The United States system of democracy has been a model for countries worldwide for the last two centuries. During that period our Constitution has held up remarkably well. In place since 1789, there have been only 27 amendments, the first 10 of which are the Bill of Rights, ratified in 1791. Over the last 222 years only 17 additional amendments have been added.
Considering the state of our young nation, the popular political and social views at that time, and how our values and views have progressed since then, it is amazing to me that so few changes have been made to the basic structure of the governing laws of the land. Several amendments have been of the “administrative” type (term limits, Presidential succession), while others have altered the landscape and political tenor of our nation (abolishment of slavery, women’s right to vote, voting age lowered to 18).
Only one amendment has ever been overturned–the 18th Amendment–which ushered in Prohibition for 13 years. Prohibition was arguably one of the most controversial, and perhaps least enforced, constitutional laws in our history.
Enacted with the significant influence of the lobbying efforts of the Temperance Movement in the United States, this amendment made it a federal crime to manufacture, sell, transport, import or export “intoxicating liquors.” Wine was included in this ban. Pre-Prohibition, there were 2,500 commercial wineries; this dropped to 100 wineries (who produced “religious wines”) during Prohibition. Fifty years after the repeal of Prohibition, only 700 wineries were in operation.
Even with the repeal of Prohibition, the Temperance Movement still exerted significant influence over alcohol regulations. In the absence of federal law after 1933, the responsibility for alcohol laws transferred to the states, which in several instances deferred regulation to the discretion of counties and cities.
One would expect that in the intervening 80 years since the end of Prohibition each state would have enacted its own set of regulations governing the sale and consumption of alcohol. And you would think that we’ve become a more sophisticated, responsible society in the face of the growing concern over the effects of drunk driving and alcoholism. So much for such lofty ideals.
In fact, there are two distinct fronts in the current focus of state regulations. The first direction taken is by those states and municipalities that have enacted laws to regulate the excessive use of alcohol and underage drinking. The pendulum is beginning to move ever so slowly in the direction of controlling consumption once again. Is this a slide backwards toward a Prohibition-era sensibility or rather a measured attempt to find the right balance in consumption while protecting the general public?
The second direction is by those states that have followed the federal government’s lead. Instead of proactively taking any steps to legalize/regulate alcohol consumption, they have relegated such authority and responsibility to the county and local governments. In 2013 there are still 18 states that in various degrees have deferred to municipalities. As implausible as it may seem, there are still 380 “dry” counties across the country.
One of those remaining 18 states, which has recently taken steps to address alcohol regulation (or is it deregulation?), is Mississippi. After 80 years of local prohibition, in the last six months three municipalities have voted to permit the sale of “hard liquor” (greater than 5 percent alcohol content).
What has caused this sudden change from temperance-focused laws? It may not be socially driven but may simply be economically driven. With the Mississippi economy in sustained lethargy, additional sources of revenue are critical. The prospects of new restaurants and bars serving alcohol will generate jobs and revenues for the local economies. The increased sales tax collections on retail alcohol sales will add to the coffers of depleted bank accounts.
Studies undertaken to measure the impact of living in a dry municipality compared to a wet one have been inconclusive in proving the impact of prohibition versus regulated alcohol consumption. I have mixed feelings. I’d be interested in your opinion.
Nick Antonaccio is a 35-year Pleasantville resident. For over 15 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @sharingwine.