On Dec. 5, 1933, Utah became the 36th state to ratify the 21st Amendment to the Constitution. This, in turn, nullified the 18th Amendment, which had prohibited the sale and manufacture of hard liquor throughout the country.

The ill-fated experiment had led to wholesale lawbreaking and a huge surge in organized crime. After 14 years the country had had enough of Prohibition.

Most Californians now thought they could buy liquor by the drink. They were wrong. The 21st Amendment didn't take effect until Jan. 17, 1934. Additionally, the language in the California Constitution clouded the issue. And the Board of Equalization wasn't sure how to interpret the law.

Within a few weeks, the Board of Equalization determined that any place serving a meal could qualify for a liquor license and serve the hard stuff by the drink.

But what was a "meal"? A sandwich, the courts said, was enough to qualify as a meal.

However, the problem of legally buying a drink at a bar or saloon still existed, and the so-called "wet police" kept arresting bartenders and restaurant servers.

On Dec. 29, 1933, Judge Sylvain Lazarus, of San Francisco, sentenced three men to fines of $50 each or 10 days in jail for violating the California liquor laws. Laughter erupted in the courtroom that day when Donald L. Marshall, chief enforcement officer for the district, and his assistant, Francis Mallon, admitted that they were so tired after checking the many establishments suspected of breaking the law that they drank the evidence, according to a story in the Oakland Tribune.

The judge let the sentence stand anyway. He dismissed the charges against three others, however, when it was determined that food was available at their places of business.

About 2,000 applications from would-be liquor dealers arrived at the state Capitol with every mail delivery. Fred Stewart, of Oakland, a member of the State Board of Equalization, said prospective dealers could start selling bottled liquor -- which could not be consumed on the premises -- as soon as the repeal went into effect, even if they hadn't yet received their licenses.

Almost as soon as the 21st Amendment was ratified, there was a movement in California to put liquor by the drink on the ballot.

Stewart threatened to have the whole Board of Equalization turn the enforcement of the law over to some other state agency. He said his agency was being falsely maligned for not doing what most people thought it should be doing but in reality couldn't.

"The sale of liquor in California cannot be controlled under the terms of the present act, and this board is determined to rid itself of the thankless task of attempting to enforce an utterly unworkable law," he said.

On Nov. 6, 1934, the people of California passed Proposition 2 by a vote of 1,262,315 to 714,303.

On Dec. 19, the Oakland Tribune headline read, "Liquor Sale by Drink Is Legal At Last."

Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at nildarego@comcast.net.