What should marijuana opponents do when their cause fails? A lesson from Prohibition
By Stephanie Schorow June 23, 2018
Some day soon, even as sweet, skunky smoke drifts in from the streets outside, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other staunch opponents of marijuana may draw inspiration from a true believer named Morris Sheppard. After the repeal of national Prohibition in 1933 and until his death in 1941, the Texas senator embraced a yearly custom. A progressive Democrat often considered “the father of Prohibition,” Sheppard would rise on the Senate floor to rail against alcohol and call for a repeal of Repeal.
“It was a ritual,” Daniel Okrent, author of the 2010 book “Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition,” explained in an interview. “Clearly he didn’t expect anything was going to happen. It was paying homage to his cause.”
Sheppard, a proponent of bank reform and an advocate of women’s suffrage, may have been the country’s most sincere Prohibitionist, but he ended up on the losing side of history. As such, he faced a dilemma that may soon become familiar to another group of prohibitionists: marijuana opponents. When society turns away from a cause, how long should its supporters fight on? After committing themselves to a lengthy, even decades-long struggle, how can they simply let it drop?
On July 1, Massachusetts will join states such as Colorado, Washington, and California, whose voters have chosen to legalize cannabis for recreational purposes. The implementation of the law has been bumpy, not least because Sessions and the federal Justice Department still have the authority to crack down on cannabis use. Yet public opinion has shifted decisively toward legal weed; nationally, support for that position rose from 16 percent in 1990 to 61 percent last year, according to the Pew Research Center. Politicians and civic leaders who opposed the 2016