States That Control Alcohol Sales Move Toward Privatization

Lingering vestige of Prohibition


Pennsylvanians love to complain about their state's tangled system for alcohol sales. Consumers can't buy wine at grocery stores and have to go to a state-run store if they want to purchase that or hard liquor. Bars and restaurants are the only outlets authorized to sell six-packs of beer, while beer-specific stores, licensed to sell only by the case or the keg, are the go-to source for variety and volume.

Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania House voted to privatize wholesale and retail liquor sales, bringing the state closer than it's ever been to overhauling a system put in place just after Prohibition. But changing a state's alcohol sales system is never simple.

Seventeen states have an agency charged with overseeing the wholesale or retail sale of liquor or wine, but only Pennsylvania and Utah exert complete control over all such sales. The roster of "control states" hadn't changed significantly in decades until last June, when Washington privatized its state-run system, becoming the first state since the 1930s to completely abandon its role in both retail and wholesale liquor sales.