America’s Alcohol Laws: Quirky Rules Across 50 States

Americas Alcohol Laws: Quirky Rules Across 50 States

Last week, thirsty Utahans rejoiced. After decades of applying for “memberships” at local bars so they could legally drink alcohol, adults in Utah can now stroll through the doors of any saloon by simply flashing their I.D. For a state that forbids happy hour, ordering doubles, putting more than 2.5 ounces of liquor in a libation and mixing cocktails in front of restaurant-goers, the new law, which took effect on July 1, was cause for celebration. One enthusiastic entrepreneur organized a bar crawl to mark the occasion; participants happily donned t-shirts emblazoned with the initials “D.U.I.” .

But boozehounds in Utah still can’t buy malt beverages, and can only purchase full-strength beer — as opposed to “near beer,” which contains no more than 3.2% alcohol content — at liquor stores. As one Park City resident lamented to the Associated Press, “Why can’t we all be one nation under God and do what everybody else does” Of course, the rest of the union’s 49 other states have quirky liquor laws of their own. In states like Pennsylvania and Idaho, “spirits” can only be sold in stores controlled by Alcoholic Beverage Control agencies, colloquially known as ABC stores or Aunt Betty’s Cupboard. In New York, liquor stores can not be jointly owned, and the sole proprietor is required to live within a certain distance of his or her establishment — a stipulation that effectively bans chains. In Kansas, a state that outlawed alcohol sales until 1948 — a full 15 years after FDR repealed Prohibition — 29 counties still don’t allow the sale of individual glasses of liquor.

Until 2005, bartenders in South Carolina were required by law to use mini-bottles of alcohol to mix drinks, lending the state’s saloons a reputation for making waste, and for making customers wasted. .

Of the rules governing alcohol that remain on the books, some of the most extreme are known as “blue laws,” which outlaw certain “secular” activities on Sunday . The term, according to some historians, comes from the color of the paper used to print New Haven, Conn.’s first decrees. Others believe it refers to blue’s use as an 18th-century slang term for “rigidly moral.” If you were a settler in the 1700s, Sunday was a day to rest and honoring the Sabbath, nothing less and nothing more. It wasn’t just alcoholic beverages that were forbidden; if you cut your hair, picked up a broom, or even kissed your kid, you were in violation of blue laws and could be subject to fines, whippings and righteous scorn from both the pulpit and the public.

While most blue laws faded into obscurity after the Revolutionary War, the temperance movement of the 1930s renewed interest in banning the Devil’s Brew and reclaiming Sunday as a holy day, especially in Bible Belt states like Kansas. In 1961, the Supreme Court ruled that states had the right to impose blue laws, but only if lawmakers could come up with a rationale that wasn’t rooted in religion. Explaining the court’s ruling, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote that Sunday is a “time for family activity, for late sleeping, for passive and active entertainments, for dining out and the like,” apparently overlooking those Americans for whom “passive and active entertainments” involve cracking open a cold one.

Spurred by a budget crunch in 2002, Oregon became the first state to repeal its blue laws banning Sunday liquor sales. Thanks to the recession, a slew of states are weighing whether to fall off the Sunday wagon, including Texas, Georgia, Connecticut and Alabama. Utah, though, is not one of them.

Read “Will the Recession Doom the Last Sunday Blue Laws”