Vice Squad
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Alcohol Possession During Alcohol Prohibition

Today is the 88th anniversary of the Volstead Act, the piece of legislation that fleshed out the details of what the 18th Amendment, the one that ushered in US national alcohol Prohibition, would mean in practice. The amendment itself outlawed manufacture, sale, transport, import, and export of "intoxicating liquors" for "beverage purposes". (What, possession and purchase not banned?; they just didn't know how to run a prohibition in those days.) The Act could have allowed beer and even wine to be exempt from Prohibition, but chose instead the "bone dry" standard of .5 of one percent alcohol content as the limit of what did not qualify as an intoxicating liquor. The beverage purposes clause in the Amendment was necessary to exempt sacramental, medicinal, and industrial alcohol. Cider of the sweet variety was exempt as was fruit juice, paving the way for legal hard cider and home wine production during Prohibition via court interpretation.

The Volstead Act actually did add "possession" to the prohibited activities -- see Title II, Section 3. This was followed by a restriction on the issuing of search warrants for private homes, however (Title II, Section 25): "No search warrant shall issue to search any private dwelling occupied as such unless it is being used for the unlawful sale of intoxicating liquor, or unless it is in part used for some business purposes...." This was followed (Title II, Section 33) by a further assurance that homes would be more-or-less off-limits to Prohibition agents: "But it shall not be unlawful to possess liquors in one's private dwelling while the same is occupied and used by him as his dwelling only and such liquor need not be reported, provided such liquors are for use only for the personal consumption of the owner thereof and his family residing in such dwelling and of his bona fide guests when entertained by him therein..."

Incidentally, it is also the 88th anniversary of President Wilson's veto of the Volstead Act -- within a few hours, his veto was overridden.

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