State Liquor Laws: Historically Irrelevant Or Actually Worth Something?


Holly Whitman

Holly Whitman is a writer and journalist based in Washington DC. She loves to share her thoughts on the intersection of politics and culture, and writes on everything from feminism and human rights to climate change and technology.

Related Post Roulette

32 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Until recently, you couldn’t buy booze in Colorado on Sunday. Moreover, you couldn’t buy 3.2 beer at the 7/11 on Sunday. On Sundays, you had best have bought your booze the day before.

    Also, there remains a law in Colorado that 7/11 (and grocery stores, for that matter) cannot sell full-strength beer. Yep. 3.2 beer only. Drink all day long, safely. (No wine or stronger either.)

    We’ve got a thing on the ballot coming up saying that grocery stores will soon be able to sell beer/wine and full strength at that. I don’t know that it’ll pass. I mean, we passed recreational weed. Do people really need to be able to buy wine at the grocery store?Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Jaybird says:

      I’m waiting to see if the supporters — who have already started running TV ads — play the winning argument: convenience. So far, it’s mostly been more like “Look how many other states already do this; you wouldn’t want Colorado to be out of step, would you?” Instead they need the dad, with a cart with chips and salsa and charcoal adding the beer. Or a young couple picking up fresh produce and putting it into the cart where the wine sits. One less errand stop, that much time saved for something else.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Cain says:

        A few months back, when I went to the grocery store, they had a poor benighted clerk standing out front collecting petition signatures. (Pretty sure it was a clerk.)

        It made me realize that, now that pot was legal, I hadn’t seen a guy collecting signatures for petitions for years. The old hook was “wanna sign this petition legalizing pot? Now that you’re done, wanna sign this petition limiting housing starts between Powers Blvd and Mark Sheffield Road?” Without the petition legalizing pot, you’re going to get approximately 7 signatures for any given boring old petition.

        Until, of course, the grocery store puts their own person in front of the store.Report

        • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Jaybird says:

          Last petition I saw was the Jefferson County school board recall. The organizers just put volunteers outside all of the public libraries. People were lined up waiting to sign. (Note to Colorado conservatives — if you had asked me, I would have told you that AP US History in a well-to-do suburban school district was not the place to start diddling with the curriculum.)

          The single-payer initiative seemed to collect 150K signatures very quickly, but I don’t remember ever seeing anyone with a petition. Wonder where they were?Report

  2. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Many of the Protestant majority countries got the Prohibition bug during 19th century and a lot of liquor laws reflect this. Germany was the exception of course. Considering how many Americans see drugs and sex, I can’t see our treatment of alcohol getting lighter anytime soon. I mean, we’re the country that created DARE.Report

  3. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    I will say this, many people used to drink around the clock. This was mainly because everything was unsafe to drink.Report

    • Avatar notme in reply to LeeEsq says:

      The other main reason for this was that you might not be able to transport your grains to market given their bulk with the poor transportation networks at the time. If you distilled them they were less bulky so easier to transport, would keep longer and brought a good price.

      One of the best books on this subject is The Alcoholic Republic: An American TraditionReport

      • Avatar El Muneco in reply to notme says:

        Shortlisted. I actually had never considered that, which is surprising in retrospect considering how much Civilization I’ve played.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to El Muneco says:

          Just start reading about the Whiskey Rebellion.
          (And Johnny Appleseed (who’s also local around here — I’ve found some of his trees in the woods))Report

    • Avatar El Muneco in reply to LeeEsq says:

      One funny consequence of this is the people who insist that when the Bible says “wine” it really means “grape juice” because the Bible can’t have been endorsing drinking alcohol.

      Just try to keep grape juice from fermenting in the Middle East using Bronze Age technology – non-farmers likely never saw grape juice that wasn’t wine…Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to El Muneco says:

        19th Century American Protestantism could get very eclectic. German Protestant immigrants got into conflict with Anglo-Protestants because they couldn’t quite understand what was wrong with drinking beer and doing fun things after church on Sunday.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to LeeEsq says:

      This was SMALL BEER. 1% alcohol tops — just enough to kill bacteria.Report

  4. Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

    Many jurisdictions make an exception to the ban on underage drinking if the alcohol is provided by an immediate family member in, and consumed in, the home. In other words, you can give your teenage a glass of wine at dinner, but you can’t invite all his friends over for a beer bash.

    Oh, and that Massachusetts law seems to me to be very sensible. Do we really want bartenders egging college students on to drink to toxic levels?Report

  5. Avatar Damon says:

    Lot’s of states have crazy booze laws. My state had crazy “blue laws” up till the mid to late 80s/early 90s. Store’s were not open on Sunday, only grocery stores, etc.

    And let’s not forget the DISTRIBUTORS. They have an active interest in restricting more liberal booze laws since many states, mine included, have laws making vendors buy through one or two distributors. Ergo, the selections are limited.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Damon says:

      Giving states wide latitude in regulating alcohol was the political price for repealing Prohibition. Just like with the drug war, there were many people who believed in Prohibition till the very end and wanted it to continue indefinitely. There were other people who realized that it wasn’t working but still loathed alcohol like many people know that the drug war is a failure but still hate narcotics. Not everybody against Prohibition was a libertine drinker. It was the middle group that was needed to get enough votes to repeal Prohibition. Giving them a wide ability to regulate alcohol was the political price.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to LeeEsq says:

        And in the process they created a nice protected industry that maintains it’s position via political contributions and corruption.

        Nicely done.Report

  6. Avatar Jon Rowe says:

    I live in PA. Beer stores also can’t sell less than 1/2 cases unless they are “take out” stores with licenses to serve food and alcohol.

    No. These regulations are not good.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Jon Rowe says:

      How many other states have you bought liquor in?
      If we must have a monopoly (and yes, many states have monopolies that aren’t run by the state), the state tends to do a better job.Report

  7. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    On the subject of drinking, how do Americans who live in places with very bad or non-existent public transportation and taxis go out drinking? In New York, you can take a subway, taxi, or now Uber home. People still drink and drive but you have options. There are some other cities like this. Most Americans seem to live in places where you want to go out drinking means you have to drive at the level to trigger DUI because the threshold is low. Do most Americans just drive drunk?Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Short answer — yes.Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to Michael Cain says:

        see, now I’m really interested in the long answer.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Alan Scott says:

          Long answer, people try to make various plans to avoid it – just have a couple, have a DD, (combination of (a) and (b) between partners, where one person in the couple will agree to just have one or two), try to drink as locally as possible. But they’re just not consistently executed at all. So the short answer ends up being right quite often.

          In m experience you have a lot of buzzed driving, and then a few very serious cases of people who get busted for driving blind drunk five, six, seven times. Obviously without a license in many of the later cases.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to LeeEsq says:

      You either use a designated driver, sit around drinking coffee afters, or you drive drunk.

      Avoid driving during “dump people out of bars” hours.Report

  8. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    God bless California and her lovingly liberal alcohol laws. You can get booze anywhere! All hail BevMo!Report

  9. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    Moved from Wisconsin to Minnesota, where there are no bottled/canned liquor/beer sales on Sundays (recently a growler loophole was passed, but, meh, growlers).

    Really crimps my style.Report

  10. Avatar DavidTC says:

    A Nebraska law holds that a bar can’t serve beer unless they are also cooking a batch of soup. This harkens back to a time when it was thought that drinking on an empty stomach gets you more buzzed. Makes sense, but there isn’t a law forcing people to eat the soup.

    What do you mean ‘when it was thought…’? As far as I know, you will get drunk faster an empty stomach. I’m not entirely sure why, but I suspect it’s something to do with digestion speed, and I bet you actually do get ‘as’ drunk if you drink while eating, it’s just spread over a longer time.

    That said…that’s not why such laws exist. My town does not have ‘bars’. My town just has restaurants that sell alcohol, and that’s enforced by requiring them to make at least half their revenue from not-alcohol. (At least, that used to be the law, don’t know anymore.)

    What that *actually* has resulted in, of course, are places that are restaurants during the day, and they slowly turn into bars at night.

    But, despite that policy looking like a failure, it has resulted in exactly the outcome desired: No dive bars.

    Making the places operate a kitchen, *even if* that kitchen mostly shuts down at night, apparently classes those places up enough. (Just having a wait staff probably helps a lot.)

    That is probably the origin of the Nebraska law also.Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to DavidTC says:

      A Nebraska law holds that a bar can’t serve beer unless they are also cooking a batch of soup.

      This appears to be an urban legend (rural legend?). I checked with a friend back there, and am told that the world “soup” appears exactly once in current statute. Soup kitchens are one of the public services which are not required to verify lawful presence in the country before dispensing benefits [§4-110(5)].

      She says it is possible that such a requirement occurred in some old city ordinance. Small towns are notorious for just leaving stuff in their municipal code forever.Report

  11. Avatar CJColucci says:

    For decades I’ve been telling people that we should lower the drinking age to 12. When I was a lad, you could drive at 16 and drink at 18 (now 21). Young men are notoriously bad drivers for their first several years, and then you hit them with booze. Recipe for disaster. Instead, give them 4 years to learn to hold their liquor before they get behind the wheel. Now I see that a genuine expert agrees with me (I won’t quibble about the exact age).Report

  12. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    In Malaysia, if a man gets caught drunk driving, both he and his wife can go to jail. Talk about spousal support.

    This isn’t entirely nuts. If he’s drunk and she’s sober, why isn’t she driving? And if they’re both drunk, they’re arguably both culpable.

    I assumed the Bolivian law had to do with pregnancy and birth defects, based on the naive assumption that only married women were having sex, and that being Catholics they don’t use birth control, but I looked it up and apparently it is, in fact, based on the concerns about sexual morality. Although I don’t fully understand why it only applies to married women.Report