Prohibition in Florida has a long history. For example, Miami-Dade County voted itself dry in 1913. That was years before National Prohibition went into effect in 1920. Residents hoped that outlawing alcohol would reduce crime, improve health, and protect women and young people.
But many residents and visitors objected to prohibitions. It outlawed what they saw as their right to drink. South Florida’s proximity to the Caribbean made it a natural place for bootlegging. Miami Beach openly flaunted the law.
Where the law wasn’t openly violated, illegal producers and sellers bribed police and other officials. This was easy to do. In Fort Lauderdale, the sheriff, the assistant chief of police, and seventeen others were arrested for conspiracy. The seventeen others included police officers and deputy sheriffs. Farther up the coast in South Jacksonville, almost the entire city administration was corrupt. This included the mayor, chief of police, president of the city council, city commissioner, and fire chief. A federal grand jury indicted all of them.
Law enforcers who were not corrupt frequently violated law themselves to enforce Prohibition. In 1923, a U.S. Coast Guard boat off South Florida had orders to capture a rumrunner in international waters if necessary. It opened fire on the rumrunner beyond the three-mile limit. So they illegally captured him there in violation of international law.
There was widespread corruption as well as illegal and often violent enforcement activities. This led to a lack of respect for Prohibition in particular and law in general. It became fashionable for women to drink. It also created a harmful pattern of drinking. That was drinking less often but much more heavily. People didn’t go to a speakeasy to enjoy a drink leisurely with a meal. They went to guzzle alcohol while it was available.
Moonshiners hastily and made their product. Careless production sometimes caused lead toxins in the beverage. Producers often added creosote and occasionally even embalming fluid. Customers sometimes suffered paralysis, blindness or painful death.
As time passed, the problems caused by Prohibition in Florida increased. Residents saw that it didn’t reduce crime but created it. Didn’t improve health but endangered it. And didn’t protect women and young people but threatened them. In short, they realized that Prohibition was counterproductive.
Floridians voted over 80% for Repeal. They wanted an end to the disasterous National Prohibition.
Learn More about Prohibition in Florida
Alduino, F. The “Noble Experiment” in Tampa. Tallahassee: Florida State U, 1989.
Godsoe, W. Rum Running on the Florida Coast. Chicago: Adventurers, 1930.
Guthrie, J. Keepers of the Spirits. The Judicial Response to Prohibition Enforcement in Florida, 1885-1935. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1998.
Ling, S. Run the Rum in South Florida during Prohibition. Charleston, SC: Hist Press, 2007.
Willis, L. Southern Prohibition. Athens: U Georgia Press, 2011. A history of Prohibition in Florida (Central Florida).