Once upon a time, in the early 20th century, a movement was brewing. 1920s prohibition forced casual and heavy drinkers alike to go to great lengths for a fix. According to Smithsonian Magazine, they “drank hair tonic, flavoring extracts and patent medicine.” Alcohol prohibition gave rise to bootleggers and speak-easies, fueling organized crime like moonshine fuels a fire.
Drinkers fought their temperance-minded adversaries with the help of brewers and doctors. In 1921, anti-prohibitionists proposed to Congress “that beer was nothing less than vital medicine.”
Sound familiar? The idea was highly debated among government officials as well as professional groups like the American Medical Association. And prohibitionists’ response–well, you probably know where this is going.
“Temperance advocates denounced the ‘medical beer’ campaign as an attempt to play fast and loose with the law–an effort, they said, that could lead only to ‘chaos’ and ‘Bolshevism.’ Prohibition’s opponents, by contrast, urged the measure as nothing less than a matter of life and death.”
Replace “beer” with marijuana and “Bolshevism” with socialism and you’re reading an excerpt about modern prohibition. Medical beer arguments had parallels with today’s debates on cannabis. Plenty of physicians questioned beer as medicine, and folks on both sides had their own ideas about beer and the health industry.
By the end of that year, legalizing the medical use of beer had left the political discourse. Medical marijuana, on the other hand, has remained on policy-makers’ tables for years. Why the longevity now?
The Internet, since its advent, has been a great boon to any political or social movement. Run a search for “medical marijuana” or “legalize it” and you’re bound to find dozens of sites devoted to one or another side of the argument. If Gatsby-types had Internet access, the medical beer brouhaha might have gone on for longer.
Also, many of beer’s health benefits are known due to recent research. Back in the day, brewers and physicians had a few arguments in favor of medical beer, but not nearly the amount we have now about medical marijuana. We know much more about pot today than we did about beer then. And as research continues, so too will the fight to legalize cannabis.
Did medical beer activism contribute to prohibition’s repeal? Probably not; it was over a decade later before the 18th amendment was quashed. But weed’s medicinal efficacy is hard to argue against, and medical marijuana laws and research will no doubt play a part in cannabis’s eventual (or maybe inevitable) legalization.