Opinion

N.C. hasn't let go of Prohibitionist attitude

From David J. Hanson of Chapel Hill, a professor emeritus of sociology and expert on alcohol issues:

One hundred years ago North Carolina became the first state in the South to enact statewide prohibition of alcoholic beverages. Ours was the first state to enact prohibition by a direct vote of the electorate, which on May 26, 1908, approved it by a resounding vote of 62 to 38 percent.

Thus North Carolina established prohibition years before it became a national law in 1920. Clearly, the vast majority of North Carolinians wanted prohibition and they wanted it to work.

Unfortunately, neither statewide nor national prohibition reduced the production of moonshine. After the state ban on alcoholic beverages was established, speakeasies or blind tigers sprang up over the state “like mushrooms after rain.” A reported $15 million worth of alcoholic beverages came into the state each year from Richmond alone.

Years after national prohibition went into effect, the director of prohibition enforcement for North Carolina's eastern counties asserted, “We have more illicit distilleries than any other State in the Union; and the number is increasing.”

Prohibition not only failed to reduce crime, but created it. It not only failed to reduce moonshine, but increased it. It not only failed to increase public morality, but reduced it.

Newspaper columnist Franklin P. Adams, though a Chicago native, expressed Tar Heel sentiments when he wrote:

Prohibition is an awful flop.

We like it.

It can't stop what it's meant to stop.

We like it.

It's left a trail of graft and slime,

It don't prohibit worth a dime,

It's filled our land with vice and crime.

Nevertheless, we're for it.

Indeed, when states were empowered to create constitutional conventions to consider ratifying repeal of national prohibition, North Carolinians voted against calling such a convention by a landslide 293,484 to 120,190 vote. Nationally, the popular vote was in the opposite direction, with 70 percent favoring repeal.

After repeal, ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control Board) stores were proposed by former prohibitionist legislator John Sprunt Hill and enabling legislation was later passed. In our state today, distilled spirits beverages can only be sold by ABC stores, although not all counties have such a store – even 75 years after repeal.

We still operate under the strong influence of prohibition-era beliefs and attitudes. Our numerous dry counties, our blue laws restricting the Sunday sales of alcohol (the second busiest shopping day of the week), and our tolerance for artificially high alcohol prices reflect that temperance orientation.

It's time for us to move beyond the past and into the 21st century.

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