Dry Counties

Why Are Dry Counties Still a Thing?


We focus a lot here at DrinksReform.org on the many, many inane alcohol laws around the country. But we shouldn’t lose focus of perhaps the most absurd, no-way-this-is-true-in-2019 alcohol rule of them all: There’s still places in America where it is straight up illegal to have booze. Drinks writer Wayne Curtis has a fun piece for The Daily Beast on dry countries:

The population of Beaver County, Oklahoma, is 5,315 and deeply divided. In a vote last year to determine whether alcohol sales should be made legal—it’s been a dry county for more than a century—the wets initially prevailed, voting in legal liquor by a scant five votes. But then the provisional ballots were tallied. And…the prohibitionists carried the day. So Beaver County remains alcohol-free. It is the last and only county in Oklahoma where you can’t buy a legal drink…

“Dry counties” exist as a sort feral anachronism—like phone booths and video stores. They appeared in response to perceived social or economic need, and when those needs dissipated, they were left behind, like flotsam from a flood nobody remembers. We are a nation that’s pretty good at building laws, and pretty lousy at dismantling them.

And so dry counties persist—today an estimated 18 million people are unable to buy a legal drink where they live. Mostly these persist in the south, and a map of dry counties overlaid with one of the Bible Belt, not surprisingly, shows considerable overlap. (Although the penchant for dryness fades as you get closer to the Gulf of Mexico.) The states with the most dry counties are Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee. Fact: you can still get arrested for possession of alcohol in some dry counties, as a 69-year-old man in Culliman, Alabama, learned recently…

Read more here.

Virginia Passes Legislation to Phase Out Dry Counties


Virginia is one of a handful of states that continues to have “dry countries” within its borders, but that could be changing soon. Although beer and wine sales are legal throughout the state, 9 counties—mostly clustered in Southwest Virginia—continued to fully ban liquor. According to the Distilled Spirits Council, Virginia has now passed legislation making the whole state “wet” (unless countries specifically opt-out):

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam today signed into law SB 1110, which makes the entire state “wet” but allows localities to opt-out of alcohol sales by referendum, according to the Distilled Spirits Council.

The new law applies to 31 counties that are “dry” or “partially dry.” The bill has a delayed effective date of July 1, 2020 but allows localities to hold anticipatory referendums beginning July 1, 2019…

See the full statement here.

Oklahoma Dry Counties to Vote on Allowing Alcohol Sales


Oklahoma is one of several states that still has so-called "dry counties" that prohibit the sale of alcohol. According to the Enid News & Eagle, however, the state will allow the dry counties to vote on whether to allow drink sales at bars and restaurants:

The 14 remaining "dry" counties in the state of Oklahoma will all give their residents a chance to vote on a liquor-by-the-drink sales proposition on the June 26 ballot...

As of now, the 14 counties do not allow the sale of strong beer, wine or liquor in local restaurants or bars. If the proposition were to pass, the counties that pass it would be allowed to sell alcohol above 3.2 percent by weight and continue business as normal.

However, if the proposition fails to pass, the counties failing to pass it would not be allowed to sell any beer, wine or liquor starting Oct. 1, while the rest of the state embraces alcohol modernization.

"We are very happy to see that the county commissioners in each of these counties understand the damage of not allowing liquor-by-the-drink sales could do to businesses," said Oklahoma Beer Alliance President Lisette Barnes. "This is the right way forward to give local residents a chance to vote on this issue."

Despite 12 of the 14 dry counties approving State Question 792 - which allows for the sale of cold strong beer in grocery, convenience and liquor stores - it didn't change local laws that restrict sales of alcohol more than 3.2 percent at restaurants and bars..."

Read the rest here.


Mississippi Legislature Considers Bevy of Changes to Alcohol Laws

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Mississippi is known for having some of the strictest alcohol laws in the United States, but the state legislature is again considering changes to loosen up the Magnolia State's treatment of booze. According to the Clarion Ledger, the state House passed several bills that will now make their way to the Senate:

John Barleycorn didn't die with a deadline for action this week, and the House on Wednesday passed several bills that would relax Mississippi's strict — some say arcane — alcohol laws.

The Mississippi Legislature for years now has been slowly repealing and tweaking its alcohol laws — to allow craft brewers and distillers to operate and residents to buy their goods, allowing voters to more easily turn their hometowns from dry to wet, allowing people to walk around with "go cups" in some areas and other measures. The push appears to continue this session ... Measures the House passed on to the Senate on Wednesday include...

  • House Bill 192: Would allow people to drive through dry areas in Mississippi carrying unopened alcohol and not face possession of alcohol in a dry county charges as they would now. This exemption would apply only to unopened alcohol containers, and only on state or federal roadways. The bill passed the House 91-19.

  •  House Bill 995: Would allow people who visit Mississippi distilleries to buy their products there..."

Read the rest here.