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'Chew on This' event examines Prohibition

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One of many Historical Society images reproduced in their current 'You Are There' exhibit, '1920: Busted! Prohibition Enforced.' - INDIANA HISTORICAL SOCIETY
  • Indiana Historical Society
  • One of many Historical Society images reproduced in their current 'You Are There' exhibit, '1920: Busted! Prohibition Enforced.'

As one who has worked in the wine and spirits business for the over two decades, I continue to be fascinated, surprised and perplexed by the myriad of arcane and seemingly arbitrary laws that have found their way into the books since Prohibition's repeal almost eighty years ago.

In spite of the repeal, we still live in an effectively prohibitionist society, one where alcohol production, distribution and consumption is unequivocally illegal unless otherwise permitted by law.

When the loss of excise tax revenue and the rise of organized crime finally persuaded the federal government to abandon its failed experiment in 1933, regulation was left largely up to the state governments, most of whom had never had the resources to enforce Prohibition anyway.

The resulting patchwork of contradictory and confusing alcohol laws keep the lawyers and lobbyists busy to this day, particularly in the areas of shipping and distribution. For some unexplained reason, the national and local distribution of alcohol continues to be monopolized by a government-enforced three-tiered system of producer, wholesaler and retailer.

This means that consumers are limited in their choices, and interstate commerce is unfairly restricted.

This level of regulation wouldn't be tolerated in any other business, but powerful lobbies with a commercial interest have seen to it that the system is here to stay, fair or not. Just try ordering a bottle directly from your favorite California winery, and you'll find out how much grip the wholesalers' lobby has on your ability to buy alcohol freely.

A more immediate example of Prohibition's lingering influence is the temperance-era rule that prohibits the sale of alcohol on Sunday. In the 1970s, you could only sell booze on the Lord's Day if you happened to own a motor speedway not less than 2 ½ miles around (It's true, really!). Today, you can drink at a restaurant and drive home, but you can't buy a drink in a store and take it home with you, which is a far safer thing to do. Sensible, right?

In spite of the obvious failure of Prohibition, there are still those who believe in it today. Witness our absurdly expensive and futile war on marijuana. It should be obvious by now that one cannot successfully legislate one's own personal morality, but successive zealots persist in trying.

If this subject is of interest (and if you enjoy the irony of discussing Prohibition over a cocktail or two), then I encourage you to attend one of the Chew On This conversations organized by Indiana Humanities and the Indiana Historical Society, amongst others, on Tuesday, Oct. 18.

Venues include Ball & Biscuit, Mesh on Mass, Slippery Noodle and Turner's. Following the cocktail conversations, all participants are invited to engage in more dialogue at a post-event reception. To learn more about the featured speakers (including our very own David Hoppe) and to apply for tickets, visit the Chew on This website.

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