Saturday, June 12, 2021

Belly Up to the Pharmacy, Boys

Can you believe it? Here we are in the middle of 1921, three years into Prohibition, and it turns out that the alcohol racket is being run by organized medicine!

"Oh, Doctor, Doctor" by Billy Ireland in Columbus Dispatch, ca. June, 1921

In the year before Prohibition, the American Medical Association passed a resolution stating firmly that alcohol had no nutritional or therapeutic value:

Whereas, We believe that the use of alcohol is detrimental to the human economy and,

Whereas, its use in therapeutics as a tonic or stimulant or for food has no scientific value; therefore,

Be it Resolved, That the American Medical Association is opposed to the use of alcohol as a beverage; and

Be it Further Resolved, That the use of alcohol as a therapeutic agent should be further discouraged.

But since the National Prohibition Act of 1919 offered tipplers a loophole, providing permits for physicians to prescribe alcohol as they saw fit, guess what! The AMA came up with a list of 27 different ailments, from snakebites, asthma, diabetes, and cancer to lactation issues, that could be treated with alcohol.

"Well, What'll You Have..." by Gene Carr in New York World, June, 1921

Heck, your doctor could prescribe you an old fashioned for old age. And by golly, I think that's worth a shot.

"A Liberal Interpretation of the Ruling" by J.N. "Ding" Darling in Des Moines Register, ca. June, 1921

Daniel Okrent, author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, relates the story of lawyer cum bootlegger George Remus, who 

"bought up a bunch of distilleries within 100 miles of Cincinnati and even further, including the Jack Daniel's distillery that was in St. Louis at the time. He also started something called the Kentucky Drug Company, and he would legally move the stuff in the company trucks to pharmacies all over the lower Midwest and upper South. Then, he would have his own men hijack his own trucks, so that they could move it into the speakeasy trade as well."

"Some Doctors Have No Intelligence Whatsoever" by Harold T. Webster in Chicago Journal, ca. June, 1921

(Side note: I think somebody got Webster's panels out of order, don't you?)

To the extent that medicinal alcohol provided fodder for cartoonists, it was also true that it couldn't escape the attention of congressional busy-bodies with no compunction against meddling in everybody else's health care.

"Tying His Hands" by John Cassel in New York Evening World, June 29, 1921

The House passed the Willis-Campbell Act, on June 27, 1921, and the Senate followed suit on August 8; President Harding signed it into law on November 23. Under the "Beer Emergency Bill" as it was nicknamed, doctors could still prescribe wine or liquor, but not beer. The maximum amount of alcohol per prescription was limited to half a pint, and a doctor could only authorize 100 prescriptions for alcohol per 90-day period.

Well, I apologize for having only five cartoons to resurrect today, but I'm starting to feel a touch of old age flaring up again.

Or maybe it's snakebite.


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