One could argue that Alabama’s prohibition against alcohol didn’t completely end until this year. While most people were watching the presidential primary results on Super Tuesday, voters in two small cities in Alabama made history that day for a different reason. They voted to finally legalize alcohol sales in what was, until then, Alabama’s last completely ‘dry’ county. The Anniston Star reported:
Residents in Ashland’s and Lineville’s city limits threw out prohibition by margins of 2-1 and 3-1, respectively, but officials say beer and liquor won’t be sold in either place for several weeks. Retailers must apply for licenses from both the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and each city — and city officials must craft the legal framework for them to do so.[…]
The most immediate change in the aftermath of the referenda: Laws against transporting or possessing more than a case of beer or three quarts of liquor will no longer be enforced, police chiefs of both cities said.
Alcohol prohibition has died an incredibly slow death in Alabama and much of the South. It wasn’t until 2013 that Alabama became the last state to allow brewing beer in your own home, more than three decades after President Jimmy Carter legalized home brewing at the federal level. And while there will finally be a place to buy alcohol in every county in Alabama, there are parts of several counties that are still dry. In fact, there are still large swaths of the country where alcohol prohibition continues to linger in some form.
These recent election results should be an important reminder to anyone who cares about marijuana reform. The fight against marijuana prohibition doesn’t just end when it is technically legalized in your state or at the federal level. The specific regulations matter a lot. Getting fair policy changes, like the right to grow your own at home, could potentially take decades. More importantly, even after states have legalized marijuana, the battle merely turns local. In Colorado and Oregon adult-use marijuana businesses still face local bans covering much of these states. This November, voters in 47 Oregon municipalities will be voting on whether to continue or eliminate local marijuana licensing bans.
If marijuana prohibition follows a similar timeline as alcohol, there could be places in the US that still have local marijuana bans in the year 2090. This is why it is important to keep paying attention to the policy details and the local fights. A big part of the reason why prohibition carried on for so long in parts of Alabama is that decades ago, lawmakers made it incredibly difficult to end local prohibition. Campaigns are required to gather signatures from 25 percent of the number of voters in the last election to simply put a referendum on the ballot, which is an extremely difficult threshold to meet for a ballot measure. While the specific rules governing local bans or signature requirements for referendums may seem unimportant, they can have a huge impact. If advocates aren’t paying careful attention, opponents could use similar rules to hamper marijuana reform.
This post was originally published on March 16, 2016, it was updated on October 4, 2017.