Debate harkens to "medical use" of liquor

By chillinwill · Jan 31, 2010 ·
  1. chillinwill
    "There were 8,000 packages on hand when the American Railway Express Company opened its offices Monday. Long lines of permit holders formed on Stout street, fearful that their consignments might be denied to them."

    So heralded the Western Newspaper Union News Service. Indeed, the most recent session of the Colorado General Assembly had adopted the Horton permit system, which allowed for the importation of "four ounces, procurable only through a physician's prescription."

    Marijuana? No, Colorado first prohibited marijuana in 1927.

    The date was Dec. 17, 1917, and the substance was liquor. Led by the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), Coloradans had voted three years earlier to make the state "bone dry," but the law did not take effect until Jan. 1, 1916. Prohibition was not in effect until Jan. 17, 1920, but liquor and beer sales were at that time illegal in Colorado. However, another federal law was in effect, often called the Reed Amendment, and provided that liquor should not be transported — except for scientific, sacramental or medical purposes — into any state that was "Bone Dry." The Colorado legislature responded with a new law that allowed many pharmacies in Colorado to be licensed to sell liquor for religious and medical reasons if the patient had a physician's prescription. The patient could have 4 ounces of liquor or 24 quarts of beer.

    There was considerable controversy regarding this new law, and in May 1917, before it became effective, the WCTU asked the Colorado attorney general to rule that hospitals could not have liquor as it had no medicinal value and no reputable hospital or physician would ever prescribe liquor for patients. Attorney General Leslie Hubbard responded, "Inasmuch as a considerable volume of educated medical opinion holds that limited amounts of liquor are valuable in the treatment of certain ailments, we see no substantial objection to allow a reputable bona fide hospital to obtain . . . reasonable quantities of such liquor for use under prescription."

    The legislature had provided for a "payment of one dollar [to] the Secretary of State [who] shall issue a permit, valid for one year, to any person designated by any regularly organized church or religious society."

    But those engaged in the "drug business" were required to have a $100 annual fee, and the pharmacist $5 annually.

    In 1918, Denver issued more than 59,000 liquor prescriptions, and it became quite apparent that many people did not need a prescription or permit to obtain alcohol and beer as bootlegging was pervasive throughout the state. Widely held views were that this prescription liquor would open the door to soda fountains being turned into dispensaries for liquor and beer. Although soda fountains did not dispense alcohol, it was so readily available that Colorado Prohibition ended on July 1, 1933, six months before the repeal of national prohibition.

    After nearly 100 years, we still are discussing the availability, licensing, distribution and sale of beer and liquor. It would also appear that this well-established pattern will exist for marijuana — at least for the next 100 years — regardless of what the current General Assembly decides regarding the availability, licensing, distribution and sale of marijuana.

    Roger Alan Walton of Lakewood is an author of books on Colorado government, and was a lobbyist and owner of the Colorado Prospector newspaper.

    By Roger Alan Walton
    January 31, 2010
    Denver Post

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