75 Years Later, an Industry Toasts the End of Prohibition

If you’re imbibing Friday, you might want to raise a glass to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition.

Tequila Shot
Tequila Shot

Prohibition was in effect in the United States from 1920-1933 when the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution made it illegal to sell, manufacture or transport alcoholic beverages.

The law, which is the only constitutional amendment to be overturned by another, failed to stop people from producing and drinking beverages with alcohol, and spurred an underground economy of people brewing their own batches or smuggling alcohol. Organized crime flourished, and so did violence and political corruption.

The movement to repeal the ban gained momentum after the stock market crash helped plunge the country into the Great Depression. States and municipalities were looking for new ways to raise funds, and taxes on alcohol seemed like a good way to help restock dwindling coffers.

On Dec. 5, 1933, Utah became the thirty-sixth and deciding state to ratify the 21st Amendment, ending Prohibition and putting states in control of regulating the industry.

Since then, a three-tier system of producers, distributors and retailers has emerged.

"By and large, there is this balance that has been created between competition and control that has been a success for 75 years," said Craig Purser, president of the National Beer Wholesalers Association. "It helps to keep a level playing field between the trading partners."

Notably, some parts of the U.S. continue to put bans or restrictions on certain types of alcoholic beverages, sometimes resulting in so-called "dry counties". Often the restrictions apply to only one type of beverage.

For example, 15 states still ban the sale of spirits on Sunday. The Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., or DISCUS, has been lobbying for the repeal of these laws, arguing in part that it's a good way for states to raise revenue without raising taxes. In light of the current financial and economic crisis facing our country, that's an argument that could gain ground—just as it did in the Prohibition era. Since 2002, 13 states have repealed Sunday sales bans.

Still, Americans overwhelmingly support some regulation of alcohol, according to a poll conducted by the Center for Alcohol Policy, a group supported by U.S. beer distributors. The survey, which polled 1,000 people over 21 years of age earlier this year, found that 70 percent supported the right of individual states to set their own laws and regulations surrounding the sale of alcohol.