Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Prohibition gradually dying out in rural Kentucky

Kentucky is home to the Bourbon Trail of distilleries, but its Baptist plurality has long made it a state where most counties are "dry," and voting "wet" meant not just legal beer (as in Tennessee) but also whiskey, perhaps due to the liquor lobby's influence. The state has become much wetter over the last 25 years, and the trend appears to be accelerating, as two small, very rural counties and a county seat voted to approve alcohol sales last week.

"Since January 2014, voters have approved new or expanded alcohol sales in 23 cities or counties, and turned them down in only six cases, according to records from the Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control," Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "A number of factors account for that, observers said, including economic concerns, changes in state law, a greater acceptance of alcohol — even among members of churches that once strongly fought legal liquor — and hopes of keeping pace with nearby wet cities and counties." The latest rash of votes came in Southern Kentucky after the Pulaski County seat of Somerset, near Lake Cumberland, went wet. (Click on map for a larger image)
Lexington Herald-Leader map, updated with last week's Southern Kentucky votes
The broader trend began in 2000, when the state legislature allowed "votes on legalizing the sale of alcohol by the drink at larger restaurants, as well as golf courses and wineries," Estep notes. "Before that, voters had to decide whether to legalize all alcohol sales. That was a hard sell many places because of church opposition and concerns about major changes in rural communities and quiet small towns. The new law made alcohol sales more palatable."

The trend appears to be self-perpetuating. Carol Beth Martin, the state ABC's malt beverage administrator, told Estep, “As places nearby go wet, people are able to see that, if regulated appropriately, alcohol sales can be a benefit for a community as opposed to a nuisance. Alcohol sales oftentimes bring increased economic development to the community as well as provide an increase in tax revenue addressing quality of life issues in their community.”

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