Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) or Monopoly States
by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.
Following the repeal of national Prohibition in 1933, some states decided to continue their own prohibition against the production, distribution, and sale of alcohol beverages within their borders. Other states decided to leave the choice up to local jurisdictions (counties and/or cities), a practice called local option. Even today there are hundreds of dry counties across the country.
Among those states that did not choose to maintain complete prohibition, some chose to impose government monopolies over the sale of alcohol beverages within their borders. The other states chose to follow the traditional American practice of free enterprise regulated by laws.
There are currently 18 monopoly or control states in the U.S. The term “control state” is popular but misleading because all states control and regulate the sale of alcohol. Therefore every state is a control state but only 18 are monopoly states.
The 18 monopoly states are
In addition, Montgomery County in Maryland is a monopoly county. 1
Over one-fourth of the U.S. Population lived in monopoly jurisdictions in 1997. 2 Customer choice is limited in monopoly stores, which have no competition and no incentive to be customer-friendly. However, monopoly officials tend to argue that they are in an excellent position to restrict the consumption of alcohol beverages, which they believe to be desirable.
Virginia was the first state to create a monopoly system after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. The Virginia Historical Society explains:
“On 23 February 1934 the speaker of the house signed a bill to create the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
“Temperance crusaders were active in Virginia long before the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919. First the General Assembly enacted local-option laws that allowed voters to decide if their communities would be ‘wet’ or ‘dry.’ The Anti-Saloon League, under the guidance of the Reverend James Cannon, Jr., campaigned long and hard against the evils of drink. Then, a statewide prohibition law, known as the Mapp Act, closed all the saloons in Virginia in 1916, but allowed every household to import from outside the state one quart of liquor, three gallons of beer, or one gallon of wine per month. National prohibition followed, and Virginians lost their ‘one quart law.’
“Compulsory abstinence proved unpopular and impossible to enforce. In 1933 Virginians voted to ratify the Twenty-first Amendment repealing prohibition and to devise a plan for liquor control. Governor John Garland Pollard, a loyal prohibitionist, warned ‘Now that prohibition is doomed, the supreme question of the hour is: What new weapon shall we adopt to combat this age-old evil?’
That new ‘weapon’ turned out to be the first state agency of its kind in the nation, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.” 3
The control boards of the monopoly states established the National Alcoholic Beverage Control Association in 1937. Its goal and function is to provide support to those states and jurisdictions in which government agencies control the wholesale and/or retail sale of any form of alcoholic beverage (beer, wine, or distilled spirits).
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