Chow Town

Prohibition ended 80 years ago, but bureaucracies intended to control the alcohol still exist

Prohibition: The Noble Experiment was appropriately snuffed out on Dec. 5, 1933.

With 80 years of experience behind us, I think we can safely conclude that the country did not fall into complete disarray simply because the people were allowed to drink legally, especially since they had been drinking all along.

Without meaning to turn this into a screed against current drug policy, the end of Prohibition only improved people’s consumption practices: removing dangerous illicit mixes from the market and letting people rediscover the delights of moderate consumption of healthful concoctions.

Yes, some people abuse alcohol. They always have and they always will. The best thing we can do as a society is to discourage that activity and to teach our children how to properly use alcohol — like getting happy with friends — and how it is anti-social and unhealthy to do otherwise.

At this time, we could also lament post-Prohibition’s creation of a new series of bureaucracies intended to control the alcohol’s social, medical and tax challenges. It is usual for my type to rail against those state-by-state regulatory agencies that bedevil those of us who wish to drink interesting beverages in peace.

There is no particular purpose served by preventing people from being able to buy a wine or spirit that is of interest to them, even if a local wholesaler shares no such interest. The state could easily collect its taxes on such a product, but that’s never been the point of all these on-going prohibitions on alcohol purchase and/or consumption.

Rather, each state’s regulators have been in a carefully constructed business relationship, usually with the most powerful local wholesalers, although sometimes with a local religious organization. Perhaps while giving thanks for sanity returning to America — don’t let the door hit your butt on the way out, Prohibition! — we could give halfhearted thanks to all these regulatory agencies and their unending nonsense.

Despite my complaints, these bureaucrats have done exactly as instructed by our duly elected officials. They have often inhibited commerce, protected local favorites and impeded consumer choice but they have done so because that’s what our authorities asked them to do.

It is a reminder that we as a democracy are responsible for our government’s mistakes. If we don’t like what they are doing, instead of throwing up our arms and spurting out a string of epithets, we should fight to change things.

Some of those bureaucrats would enjoy receiving some different instructions regarding alcohol regulations. A few of them probably like to drink too.

And things are improving. Barriers are becoming looser, lots of us are finally allowed to buy wines over that new, what do you call it, oh yeah, the Internet. So things are getting better.

And if you like to drink healthy and interesting beverages, it’s up to each of us to make sure we keep going in that direction.

Doug Frost is a Kansas City-based wine and spirits writer and consultant who for decades has happily educated the public about all things drink. He is one of only three people in the world to have earned the coveted titles of master sommelier and master of wine. He contributes a monthly wine column for The Star’s Food section.

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