On December 5, 1933, the 18th amendment was repealed by the 21st amendment, ending alcohol prohibition. What most people don’t know is that state and local nullification created the atmosphere where this repeal was inevitable.
After the 18th amendment, nearly every state passed laws to enforce prohibition under the Volstead Act., because it was widely accepted that they had an obligation to do so.
The state of Maryland, however, never passed any laws to enable state-level enforcement, and was eventually joined by other states, starting with New York in 1923.
A study from the University of Houston noted that states eventually grew tired of the hassle that came with enforcing the federal alcohol ban. In fact, by 1925 six states had developed laws that kept police from investigating infractions.
Cities in the Midwest and Northeast were particularly uninterested in assisting the feds with Prohibition. And by 1928, 28 states had stopped funding for alcohol prohibition enforcement.
Add to all this the millions of individuals who flat out defied federal law. Prior to Prohibition, there were fewer than 15,000 legal bars in the United States. By 1927 more than 30,000 speakeasies were in business and approximately 100,000 people brewed alcohol illegally from home.
During that time, Maryland’s Senator Bruce recognized what was happening. He noted that even though national prohibition went into legal effect, “except to a highly qualified extent, it has never gone into practical effect at all.”
New York Mayor LaGuardia agreed when he said “It is impossible to tell whether Prohibition is a good thing or a bad thing. It has never been enforced in this country”
It wasn’t for a lack of trying on the federal level. But individuals, cities and states resisted on a massive scale. In some cases they even prohibited prohibition enforcement. In the end, the federal government was unable to overcome this effective, practical nullification and was eventually forced to repeal.