The prohibition era may be long past, but America is still awash with puritanical, patronizing, cronyist, and otherwise crappy booze laws. To celebrate the 85th anniversary of the U.S. alcohol ban’s repeal—and encourage us to stop repeating the era’s mistakes—the R Street Institute has ferreted out “America’s Dumbest Drinking Laws” that are still on the books.
“While prohibition has indeed been relegated to the dustbin of history, we’re still far from free when it comes to drinking,” write R Street’s Jarrett Dieterle and Daniel DiLoreto. “Even today, alcohol continues to be subjected to a host of nonsensical, onerous and sometimes downright silly restrictions.”
Dieterle and DiLoreto scouted bad laws to put together “the definitive list of the Worst Booze Laws in America,” singling out 12 top offenders. Among them:
• Alabama’s prohibition on alcohol labels that feature “a person posed in an immoral or sensuous manner.”
• A federal law that prohibits distilleries on Native American land. “In 1834, Andrew Jackson signed a law banning distilleries on Native American lands,” notes the report:
During that time in American history, the condescending myth of the “drunken Indian” was pervasive and led to a whole host of paternalistic laws being implemented regarding tribal lands and booze. … In 2015, the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation in Washington State attempted to open a distillery on their land, only to be rebuffed. They and others have tried to pressure Congress to scrap this outdated and offensive law but, so far, to no avail.
A bill passed by Congress last week would change this and is awaiting the president’s signature.
• Idaho’s ban on infused liquor.
• Virginia ratio rules requiring restaurants with liquor licenses to sell at least $45 of food and non-alcoholic beverages for every $55 worth of liquor—a rule that has thwarted craft cocktail bar scene in the state.
One bad booze law not on the R Street report has been getting attention around these parts lately: a Virginia ban on happy hour advertising. “In the Old Dominion, it’s legal for businesses to offer happy hour. It’s just illegal for them to talk about it,” explained the Pacific Legal Foundation’s Anastasia Boden at The Washington Post last week. More:
Those that dare to advertise the happy-hour price of a beer or use creative terms such as “Sunday Funday” to pitch the demon rum face big fines or a suspended permit from the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority.
Restaurant owner Geoff Tracy is challenging the law on First Amendment grounds, with a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.