Today is an interesting milestone for me as an active homebrewer and a drug policy expert. As of July 1st 2013, it is now finally completely legal to brew beer at home in all 50 states. A new homebrewing law in Mississippi, the last remaining hold out, goes into effect today. One could argue alcohol prohibition in the United States didn’t fully end until today.
This event is useful to keep in mind when talking about what qualifies as marijuana legalization or when marijuana prohibition will finally “end.”
Some have criticized Washington State’s new marijuana law as not true legalization because it sets limits on how much a person can possess, keeps homegrowing illegal and doesn’t allow marijuana smoking establishments. These significant restrictions are very similar to those put on alcohol for years after the 21st Amendment was ratified.
Alcohol prohibition didn’t suddenly end when the 21st Amendment was ratified. The 21st amendment was more of a critically important step in what has been a decades-long process of slowing unwinding the policy.
The 21st Amendment actually left the decision up to the states, and several states kept prohibition going for years afterwards. It wasn’t until 1966 that Mississippi became the last state to finally repeal its prohibition. Even when prohibition was finally repealed, in many states big restrictions remained in place for decades. Kansas didn’t allow bars until 1986, and brewing your own beer at home was technically illegal in Mississippi and Alabama until this year. In fact, roughly one tenth of counties in the United States are still technically “dry,” meaning they prohibit the sale of alcohol.
The end of marijuana prohibition is almost guaranteed to take a similar path. Legalization will go state by state, and even after marijuana is technically legalized in a state, it will probably face huge restrictions at first. As people become more comfortable with marijuana legalization, these restrictions — like possession limits and home-growing bans — will likely be slowly phased out.