by Michael Maiello

Since the passage of the Volstead Act in 1919, the United States has been a “dry” country, though you wouldn’t notice if you visited any of its major cities, including its capital.  It is well known that the very politicians who, year after year, fail to repeal Volstead (or even address it) consume alcohol in private even as they speak against it in public.

The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms has tremendous political clout and has been, for decades, hammering the great middle of the country with anti-alcohol propaganda and hysterical warnings about behavioral and health risks.  As the government has effectively cracked down on home stills and brewers, the wealthier classes think nothing of taking a “booze cruise” outside of the three mile limit, to party it up in international waters.  The scheme seems to be that the upper classes, and the political classes should be allowed their freedoms but that the population at large can’t be trusted.

Continued alcohol prohibition has largely benefited organized crime in Canada and Mexico, where they exist outside of the sophisticated law enforcement powers of the U.S. Federal government.  Meanwhile, Americans have sacrificed many civil rights and liberties with urban police being allowed to stop and search people on almost any pretense, looking for contraband alcohol.

The Federal government is now, also at odds with many states.  Thirty states allow doctors to prescribe alcohol containing “tonics,” for a variety of maladies.  The Federal Government views this as an illegal act and has cracked down on medical dispensaries in California that is suspects are selling folk medicine for recreation use.  Still, we know from years of experience, research and family lore that alcohol has many medicinal properties and can be used for the treatment of stress, to dull the unpleasant affects of other medications and to cure digestive ailments.

Voters in two states, Colorado and Washington, have approved amendments to their states constitutions legalizing beer and wine consumption for pleasure.  These states should be allowed to experiment and, if all goes well, its conceivable that voters could approve the use and sale of harder spirits.

The economic arguments in favor of fill alcohol legalization are well known, almost to the point of tedium.  Consumption could be taxed, which would more than cover the costs of any negative social effects.  California, currently experiencing higher than usual unemployment, and parts of the Pacific Northwest could support extensive wineries.  Europeans might scoff at this notion but there could come a time when a meritage of California grapes rivals any blend from Bordeaux in terms of quality.  If Chile and Australia can make good wine, certainly the U.S. can.  Parts of the south and midwest could return to their Scot-Irish roots and begin the production and sale of whiskeys.

The U.S. has fallen behind in manufacturing, even in high technology.  Many former white collar jobs are now being outsourced.  More than ever, Americans need a drink.  It’s good for the soul and good for the wallet.