On this day in 1933, Prohibition was repealed.
While there are plenty of great resources online that go into great detail about the events that led up to the creation of prohibition, and the ultimate breakdown of prohibition, essentially allowing Americans to enjoy their drink again, we’re going to sweep past that part and speak a bit more to the evolution of how we get our beverage of choice (or don’t) today, which can be more difficult that one might think, even after the repeal of prohibition.
There is a distribution mafia of sorts in the US. This is true. They hold the keys in many regions to you getting your alcohol, and if you purchase outside their supply chain, they strangle or severely limit how much you can get your hands on.
Anyone who lives in a prohibited state for direct shipped alcohol knows what we’re talking about, and anyone who can only get 24 bottles per person, per month in their state also knows a bit of what we speak of.
Even though it’s legal to buy alcohol in almost every state in the union, some areas are dry (or have dry counties), some can only buy Monday through Saturday (sorry Sunday shoppers!), some can only ship to a store – not a home, and some can only receive an allotted amount directly. Why is this?
Post-prohibition, the distributors took over the industry in a strange dance on a state-by-state basis. They basically set themselves up to be the only source by which you could get the goods. Nothing could be direct. If you wanted wine, you needed to get it from the store, who in turn had to get it from a distributor. Going to the bar for a drink? Same deal, can’t be direct from Jack Daniels to the bar, had to pass through a distributor. If you’re a restaurateur, and you just tasted an amazing wine you want on your list, you now need to find out who distributes that wine, because you can’t just buy 10 cases from the winery to take back to your restaurant. Everything had to pass through a distributor.
Fast forward to around the present day, and the advent of the internet and internet shopping began to put pressures on the so-called distribution mafia. “I can buy anything online, why not alcohol!?” began to be a common question, so fervently that the old rules began getting a good look over.
First, it must be stated, the distributors are very old now, almost 100 years old in fact, and they have lots of friends in very high places. Essentially, with all their money gained from handling alcohol from one person to another, they have massive amounts of spending and lobbying power, and some places are very willing to take their money and side with them on how the state laws are written regarding alcohol to people within the state.
Under a microscope, while not “prohibition” it still seems anything but legal and free to get your hands on your drink however you like. Essentially you can get anything you want, but they hold the keys to the liquor cabinet, especially if you plan on reselling it for a profit.
Again, advent of internet, “I want my drink!” Things had to change. Certain states (California, Oregon, and Washington to name a few) have strong agricultural roots, so strong they more than lap the age of the distributors, and those states saw value in allowing the producers to sell directly to a customer, distribution be damned!
Other states saw value in the taxes from direct sales and listened to their populations when they cried from the rooftops, “WE WANT OUR DRINKS ON OUR TERMS!”
The distribution mafia clearly didn’t sit by and just let this happen. They took to states where they had far greater control and influence, and locked them down.
Today, in Alabama, you can order wine online. The caveat, you cannot ship it to your home. Not one single bottle. It has to ship to an AL ABC store, with an ABC form attached. You can thank the distribution mafia for that. Virginia or the Carolinas? You can have up to 2 cases per month sent to your home, after that? Back to the ABC stores. Thanks distribution lobbying! The list of regulations goes on and on and on, and it changes from state-to-state, sometimes county-to-county (we see you West Virginia!).
Why does it need to be so tough!? Well, when you give up, the distributors win. You go back to buying a bottle at the store, their pockets get lined again. It’s that simple. And some states see more value in the lobbying and spending the distributors do in the state over collecting direct taxes and overriding their control over how you get your alcohol.
As time has gone on, most states have moved to allow some or relax previous restrictions, allowing more to be shipped to customers directly. Most recently, Oklahoma and Kentucky come to mind (even though KYs still working out the kinks between the state and the shippers on how this will look, essentially stalling any progress while it is currently “legal” in the state to ship direct with the new laws). This is a good thing, it shows your voices are being heard.
However, there are a few examples of states not budging (prohibited states like Utah, Arkansas, and Mississippi, just to name a few), and some states moving backwards (Rhode Island rolled back direct shipping in favor of some esoteric, expensive personal licensing option that no one will buy).
In the current climate, it has never been more important (and safe) for you to be able to buy alcohol direct. There is one power that is greater than the distributor’s wallets, and that is your voice. On Prohibition Repeal Day, ask yourself, “What can I do to make it easier to get what I want? It’s my hard earned dollars I’m spending, I should be able to spend them where and how I want, no?” The more folks who speak up, the more change will occur. So today, think of how you can advocate for yourself, to whom you need to write a letter, place a call, or knock on the door of. While prohibition has been repealed, we still have a long way to go as a nation to get alcohol the way we want, freely. And while going to the store may be your thing, just remember that buying direct gets your dollar much further. Who wouldn’t want better product for less money, right!?