US becomes less uptight about booze sales

The country is rapidly reversing laws restricting the purchase of alcohol. 'The last vestiges of Prohibition are going away,' says one observer.

By MSN Money Partner Feb 5, 2014 1:54PM
Pumpkin beers on display for sale at a Whole Foods Market in Richmond, Va., on August 30, 2013 (© Michael Felberbaum/AP)By Charles Passy, MarketWatch

CVS (CVS) may be ending the sale of cigarettes, but restrictions on the sale of booze are loosening across the country.

In fact, the nation may now be "wetter" than ever.

An annual report released Tuesday by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) notes that the country is rapidly reversing laws imposing restrictions on the sale of alcohol, particularly on Sundays. Indeed, since 2002, 16 states have approved Sunday sales, bringing the total to 39, according to the organization.

Additionally, more states are permitting in-store tastings of spirits -- up to 44 as of 2013, the group says. And the restriction on alcohol sales on Election Day -- a practice that dates back to an era when saloons often doubled as polling stations, is almost a complete relic. Last year, Kentucky became the 49th state to reverse the Election Day ban, leaving South Carolina as the final holdout.

"The last vestiges of Prohibition are going away," says DISCUS chief executive Peter H. Cressy.

The group says the reversing of bans is proving to be a key factor behind the growth of the booze biz. Spirits sales (as measured at the supplier level) increased by 4.4 percent in 2013 to $22.2 billion.

Of course, other factors contribute to the sales trend, including the surging popularity of American whiskey, especially bourbon (a category that grew by 10.2 percent to $2.4 billion in 2013, according to the report). Additionally, spirits are benefiting from a sales decline in other alcoholic beverages, especially beer.

Still, the changes in public policy -- and just as important, public attitude -- cannot be overlooked, the group says. And it's a trend that’s likely to continue into 2014, with more state laws up for debate, including those allowing sales of alcohol in grocery stores.

State legislators say the reason they're taking a new tact is simply because the times have changed.

"The blue laws are kind of outdated. Sunday is not really the Sabbath it used to be," says former Georgia State Rep. Roger Williams, who backed an effort to let his state's voters decide if they wanted to do away with Sunday sales bans. (And in 2011, voters in more than 100 cities and counties in Georgia approved Sunday sales.)

Another reason why states are joining the booze bandwagon: Additional liquor sales equal additional tax revenue. A separate DISCUS study found that in Minnesota, where a Sunday ban is still in place, a change in policy could translate into as much as $15 million in extra taxes collected. The state is considering such a policy reversal this year.

Still, faith-based groups have often opposed changes in the laws governing alcohol sales, saying it's a matter of religious principle. Others argue that changes could result in more drunk driving-related accidents and fatalities. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), a nationwide advocacy group, takes no official position on blue laws, but says that sales of alcohol must be carefully monitored on any day of the week.

More from MarketWatch

Feb 5, 2014 2:13PM
There will always be somebody who demonizes and blames alcohol for their own personal issues. To them I say Boo Hoo, stay out of the way of my freedom.
Feb 5, 2014 3:33PM

Any state that is using the reason for not selling booze on Sunday because of religious views is in violation of the constitution. If you don't want to buy or drink it, on Sunday or any other day, then don't! I'm not attacking religion or anything like and honestly not being able to buy on Sunday isn't that big of a deal but I fully support the constitution and per its interpretation using a religious reason to ban the sale is wrong. So it does need to be changed or if they still want to ban it come up with another reason.

I think its time

Feb 5, 2014 2:14PM
Have they heard the other side of the story from DAMM...  Drunks Against Mad Mothers to see what they have to say? 
Feb 5, 2014 3:19PM
Have to wonder about the religious nuts....Sunday is not the Sabbath, and why should you impose your religious views on me? I mean, my religion, the Divine Whiskey Brotherhood of Souls, has no prohibition against booze sales on any day of the week. If your religion prohibits it, then don't buy it on those days, but don't get the state to be saying your religion is more important than mine.
Feb 5, 2014 2:25PM
DRINK UP !!!! screw you stupid blue laws !
Feb 5, 2014 4:00PM
My question is why anyone believes that drinking alcohol, in and of itself, is sinful.  The Bible offers no prohibition against drinking except to excess.  In fact, Jesus  turned water into wine at a wedding in Cana.  The wine stopped flowing only when the guests had had their fill.  If drinking alcohol is sinful,. then Jesus caused everyone at that wedding to sin.  I don't think any religious person would make that claim.
Feb 5, 2014 3:33PM
Can we please do away with the booze purchase limitations on Sunday in TX? Please!?! So annoying you have to wait til noon for beer or wine purchases and can't buy any distilled spirits at all on Sunday.
Feb 5, 2014 4:14PM
laws are not about right or wrong, just how much cash they can generate
Feb 5, 2014 3:14PM

"I like makes me a jolly-good fello"...

Tom T. Hall

Feb 5, 2014 3:29PM
Faster horses...younger women...older whiskey...more money!
Feb 5, 2014 3:26PM
When I grew up in Wisconsin, the town I lived in passed a law banning liquor sales after 10pm.  People just made sure they bought by 9:59pm.  Or drove to the next town 15 minutes away.
Feb 5, 2014 3:35PM
Im pretty sure taxing marijuana can be even more profitable. Colorado is looking at $100 Million in added tax revenue! And there are probably less deaths from drunk driving!
Feb 5, 2014 4:33PM
The story ends with MADD saying all liquor sales should be closely  monitored , by who THEM ?  MADD wants the legal limit abolished meaning if your .000001  you get a DUI. So that means every person who has a half a glass of wine at dinner is now a criminal. That's what we need, start locking up every person in the country who takes a sip of beer then runs to lets say the 7-11 for some chips. The people who kill people on the roads are the idiots with 8-10-12 DUI's and don't care about the law, just like the azz holes that commit crimes with guns, criminals kill other people with guns not law abiding honest citizens'. Keep voting progressive and none of us will have to worry about anything, uncle Obamas Gov't will take care of you.
Feb 5, 2014 4:06PM
It's called tax revenues.......... I have to admit, it is nice to run into my Baptist friends at the liquor store on Sundays after church once in awhile.
Feb 5, 2014 4:52PM
I'll take a drunk horny woman can do stuff to them you wouldn't do to a farm animal. ( courtesy..Andrew Dice Clay)
Feb 5, 2014 5:31PM
well with what Obama is doing we all need a stiff drink
Feb 5, 2014 4:06PM
Simple stock answer to the religionistas and haughty naughties.  Jesus turned the water into wine (even during preaching). So - get over your high and mighty ignorance and judgemental ways or you will end up in what you call "hell" as the bible refuses to let you judge anyone in any way - Never.
Feb 5, 2014 5:17PM
If you do not want to buy alcohol on Sunday, then don't. Besides, with marijuana becoming more and more leagl, booze needs a fighting chance.
Feb 5, 2014 3:11PM
Easier access to booze + lowering the legal limit = extra revenue on both ends.  Tax on the sales and fines for all the extra DUI's.
Feb 5, 2014 3:55PM
Yeah, good ol' Texas is one of the problems. No booze sales till noon on Sunday, and hard liquor sales not allowed on Sunday or in anything but liquor stores. Granted, Texas is even more into regulating vaginas while they brag about how much they love freedom. But hey, you can buy guns and ammunition any time you want. Isn't that a decent trade-out? You can't get a mellow buzz but you can shoot people 24/7.
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