Distilling News: Blue Laws in the US

Liquor laws are starting to change in a big way across the US and will continue to be a hot topic in Summer 2021 Industry News. Cocktails to go and loosening of liquor sales restrictions have been enacted or are being considered in several parts of the country and there is a long-standing area of weekend liquor restrictions that seems to be changing as well. The particularly long-standing edifice of liquor restrictions we’re going to talk about today is the Blue Laws.

Blue laws are normally pretty far from being the latest distilling news, most of these laws go back to more puritanical times and can seem outdated to modern sensibilities. In spite of the antiquated and constitutional dubiousness of these laws, they are a long-standing tradition in several parts of the country and once a law is on the books it’s difficult to repeal and that is especially true for older laws.

A great example of this is that the state of Mississippi officially “ended” prohibition a few decades after the rest of the country on January 1st of 2021 by passing a law that allowed possession of alcohol in every county in the state. Previously there was no statewide legislation on the possession of alcohol and it was up to every county and/or city to determine their own policy.

The new law does not change the right of each municipal government to ban or allow the sale of alcohol, but it does make possession of alcohol legal in the state. If you’re confused by this don’t worry, we all are. Mississippi was the first state to enact prohibition laws and has a long-standing tradition of muddying the waters with regard to legally purchasing alcoholic beverages. In spite of the recent progress, Mississippi still has its blue laws on the books prohibiting alcohol sales on a Sunday statewide.

Mississippi is not the only state that still has blue laws on the books. Arkansas, Florida, New Mexico, New York, and Oklahoma either forbid Sunday sales of alcohol completely or leave it up to the county to decide the policy. Several other states have restricted hours or prohibit off-premise sales of alcohol.

Texas prohibits liquor sales on Sundays but allows other types of alcohol to be sold during specific hours. Another hot topic in summer 2021 industry news will continue to be a recent push in Texas to get their existing blue laws off the books. This has been getting a lot of attention recently and on May 20th in Austin, there was a NASCAR entrant that sported a full car “Boot The Ban” wrap to promote this effort.

At the time of the writing of this article, the distilled spirits industry in Texas adds $8.4 billion and over 85,000 jobs to the state GDP per year making it one of the biggest distilled spirits markets in the country. Mississippi on the other hand is among the smallest with a distilled spirits industry that adds less than 5,000 jobs and just over half a billion dollars to the state GDP.

The distilled spirits industry is growing across the country and as distillers increase their economic impact they gain more influence to affect the policies in their area. We can get into a chicken and egg argument here since restrictive laws generally make growth more difficult but the truth of the matter is that there is a demand for spirits and by restricting their sales you’re very likely leaving money on the table.

If you’re affected by blue laws in your area and you’d like to see them changed, get involved and make your voice heard. At the very least support your local distilleries and have a drink! (But not on Sundays where it’s still illegal)