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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
The Wickersham Commission Report on Alcohol Prohibition - 1930

Report on the Enforcement of the Prohibition Laws of the United States

National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement

Dated January 7, 1931


IV  

THE DEGREE OF ENFORCEMENT DEMANDED  

It is a truism that no laws are absolutely observed or enforced. A reasonable approximation to general observance and to full enforcement is the most we may expect. What, then, should be considered a reasonably practical enforcement of the National Prohibition Act? If we compare that Act with other laws, would not our measure be such an enforcement as operates on the whole as an effective deterrent and brings a high average of observance throughout the land?

If, with regard to any law, assuming a vigorous effort at enforcement the result is found to be that, notwithstanding enormous numbers of convictions, there is little deterrent effect and, after a decade of experience the volume of violations seems to increase steadily and the public attitude is increasingly indifferent or hostile, the question arises as to whether such a law is, in any proper sense, enforceable. Moreover, there is a difference in effect between failure of enforcement of such a law as the National Prohibition Act and lax or ineffective enforcement of other federal laws. The everyday work of police belongs to the states. The bulk of federal legislation has little or no relation to the general maintenance of law and order. Poor enforcement of the customs laws, for example, would chiefly affect the revenue and the particular businesses subjected to unlawful competition. But if the National Prohibition Act is not enforced, the collateral bad effects extend to every side of administration, police, and law and order. In view of the policy announced in section three of that Act, any large volume of intoxicating liquor continually in circulation shows a serious falling short of the goal, and is highly prejudicial to respect for law. The enforcement to be aimed at must be one operating as an effectual deterrent upon manufacture, importation, transportation, sale, and possession in every part of the land, resulting in a uniformly high observance of the announced purpose of the act everywhere; and restricting the liquor in general circulation to a relatively negligible amount.

 


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