Tiny Teetotaling Tyrannies Topple. Or Not.


Jacob Sullum

Marijuana prohibition is on its way out, and so is alcohol prohibition. Still. The 21st amendment, which took effect in December 1933, repealed the national ban on "intoxicating liquors," leaving their regulation to the states. Eighty-one years later, parts of America remain alcohol-free zones, as reflected in yesterday's elections.

Arkansas voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would have done away with "wet" and "dry" counties, making the sale of alcoholic beverages legal throughout the state. The measure was supported by just 43 percent of voters. The Associated Press reports that "opponents vastly outspent supporters in the campaign, with much of the money coming from liquor stores in wet counties." Liquor stores were also part of the coalition against the 2010 ballot initiative that made the entire city of Dallas wet, one of my happiest experiences with democracy.

In Alabama, another state that lets local governments ban alcohol sales, the residents of Hartselle, which a local TV station calls "Alabama's driest city," decided to stay that way, although 48 percent of voters wanted to go wet. On the brighter side, Connecticut is all wet now that residents of the last dry town, Bridgewater, have decided to tolerate the booze trade, and so is Smith County, Texas, now that Justice of the Peace Precinct 5, which includes the towns of Lindale, Hideaway, Mount Sylvan, Garden Valley, and Swan, has voted to repeal prohibition. From my experience in Dallas, I gather that justice of the peace precincts in Texas are anachronistic subdivisions with only one remaining purpose: making you drive further than you'd like to buy a six-pack.

In South Carolina, which until 2005 forced bars and restaurants to serve liquor out of teeny-tiny bottles for no rational reason that anyone could ever explain, two cities (Clemson and Pendleton) and two counties (Spartanburg and Oconee) voted to allow alcohol sales on Sunday. Majorities also backed Sunday sales in Kaufman, Texas; Adairsville, Georgia; Centerville, Ohio; and various other places. Minneapolis voters abolished a rule mandating that restaurants derive no more than 30 percent of their revenue from beer and wine sales.

Voters in Ranlo, North Carolina, delivered a mixed verdict, allowing local stores and restaurants to sell cocktails but not beer or wine. The Gaston Gazette notes that "only 909 people voted on the malt beverage and unfortified wine measures," while "917 people voted on the mixed beverage question." Cocktails won by three votes.