July 23, 2024

The national prohibition of booze didn’t last, ending 90 years ago Tuesday, but the lessons it highlights are just as relevant to Michiganders now, including the unintended consequences of banning substances and dispensing harsh criminal sentences.

“Detroiters released a collective sigh of relief” when prohibition was finally repealed, the Detroit Historical Society said, giving a historical account. Utah was the state that ratified the 21st Amendment, which made it law, and repealed prohibition.

Michigan, the historical society said, was “the first state in and the first state out.”

When prohibition was over, the state created the Michigan Liquor Control Commission.

The commission marked 90 years of business in May. The state agency not only makes alcoholic beverages available, it seeks to protect the public by regulating alcohol’s sale and distribution.

“The transformation we see in terms of attitudes toward prohibition in the 1920s is about this larger transformation in Michigan,” Oakland University Assistant Professor of History Karen Miller said. “The auto industry brings in so much more population, and it’s a much more diverse population.”

History shows that the 18th Amendment, which prohibited alcohol nationwide, didn’t achieve what its supporters expected. Many even calling it a failure. It gave rise to problems that the legislation sought to solve, such as organized crime.

In Detroit, the Purple Gang — or just the Purples — hijacked alcohol smuggled across the Canadian border, mostly over the Detroit River. It’s influence, which included profiting from promoting other vices, including gambling and drug use, grew.

Prohibition also brought severe — and unfair — alcohol possession sentences.

Among the more widely known examples was Etta Mae Miller, a 48-year-old Lansing mother, who was found guilty of selling two pints of moonshine. Since she was a habitual offender, she got a life sentence, according a 1929 Time magazine report.

In contrast, Time said, a bellboy pleading guilty to manslaughter was just fined

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