By the early 20th century, many people believed that liquor was responsible for poverty, health problems, and family difficulties in America. So, by the First World War in 1914, many states had already passed laws that limited or banned the sale of alcohol. Then, in 1917, Congress passed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which made it illegal for Americans to manufacture, sell, or transport any "intoxicating liquors."
During the 20s, some people obeyed the new law and avoided alcohol. Some statistics from the time suggested that the nation's health problems improved. Many other people -- especially New Yorkers -- considered Prohibition a joke. People known as "bootleggers" made liquor for themselves or to sell. In addition, gangsters made huge sums of money by illegally importing liquor from other countries. To fight these problems, Congress reversed the 18th Amendment in the early 30s, putting an end to national Prohibition.
In this activity, you will research some of the positive and negative effects of Prohibition during the 1920s and apply this information to a current debate: whether to legalize marijuana in America today. Afterward, you will have the chance to participate in an online poll to share your class's position on this issue.
In small groups, or as a class, spend about ten minutes discussing these questions. At this stage, the important part is to gather your first impressions and attitudes about this issue.
- Why do you think the U.S. government has made marijuana an illegal drug?
- If the sale and use of marijuana were made legal today, what do you predict might be some outcomes? (Consider both pros and cons.)
During the last 25 years, some people have tried to persuade Congress to legalize marijuana -- but these efforts have not been successful. The government has upheld its belief that using or selling "pot" should be a crime.
Your job in this step is to work with a few other students and create two lists -- one containing reasons FOR and the other reasons AGAINST the legalization of marijuana. Wherever possible, use examples from the Prohibition against alcohol during the 1920s to support your arguments.
Then, as a class, use two large pieces of paper (or the blackboard) to write a
"master list" that includes all the small groups' arguments for both sides.
Here are some Web sites that may be useful in your search:
Drug Watch International
Opinion: Should Marijuana Be Legalized?
Just Say "Sometimes" (reprint of NY TIMES article)
Marijuana Debate Fires Up Students
Legalization of Marijuana
Legalize - Americans Speaking Out to Legalize Marijuana
Based on the two lists you created in Step #2, decide as a class where you stand on the issue of the legalization of marijuana. Using small pieces of paper, each student should cast a vote "FOR" or "AGAINST" the legalization of marijuana. If a student thinks that marijuana should be legal only in certain circumstances -- e.g., for medical purposes, or only for people who are over 21 -- they should indicate this on their piece of paper.
Once all the votes are cast, a volunteer reads all the votes aloud, as the class keeps tabs on the number of votes for each side.
Once your have determined which side of the argument has the majority of votes, enter your class vote on the Learning Adventures' online poll. Your vote will be posted immediately in our poll results!