Brandeis on Liquor Sales: License & Regulate

          In 1891, future Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis represented Massachusetts liquor dealers.  They were fighting draconian proposals for regulating liquor sales.  Brandeis opened his presentation with this summary of his argument:

 Liquor drinking is not a wrong; but excessive drinking is.

 Liquor will be sold; hence the sale should be licenced.

 Liquor is dangerous; hence the business should be regulated.

 No regulation can be enforced which is not reasonable.

           Brandeis could not have foreseen the Eighteenth Amendment and Prohibition, much less the social and legal distortions it caused.  He certainly was not writing about today’s prohibition of ‘controlled substances’ and thirty-five years of ill effects.

          Nonetheless, as California debates marijuana legalisation, his words bear close attention.

           Source:  Louis Brandeis, ‘Argument before Joint Committee on Liquor Law of the Massachusetts Legislature’ (1891), as quoted in Melvin I. Urofsky, Louis Brandeis: A Life (New York: Pantheon, 2009), p. 89.