Prohibition Laws Linger 81 Years Later

Some of California's wineries oldest wineries started during dry period

by Paul Franson
elephant prohibition
Providing alcohol to elephants is illegal in Natchez, Mo. Several other strange laws related to alcohol remain on the books eight decades after the repeal of Prohibition.
Napa, Calif.—Today is the 81st anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition, but its legacy lives on through strange laws related to alcohol—even in California, which produces most of the nation’s wine.

It was just last year, for example, that California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law permitting California bartenders to use infusions in their cocktails. They had already been doing this for ages, but in 2010, state liquor authorities dug up an 80-year-old law that stated it was illegal to “alter” alcohol in any way. 

    Some of these laws may have been repealed, but they still give a sense of the lingering impact of Prohibition—even though it ended 81 years ago. What follows are some of the many laws listed at stupidlaws.com.

    Washington, D.C.: No statement, picture, or illustration referring to Easter, Holy Week, Mother’s Day, “Santa Claus” (including names synonymous with “Santa Claus”), or a religious holiday or religious symbol can promote the sale, service, or consumption of alcoholic beverages.

    Washington, D.C.: Candidates for office cannot buy alcohol for others while polls are open.

    Lynden, Wash.: Dancing and drinking may not occur at the same establishment.

    Alamo, Texas: A person found intoxicated must be given a large dose of castor oil by a local doctor; failure to gulp it down will result in a fine.

    Lubbock County, Texas: It is illegal to drive within an arm’s length of alcohol—including alcohol in someone else’s blood stream.

    LeFors, Texas:
    It is illegal to take more than three swallows of beer while standing.

    Greenville, S.C.: The drinking age on the Furman University campus is 60 years old. (Furman University was originally a “dry campus,” but condos for senior citizens were built on the property, so drinking was allowed for the senior citizens.)

    Scituate, R.I.:
    It is illegal to drive down any street with beer in your car, even if it is unopened.

    Newtown, Pa.:
    No man may purchase alcohol without written consent from his wife.

    Anyone with a “bad reputation” is prohibited from distributing malt beverages.

    Stanfield, Ore.:
    No more than two people may share a single drink.

    Nevada (repealed): Saloonkeepers had to post the names of habitual drunkards, if so requested by the local sheriff or members of the imbibers’ immediate families.

    Nevada (repealed in the 1960s): It was illegal to sell liquor at religious camp meetings, within a half-mile of the state prison, in the State Capitol Building or to “imbeciles.”

    Nyala, Nev.:
    A man is forbidden from buying drinks for more than three people other than himself at any one period during the day.

    St. Louis, Mo.: It’s illegal to sit on the curb of any city street and drink beer from a bucket.

    Natchez, Mo.:
    It shall be unlawful to provide beer or other intoxicants to elephants.

    Sulphur, La.: It is illegal to be an alcoholic.

    Topeka, Kan.: It is forbidden to serve wine in teacups.

    Topeka, Kan.: Selling two beers at once for the same price is not allowed.

In addition, California restricts owners of wineries from selling their wine in restaurants they own (or have an investment in) but rewards brewpubs by allowing them to serve hard liquor without an expensive liquor license.

Let’s look back to Prohibition itself to see some of the origins of these practices.

Home brew led to more vineyards
Prohibition banned the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages, but not their possession or consumption. In addition, it allowed heads of households to make up to 200 gallons of wine per year for their families’ consumption (but not to serve it to others). Single persons could (and still can) make 100 gallons.

One result was great demand for wine grapes. California grapegrowers increased land under cultivation by about 700% during the first five years of Prohibition. Wines & Vines started as California Grapegrower in 1919 to help educate those grapegrowers. Many families now prominent in the wine business got their start shipping grapes to eastern cities full of immigrants (most of them Catholic), for whom wine was part of life.

This led to demand for grape varieties that worked well for home winemakers such as Alicante Bouchet, Carignan and Petite Sirah, and they replaced varieties of perceived higher quality formerly used to make wine.

Also popular were liquid and semi-solid grape concentrates—often called “wine bricks” or “wine blocks.” They were sold with a warning not to add water or they could ferment into wine. Sometimes, they even included a packet of yeast and a notice not to add it to the mixture.

We can assume that most of these home-brewed wines weren’t of the highest quality.

The law also allowed the sale of sacramental wine to priests and ministers, and allowed rabbis to approve sales of sacramental wine to individuals for Sabbath and holiday use at home.

Not surprisingly, many people found religion.

Wineries could also make medicinal wine, and some doctors were generous in writing prescriptions (as with pills more recently), while many pharmacies prospered through the wine and other alcoholic beverages.

The ill effects of Prohibition are now well known, but its repeal was largely facilitated by an attempt to boost the economy out of the Great Depression and increase tax revenues as much as to end its problems.

In a compromise to pass repeal, however, states were allowed to treat alcohol unlike any other goods and set their own laws that restricted free trade among the states.

The process led to many dry states (and dry parts of states), the establishment of the three-tier system to prohibit manufacturers from controlling distribution or retailing as well as “tied-house” laws to ensure that producers didn’t take over the retail sale of alcoholic beverages.

It also led to many laws that restricted sales of alcohol, some to reduce consumption but many for religious reasons. Here are some strange examples, almost all dating to the end of Prohibition, that apparently still apply:

New York state law bans the sale of spirits—but not beer and wine—within 200 feet of a church.

Some states still monopolize the sale of wine, beer or spirits, and others restrict who can sell them.

In some states liquor stores have to be closed on Sundays and grocery stores can’t sell beer or wine on Sundays.

Then there are states like New York that limit sales of alcoholic beverages to one store in a chain. Only one Trader Joe’s and one Whole Foods in the populous state can sell wine.

In some places, you can buy beer in grocery stores but not wine or spirits. (Or wine and beer, but not spirits.)

States (and cities) stop alcohol sales at different times, from midnight to 4 a.m. in general.

In 2006, a tapas restaurant in Virginia was fined for serving sangria, which violated a 1934 law banning the mixture of wine and spirits, and the sangria used wine and brandy. The legislature later repealed that law.

South Carolina public schools, by law, devote the fourth Friday of every October to teaching kids about the dangers of overindulgence.

Growler laws vary state by state. Maryland, for example, allows only five establishments (all brewpubs) to refill growers.

Some states, such as Florida, used to ban growler refills altogether. Delaware’s governor signed a bill into law in May 2013 allowing liquor stores to sell and fill growlers onsite. Prior to that law, growlers could only be filled at brewpubs or breweries.

Several states only allow 3.2% beer sales in groceries and convenience stores, with stronger beers sold in liquor stores. Some states prohibit sales of individual bottles or cold beer, apparently to discourage immediate consumption.

Happy-hour laws vary widely. Some states, such as Massachusetts, ban happy hours outright. (Bar owners get creative, though; since they legally can’t offer drink specials, they offer food discounts instead.) Some communities ban happy hours, too, while other states, such as Oregon, allow bars and restaurants to offer happy-hour promotions but prohibit them from advertising the deals.

Posted on 12.08.2014 - 11:17:49 PST
Maybe the economy could use another boost by repealing the post-prohibitionary laws too. Make it easier for winemakers to connect and sell to consumers.
csm noble

Posted on 12.08.2014 - 13:01:27 PST
Trader Joe's (Union Square) and Whole Foods (Upper West Side) both have wine shops attached to their stores with separate entrances.
PS This article was funny as hell. Thanks Paul! Aimée Lasseigne New of Bottlerocket Wine & Spirit in NYC

Posted on 12.08.2014 - 08:30:36 PST
As far as I know, neither Trader Joe's nor Whole Foods can currently sell any wine in the State of NY since wine sales in grocery stores are not (yet) legal.

Posted on 12.08.2014 - 08:45:47 PST
You should write about Utah's alcohol laws. Even if you just described them accurately, you could get a job as a comedy writer.
Larry Chandler
Cedar City, UT USA