinating book so far! I have to wonder what other countries looked like at the same time, and whether the American experience was unique (and if so, why).


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