In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Alcohol and Drug Prohibition

  • Introduction
  • Cannabis Prohibition
  • Cannabis Legalization in the United States
  • Illicit Drug Prohibition, Pro and Con
  • Drug Policy Analyses
  • Opiate Prohibition

Criminology Alcohol and Drug Prohibition
Wayne Hall, Sarah Yeates
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 November 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 June 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0201


In standard reference works such as the Oxford English Dictionary, a general definition of prohibition as “the action or act of forbidding” is quickly followed by a definition of Prohibition. This is defined as the US experience with government control of alcohol via “forbidding by law of the manufacture, sale, or transport of alcohol for consumption; especially such restrictions as imposed in the US under the Volstead Act (1919) . . . the period between 1920 and 1933 when these restrictions were in force.” This bibliography takes national alcohol prohibition, or “Prohibition,” as its first point of reference before a broader consideration of governmental controls on other types of drug use and trades by enforceable bans on some combination of cultivation, manufacture, possession, use, sale, and transport. Although national legislation to prohibit opium was enacted before alcohol prohibition, the movement to restrict alcohol consumption federally in the United States dates to the mid-19th century. As a proper noun, “Prohibition” is so closely associated with US national alcohol prohibition that the editors of the Anchor Atlas of World History found it sufficient to define its supporters and opponents as “wet” and “dry,” without having to name the prohibited commodity in question. In the United States, one of Prohibition’s ironic legacies in the 21st century has been the use of citizen-initiated referenda to remove restrictions on recreational use of cannabis by adults. The “policy entrepreneurs” who successfully campaigned for legal cannabis in Oregon and other state jurisdictions have followed in the footsteps of the “moral entrepreneurs” of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who proposed the initial prohibition, and the eventual repeal of the prohibition, of intoxicating liquor by initiative petition ballot measures. This bibliography is divided into a number of broad topic areas. The first is National Alcohol Prohibition in the United States. It is given special prominence because it is often seen as the paradigmatic form of drug prohibition, whose supposedly self-evident lessons are routinely invoked in discussions of similar policies toward cannabis, heroin, and cocaine. The second is on the prohibition on cannabis use, the illicit drug for which the analogies to national alcohol prohibition are arguably the strongest and the lessons of alcohol prohibition most often invoked. The third topic covers scholarly discussions of drug prohibition and regulatory alternatives to prohibition for drugs such as amphetamines, cocaine, heroin, and MDMA. The fourth topic deals with debates about alternatives to prohibitionist policies toward the opiates, one of the first drugs for which nonmedical use was prohibited in the 18th century, and one of the first drugs to be brought under international control in the early 20th century.

National Alcohol Prohibition in the United States

“Everyone knows” that national alcohol prohibition in the United States between 1920 and 1933 was a quixotic and failed social experiment. It is widely believed to have made alcohol problems in the United States worse, and to have created a black market for alcohol that was supplied by criminals, contributing to the rise of organized crime in the United States; the discussion in Morgan 1991 (cited under Origins and Repeal of National Alcohol Prohibition) typifies this view. Prohibition was repealed in 1933 because the American public came to see it as a manifold and manifest failure. This standard view provides “lessons” that are routinely invoked, as Morgan does, in policy debates about alcohol and other drugs. The following references are organized into a series of topics, namely, the origins and process leading to the repeal of national alcohol prohibition; debates about the effectiveness of prohibition by proponents and opponents between 1920 and 1933; 20th- and 21st-century analyses of the effects of prohibition on alcohol use, alcohol-related harm, and the economy; analyses of the impacts of alcohol prohibition on crime; and the aftereffects of alcohol prohibition on discussions of alcohol policy and the harms to health attributable to alcohol abuse.

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