Bone Dry Laws

The Volstead Act, by which National Prohibition was implemented, permitted the consumption of alcohol for sacramental purposes, for medical reasons if prescribed by a doctor, and under other circumstances specified by law.

Some states had enacted their own state-wide alcohol prohibition before the Eighteenth Amendment established National Prohibition. Many of these laws were much more restrictive than the provisions of National Prohibition and became known as bone-dry laws. Other states passed bone-dry laws in frustration after finding that National Prohibition was failing.

Indiana's bone-dry law dramatically increased the punishments for violations of prohibition and also banned the use of alcohol for medicinal purposes, sacramental purposes, or for any other reason. This led the president of the Indiana State Medical Association to denounce the ban for medicinal use as "unjust, unnecessary, contrary to public policy, a violation of a basic principle and a direct insult to the medical profession." The governor of the state created a scandal after it was discovered that he had illegally obtained medicinal alcohol for his wife, who was seriously ill.

Oklahoma established state-wide prohibition in 1907, which was before National Prohibition. Its so-called bone-dry law, passed nearly unanimously in 1917, permitted the use of alcohol by hospitals, pharmacists, universities, and scientific institutions. However, it did not permit its consumption for sacramental or other religious purposes. Violations of the law carried a penalty of up to five hundred dollars in fines (a very large sum in the 1920s) and six months imprisonment.

The prohibition against the use of alcohol for sacramental purposes was successfully challenged in 1918 by the Roman Catholic Church in De Hasque v. Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company. The law was further weakened the same year by a court ruling that allowed people to possess alcohol not received from a common carrier. However, the bone-dry law was in effect until Oklahoma repealed prohibition in 1959.

Many other states had bone dry laws in a futile attempt to enforce prohibition.

Readings on Bone-dry Laws:

  • Alaska "Bone Dry" Law and Kindred Acts. Territory of Alaska: Governor's Office, 1918.
  • Bowman, Eric Anton. Bone dry" Law : (House Bill 39). Bismark, ND: North Dakota Legislative Assembly, 1917.
  • Constitutional Law: "Bone Dry" act. Michigan Law Review, 1918, 16(5), 386-387.
  • Graves, John K. The Reed "bone-dry" amendment. Virginia Law Review, May, 1917, 4(8), 634-642.
  • Lantzer, Jason. "Dark Beverage of Hell" The Transformation of Hamilton County's Dry Crusade, 1876-1936. Wright bone-dry law discussed in chapter 4.
  • 1927: 'Bone-Dry' Law Denounced : In Our Pages:100, 75 and 50 years ago. New York Times, October 15, 2002.
  • Oklahoma Historical Society. Bone-dry law. Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture.
  • On the sauce: Understanding Indiana's blue laws. Indianapolis Star, October 8, 2008.
  • Seibold, Louis. Nation-wide blow to dry movement in Virginia's vote. New York: New York World, 1917.

Filed Under: Prohibition