Prohibition

Why Are Dry Counties Still a Thing?

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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.


Prohibition was Repealed Almost 90 Years Ago, but Congress is Still Praising its Progeny

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Written by R Street’s Jarrett Dieterle and cross-posted from R Street Institute.

At a time when confidence in Congress—and really all of Washington, D.C.—remains at an all-time low, congressional representatives seem more determined than ever to make Americans cynical. Perhaps nothing illustrates this more than a recent resolution concerning alcohol regulation that several legislators recently introduced. The resolution, which is ultimately toothless, seeks to “recognize … 85 years of successful State-based alcohol regulation.” Not only is the resolution a complete waste of time, it also fundamentally misunderstands the role regulation has played in the modern evolution of the alcohol industry.

As far as one can divine from its fluffy language, the resolution appears to operate primarily as a cheerleading vehicle for the three-tiered system of alcohol regulation. The system, which traces its heritage to the immediate aftermath of Prohibition, requires that each link in the alcohol distribution chain—producers, wholesalers and retailers—remain legally separate entities.

This mandate may seem unremarkable at first blush, but its importance cannot be overstated. Consider that everyday conveniences such as Apple Stores—in which Apple acts as both the producer and retailer of its goods in stores nationwide—are impossible in the alcohol space. The three-tiered system also lies at the heart of many antiquated and nonsensical alcohol laws that remain on our books today. For instance, notoriously silly laws like Indiana’s warm beer law (which forbids gas stations from selling refrigerated beer) and laws prohibiting the shipment of spirits to consumers are vestiges of the three-tiered system that have never been cleared away.

The theory behind the three-tiered system, as the congressional resolution itself notes, is to prevent vertical integration in alcohol markets. In other words, the aim is to thwart large producers from exercising direct control over distribution in a way that could lead to monopoly behavior. While fears about monopolies are hardly unsurprising—after all, several 2020 presidential candidates have already claimed they want to “make antitrust cool again”—these concerns are totally unsubstantiated in the modern alcohol marketplace.

We live in an unprecedented time in modern history when it comes to what we drink. The array of different spirits, beers, wines and ciders is seemingly endless—and only grows by the day. Consumers are also becoming more locally focused and selective, meaning that the chances of a few large industry players cornering the drinks market are less realistic than ever. Simply put, consumers want more options, not fewer. Such a fragmented marketplace makes monopolistic behavior tricky, if not impossible.

Instead of waxing poetic about the supposed virtues of an anachronistic system of regulation, politicians should be focusing on how to modernize and overhaul alcohol laws across the board. Some laws surrounding alcohol are certainly necessary—no one wants to legalize driving under the influence, for example—but the vast majority of alcohol rules have no connection to health and safety. Citizens are not made safer by laws that prohibit the sale of cold beer in gas stations or forbid them from having booze shipped to their door. (After all, if we can find a way to send prescriptions via mail, we can do the same for alcohol.)

To be fair, politicians frequently spend much of their time grandstanding. But if they’re going to do so, they should at least grandstand for something that makes sense.

C. Jarrett Dieterle is the director of commercial freedom at R Street Institute and the editor of DrinksReform.org.


Virginia Passes Legislation to Phase Out Dry Counties

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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.

NEW: America's Dumbest Drinks Laws

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In honor of Repeal Day, we released a new drinks report! Earlier this year, our DrinksReform team put out a call for readers to send us examples of the craziest, whackiest, most nonsensical alcohol laws they could find. We scoured the Internet, interviewed industry players, and combed through state legal codes to find the “worst of” when it came to booze laws across the country. Today, we debut the culmination of that effort, a new report titled “America’s Dumbest Drinks Laws.”

That’s right, we picked the 12 dumbest drinks laws in America and ranked them. We’ll let you read the report for the full rankings, but we wanted to pass along one happy note: The “winner” of the #1 worst alcohol law—a 1834 federal law that banned Native Americans from distilling on tribal grounds—was recently relegated to the dustbin of history. A bill repealing this outdated and offensive law passed both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate and is headed to the President’s desk.

R Street’s Kevin Kosar and Jarrett Dieterle wrote the first article in any mainstream outlet about the Native American distilling ban when they penned an op-ed earlier this year in the New York Times calling for the law’s repeal. We like think to think that we get results at the R Street Institute, and we’re proud that the law we targeted as the #1 worst alcohol law in the country has officially been eliminated.

Now, onward to #2 and #3! (Looking at you, North Carolina and Indiana …)

Check out the full report here—and prepare to be outraged! For a more condensed summary of the report, Dieterle wrote a Repeal Day piece for the Washington Examiner about it.

Additional media coverage for the report:

The Neo-Prohibitionists Rise Again

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Even though it’s been over 80 years since Prohibition was officially repealed, the desire to ban alcohol consumption has not been totally eradicated. According to NewYorkUpstate.com, the New York Prohibition Party has been officially re-established with the goal of “abolish[ing] the alcohol industry” in New York state:

They believe all alcohol -- beer, wine and liquor -- should be banned. It's the major long-term objective for the people behind a newly reorganized political party in New York.

They belong to the appropriately named New York Prohibition Party. Founded in 1869, it went dormant in the 1940s, about a decade after the end of America's big experiment with national Prohibition.

In 2017, a small group of true believers set out to re-establish the state party. They followed in the footsteps of a re-emerging national Prohibition Party, the oldest continuously operating third party in the country.

The ultimate goal "is to establish a lasting prohibition of the manufacture and sale of alcohol, to abolish the alcohol industry, and to establish a teetotal culture," party officials said in a set of answers to emailed questions from NYup.com…

Read more here.


Like a Hurricane: A Trip Into the Heart of the Craft Spirits Boom

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New Orleans, La. -- New Orleans is many things: joyous, indulgent, wild, delicious, eccentric. But every July it also turns into the "the largest cocktail festival in the world" when it plays host to the annual Tales of the Cocktail convention. During Tales, which is now in its 16th year, upwards of 15,000 craft spirits aficionados--from bartenders to distillers to drinks writers to brand representatives--descend upon the Big Easy for a week full of seminars, tastings, parties, tastings, competitions, and ... even more tastings. The festivities conclude with the presentation of the Spirited Awards, which crown yearly winners in categories such as "Best Bartender" and "Best American Cocktail Bar."

In many ways, Tales can be considered the heart of the modern craft cocktail boom, which made it a natural fit for a visit as we near the 100th year anniversary of the beginning of Prohibition. Spending a week at Tales makes it easier to appreciate just how far craft spirits have come over the past hundred years and how, in many ways, we are living in the golden age of booze. It also shows how removing arbitrary government barriers--including the most stringent barrier of all, Prohibition itself--can unleash a wave of entrepreneurial activity and economic growth.

In many ways, New Orleans has always been known for cocktails. The city is widely considered the home of famous drinks such as the Sazerac and the Vieux Carre, not to mention the widely used Peychaud's bitters (and, more ignominiously, the Hurricane). When this rich tradition is combined with the city's modern cocktail bar scene, it creates a literal embarrassment of riches. During Tales week, attendees not only are treated to the endless array of tastings and cocktail competitions that are formally part of the convention, but they can wander the streets of New Orleans from one elite cocktail bar to the next. 

There are the classics, such as the aforementioned Sazerac or Vieux Carre from Hotel Monteleone's legendary Carousel Bar, or a Brandy Crusta from famed bartender Chris Hannah at Arnaud's French 75. Then there's the modern high-end players, like the James Beard award-winning Cure or Cane & Table, not to mention casual--but still elite--joints like Bar Tonique (try their Gin Fizz).

Gin fizz from Bar Tonique

Gin fizz from Bar Tonique

After doing extensive field research in all these establishments during my time at Tales, I wandered over to the Tales exhibit on Smugglers, Bootleggers, & Rum Runners. The exhibit featured a series of front page stories from the Times-Picayune that ran during Prohibition, and which reported on the liquor busts and law enforcement efforts of the era. Notably, the earliest editions of the Times-Picayune featured at the exhibit had surprisingly optimistic takes on Prohibition. For example, one story from January 30, 1921--just a year into Prohibition--was titled "Many Good Results Follow Prohibition" and bragged of "more money for the poor, more money for the businessman, more money for the workman, more money in the banks" as a result of outlawing hooch.

Slowly but surely, however, the coverage turned negative as stories began piling up about expensive--and often ineffective--enforcement efforts geared toward cracking down on illegal rum runners and bootleggers in the region. The June 14, 1925 edition of the paper ran a story by a reporter embedded on a rum running ship in the Gulf, which led off with a memorable line from a rum-runner himself: "The rum law is bunk. Just as long as they want to drink we'll get it to 'em." Perhaps most tellingly, the November 20, 1929 edition of the Times-Picayune ran a front page story titled "Dry Congressman Indicted for Prohibition Law," detailing the story of how Congressman Edward Denison--a Prohibition advocate--was caught with a leaking suitcase of liquor in his Capitol Hill office.

Watching the events of Prohibition unfold in real time across the pages of the Times-Picayune puts into vivid relief the practical enforcement difficulties that resulted from an absolute ban on booze, not to mention the thriving black market it helped ignite (which inevitably extended to some government officials). Rather than leading to "more money" for citizens and businesses, as the early Times-Picayune article suggested, banning access to a product that humans have desired and enjoyed throughout history ultimately led to frustration and violence.

But more fundamentally, modern day New Orleans and the nation's craft spirit boom ultimately provide the best repudiation to the failed policies of the Prohibition era. It is the craft spirit boom itself that has provided "more money" for entrepreneurs, businesspeople, and workers. (The craft spirits movement has generated close to 6,000 jobs in the past year and breweries, wineries, and distilleries have created the second most manufacturing jobs of any industry in the country since 2017.)

This is not to say that the work of deregulating alcohol is complete--in fact, the very mission of DrinksReform.org is to continue to advocate for reforms to outdated alcohol laws that burden spirit-makers and sellers without providing any discernible public health benefits. While ensuring safe drinking should continue to be an important goal, it's clear that many of the laws and rules governing alcoholic beverages were enacted to protect vested interests rather than to promote the public well-being. From the three-tiered system to retailing restrictions to control states, the alcohol industry still labors under more stringent (and often nonsensical) regulations than nearly any other industry. 

If anything, a trip to New Orleans and Tales of the Cocktails gives us a peak into the booming craft spirits industry, and a reminder of how loosening government barriers can boost entrepreneurial activity and delight consumers in ways never previously imagined.

Oklahoma Dry Counties to Vote on Allowing Alcohol Sales

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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.

 

New Bill Would Repeal Federal Prohibition on Distilling on Indian Lands

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An antiquated federal law prohibits distilleries from being operated on Indian lands in the United States, and according to the site Indianz.com, Congress is now considering a bill to repeal this law:

A vestige of a paternalistic era in federal law and policy might finally be coming down, leading the way to more economic development in Indian Country.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill last week that repeals a 19th-century ban on alcohol distilleries on tribal lands. Supporters say there is no reason why tribes should be treated any differently than other governments when it comes to manufacturing liquor.

“It’s time we remove this outdated rule and allow tribes to pursue the same economic opportunity on their land allowed on non-tribal land," Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Washington), the sponsor of H.R.5317, the Repeal of Prohibition on Certain Alcohol Manufacturing on Indian Lands Act, said in a press release.

The ban at issue was enacted by Congress on June 30, 1834. In order to "regulate trade and intercourse with the Indian tribes," lawmakers at the time thought it was best to prohibit anyone from giving "spirituous liquor or wine" to an Indian person and to prohibit the manufacture of "ardent spirits" in Indian Country...

Read the rest here.

R Street's Kevin Kosar on the Anniversary of Prohibition Repeal

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December 5 was the anniversary of Prohibition ending in the United States, now celebrated as Repeal Day. To mark the occasion, R Street's Kevin Kosar recounted the history around the failed experiment in a column for the Washington Examiner:

"Plenty of hooey comes from the mouths of elected officials. Arguably, the prize for the nuttiest statement of all might go to the late Sen. Morris Sheppard, D-Texas. In 1930, he haughtily declared, "There's as much chance of repealing the 18th Amendment as there is for a hummingbird to fly to Mars with the Washington Monument tied to its tail."

Sheppard, who spent three decades in Congress, was an anything but an impartial observer. The Texas Democrat had sponsored the constitutional amendment to ban drink and fought successfully for the Volstead Act and other anti-hooch laws. He was often called the father of prohibition, although in truth, this ugly progeny had many parents. Nativists, feminists, evangelicals, captains of industry, and paternalistic progressives joined to form a crazy quilt coalition against drink.

For nearly 14 dark years (1920-1933), the production and sale of alcohol was largely banned..."

Read the rest here.

Baylen Linnekin on Repeal Day and the Future of Alcohol Regulations

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Food policy expert Baylen Linnekin dedicated his latest Reason.com column to the anniversary of Prohibition being repealed, as well as the burdensome booze regs alcohol producers still endure:

"Next week will mark the 84th anniversary of the ratification of the Twenty-First Amendment, which repealed alcohol Prohibition. The repeal of Prohibition is worth celebrating, even if the amendment was (and remains) a deeply flawed vehicle.

The chief flaw with the Amendment is, as I wrote earlier this year, that it "simply shifted much of the power to prohibit and incessantly regulate alcohol from the federal government to the states."

States have truly made the most of their teetotalitarian authority for decades, to the detriment of both alcohol producers and—much more so—consumers.

Much of the negative impacts of states' approach to alcohol regulation can be tied to what's known as the three-tier system, a Prohibition relic under which states generally prohibit direct alcohol sales from a brewer, vintner, or distiller to a consumer. The three-tier system mandates these alcohol producers first sell to a distributor or retailer—a mandatory middleman—who can then sell to actual drinkers..."

Read the whole column here. R Street's Jarrett Dieterle also interviewed Baylen Linnekin earlier this year about drinks laws and regs (here).