After the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, decisions concerning alcohol were left to the states. It sounds good in theory, but the reality has been a confusing patchwork of laws and regulations.
As of this writing, roughly 10% of the U.S. is dry, meaning that the sale of alcohol is completely prohibited. This affects roughly 18 million citizens. Some areas are more serious than others about banning alcohol consumption. In Kentucky, 55 out of 120 counties are dry; Texas outlaws booze in 74 out of 254 counties. There are some states that still have strong temperance traditions, such as Mississippi and Virginia. Five dry counties are left in Florida. On top of that, individual towns in certain states can vote themselves dry.
Then there’s the “moist” county. In some of these hybrid situations, stores can sell beer but not wine or hard liquor; in others, you have to join a “private club” to be able to order booze at a bar (usually a matter of paying $10 and becoming an instant member).
However, momentum is shifting away from the neo-Prohibitionists. In Kansas, 14 counties have gone wet since 2002. More and more municipalities are putting referenda on their ballots as social conditions shift across the country. Churches are less likely to take a side in these debates, for fear of losing support among parishioners. The spread of chain supermarkets is another factor. In states where supermarket wine sales are legal, they form an important source of revenue for the stores—outlaw alcohol sales, and you might not have a place to shop for groceries.
The main factor is tax revenue. In the East Texas town of Winona, sales tax revenue jumped from $2,000 to $11,000 per month after the sale of alcohol was legalized. To their amazement, residents also found that the roads were safer. Since consumers could now purchase alcohol and drink it at home, fewer people were getting drunk at bars just beyond the county line and then driving home. In fact, most research shows that there are more alcohol-related car accidents in dry areas.
In some quarters, stupidity is defined as repeating the same actions over and over, despite the fact that you get the same result. We tried Prohibition once. It didn’t work.