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Historical Overview

With the repeal of prohibition through the adoption of the 21st Amendment in 1933, the regulation of alcoholic beverages reverted to the individual states. The failure of prohibition had shown that the nation was too large and too diverse to accept a single standard of sobriety, especially one of total abstinence. Many states chose to resume the legal sale of alcohol through licensed private sellers. Eighteen states and a few local jurisdictions opted for a different course – control.

The crime and corruption arising out of prohibition were clearly unacceptable but so was the proliferation of saloons and the abusive drinking of pre-prohibition days. What was needed was a new balancing of rights and responsibilities to better serve the community interest. For the individual who chose to drink responsibly, provisions had to be made for the legal sale of alcohol beverages. At the same time, many states wanted a higher level of regulation and control to be in place to protect the public, which would inevitably bear the substantial social risks and economic costs of alcohol abuse.

Consequently, a controlled distribution system which substitutes the state for the private marketplace was implemented – so that economic incentives for maximum sales were eliminated and policies supporting moderate consumption were put in place.

Opponents of control argued that any government intervention in the market was un-American. Advocates replied that the essential issue was not free enterprise but alcohol. In terms of the costs of its abuse, they pointed out, alcohol is sui generis - i.e., in a class of its own.

Decades later, those jurisdictions are still control systems. Such durability would seem to confirm the common sense wisdom of this method of beverage alcohol regulation.