Would Carry Nation be Toking Up?

Steve Russell
8 min readJul 13, 2019
Delivering Ration of Booze to NY Sewer Rats. Public Domain photo courtesy Library of Congress

The End of Marijuana Prohibition Takes a Different Path Than the End of Alcohol Prohibition

Few of us have been unscathed by alcohol, and I am no exception. A close Cherokee relative, often big-hearted and kind when sober, was a mean drunk who finally ended his life in a drunken header off a bridge. When my son was seven, I had to tell him a drunken driver had killed his best soccer buddy. Another drunken driver cost me seven months in a hospital and injuries that affect my daily life over fifty years later.

I am one of the lucky ones who can take booze or leave it, so the only moral issue is that I leave it when with someone I know is not so lucky. Not being a drunk does not make me feel superior, since I know it only means I’ve won a genetic lottery.

State legislatures and tribal councils come under pressure whenever there are particularly gruesome deaths, or deaths of particularly sympathetic victims. The number of drunken driving deaths per capita by state fluctuates, but most of Indian Country stays consistently above the median. We worry over it, and we have good reason to worry.

When I first became a county level judge in Texas, my docket was driven by drunken driving cases. By the time I left, keeping my campaign promises had left a docket driven by domestic violence cases. Alcohol was still a factor more often than not.

When I moved from Austin municipal court to Travis County Court at Law, I became one of three judges hearing criminal cases part time, but I quickly learned that the split with civil cases was not 50–50. It was more like 80–20, with civil cases on the short end. Shortly after my elevation, the legislature created three new courts — all devoted to hearing criminal cases full time. Without alcohol-related offenses, the set-up we had would have been plenty of judicial firepower for all the crime below felony level in the county.

I came to understand the impulses behind alcohol prohibition, and if prohibition were practically possible I would cheerfully give up the beer that goes with the baseball pizza and the tequila that goes with the poker nachos.

Steve Russell

Enrolled Cherokee, 9th grade dropout, retired judge, associate professor emeritus, and (so far) cancer survivor. Memoir: Lighting the Fire (Miniver Press 2020)