The Bourbon King, The Inside Story: Prohibition and Marijuana

Can we learn from Prohibition in thinking about issues regarding the legalization of marijuana?

My favorite history books provide deep insight the issues of the past and act as a kind of guide for addressing contemporary concerns. I had this idea in mind when writing The Bourbon King — how do we think about marijuana and other lifestyle choices regulated and legislated by the government?

We are still learning the lessons of Prohibition a century later. The most destructive aspect of the dry era was that it took a significant human toll on America.

Many lives were wasted, from people poisoned by tainted alcohol to those killed in enforcing the Volstead Act or attempting to circumvent the law. We have seen similar scenarios play out over the last several decades with marijuana legislation and enforcement.

During Prohibition and with weed over the last several decades, a significant air of lawlessness became commonplace. The nation still deals with these issues now. For instance, people travel between states that have legalized recreational and medical marijuana and those that still criminalize it.

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Texas Senator Morris Sheppard, the “father of Prohibition”

Texas Senator Morris Sheppard, the “father of Prohibition”

 
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We are still learning the lessons of Prohibition a century later…Many lives were wasted…a major human toll on America…We have seen similar scenarios play out over the last several decades with marijuana legislation and enforcement.

The Bourbon King, The Inside Story: George Remus as a High-Flying Defense Attorney

George Remus became a top criminal defense attorney in Chicago. What made him so successful in the courtroom?

George Remus transitioned to attorney at a time when the Chicago economy boomed and new residents poured into the region. His early work centered on labor law, representing several large Windy City unions. The efforts put George in the circle of famed attorney and human rights activist Clarence Darrow.

Both men abhorred the death penalty and Remus gravitated to criminal defense work, just as Darrow had done earlier in his career. What set George apart was his willingness to do anything to win, particularly if he could get a death row sentence reduced to jail time.

When Remus put his considerable intellectual and physical efforts toward a legal career, he ruffled the existing “old boy’s network,” which saw him and his second-rate legal training as an imposition on the establishment they had crafted (he most likely faced a great degree of anti-German discrimination as well). George charged ahead, though, engaging in local Republican politics and serving as a leader in a new legal society aimed to upend the status quo.

No one could deny Remus’s dedication, but his tactics upset many of his colleagues.

George Remus photographed during his time as an attorney in Chicago

George Remus photographed during his time as an attorney in Chicago

If a legal eagle were Remus’s friend, he might refer to George as the “Napoleon of the Bar” as a way of acknowledging his legal acumen. Others, however, called George “weeping pleading Remus,” because his theatrics were viewed as outside the bounds of decorum.

George’s escapades were legendary—from starting fistfights with opposing counsel to drinking down poison in front of the jury to proved his client not guilty (luckily, George had mixed up the antidote and taken it beforehand). Many of Remus’s trials were covered by reporters regionally and nationally. Chicago Tribune journalists knew they could call on George for a hot soundbite.

Although Remus might wildly gesticulate and fly into near rages to defend a client, jurors also remarked about how mesmerizing Remus was in the courtroom. George seemed to have a sixth sense regarding when a well-time antic might persuade a jury or distract them from the prosecution’s case. He possessed a natural charisma and magnetism that defined his legal career.