In the wake of the 21st Amendment’s repeal of Prohibition back in 1933, countless regulations were instituted for the purpose of limiting access to alcohol. Most of them stand firm today in the form of liquor licensing systems, which tighten the grip around restaurateurs and bar owners.
Philadelphia attorney, writer, and editor of the Young Involved Philadelphia blog Jim Saksa writes for Slate on this perplexing, inflexible issue of alcohol licensing and censure, by introducing us first to something a little unfamiliar: the quota system. He explains,
“The liquor licensing system in Massachusetts places population-based caps on the number of licenses available in a municipality, forcing restaurant and bar owners to look for liquor licenses on the secondary market, where they cost as much as $450,000.”
Saksa digs deeper and finds that the following states also follow the quota decree: Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, and Washington.
Besides quotas, several states, such as Pennsylvania, are “control states,” which means that they have had a long-reigning monopoly on any and all forms of mass-scale alcohol distribution in the state. Moreover, an overwhelming majority of booze regulations serve to benefit only select groups, such as beer wholesalers, and add up to be extremely pricey for consumers. Likewise, efforts made toward privatization have only ended up hurting small businesses and entities like microbreweries, bars and unions.
Just to verify that not all laws are based on good logic, here’s a look at a handful of the most preposterous and questionable liquor laws in America, as outlined by Saksa.
“You can only buy a case or a keg of beer at a privately run beer distributor, and I mean only a case or a keg: Pennsylvania beer distributors are prohibited from selling in smaller quantities.”
Florida, Idaho, and Mississippi
“The 64-ounce growler is illegal in FL, ID, and MS. When I asked Orlando-based liquor law expert and attorney Trevor Brewer why, he said: ‘Every regulation has the ability to make someone very wealthy.’”
Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, Minnesota, and Kansas
“Beer distributors in Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, Minnesota, and Kansas love that convenience stores there can only sell beer under 3.2 percent alcohol by volume.”
“The teetotaler tendencies of the politically dominant Mormon church are the real reason for Utah’s ‘Zion Curtains,’ which force bartenders to mix and pour drinks out of the patron’s sight.”
“Refilling and reusing liquor and wine bottles is unlawful. Licensees may not: Refill a bottle bearing the Iowa identifying marker with a product imported from another state.”
“No serving mixed drinks in pitchers—except sangria. ‘No mixed beverage licensee nor any agent or employee of such licensee shall … keep any alcoholic beverage other than in the bottle or container in which it was purchased by him.’”
“But mastering the craft at home isn’t a legal option for aspiring distillers, which is holding up the nascent industry’s development.”