Archive for September 23rd, 2012

Sunday, the Day of Rest, When I Get to Talk Trash

Despite our discipline, the Old Man would like to enjoy the privilege of every now and then, for one day, of breaking ranks and telling you telling you irrelevant stuff for fun.

Until about 1960, the maps showed two only two states that were legally dry, Oklahoma and Mississippi. In Oklahoma this was straightforward: alcoholic drinks were prohibited with all the earnestness and success that the policy had been pursued under Prohibition.

But if you moved from the Dry State of Oklahoma to the Dry State of Mississippi, you would have been terribly confused.

You see, the reason Mississippi was officially dry was because the Baptists and others wanted their state to have prohibition. And they had it: Mississippi banned the making, transportation and sale of all alcoholic beverages, with prescribed penalties, throughout the state.
End of Prohibition in Mississippi
Now come the complications, which delight me as a political scientist. The twenty first amendment which abolished the Prohibition in the eighteenth amendment has an interesting — to me — addition. It specifically gives over power over policy with regard to alcohol to the states.

As a result, passenger trains in interstate transportation, which were specifically under the interstate commerce clause under Federal jurisdiction, had to be close the Club Car when they passed from wet Louisiana to dry Mississippi. I do not know whether a truck carrying bourbon from Tennessee to the thirsty New Orleans market really had to go around Mississippi.

Another ingenious addition to the Mississippi dry law was just plain fun. The only person who could ENFORCE the dry law was the county sheriff.

So on the map, Mississippi looked like the Only Deep South Bible Belt Holdout Against Demon Rum.

Inside the state it looked a lot like local option.

A LOT of local option. Unlike other local option states, the State of Mississippi did not have a single law with respect to alcohol. Biloxi elected a sheriff who made the place so wet it embarrassed New Orleans, where mixed drinks were served in supermarkets.

If liquor does not exist, how can you regulate it?

But the crowning touch is yet to come. The beer and liquor tax is fundamental to state financing. But there could be no taxation of something that was totally outlawed. So, I kid you not, Mississippi established a Black Market Commission. Any item sold on the Black Market was subject to taxation.

The Black Market Tax, unlike Prohibition, was enforced by the state government. So if you bought liquor in a store it had to have the Black Market Commission stamps, and of course Federal stamps, on it.

But there was no real regulation. I fondly remember going to a liquor store and buying a half pint of clear alcohol whose only label was, “Mr. and Mrs. Robert Smith, Route 3, Hattiesburg, Mississippi.” It was written by hand and stuck on the bottle, along with the stamps and nothing else.

I just enjoyed telling you this.

Maybe we could get a moral out of it and not spoil the fun. We COULD tax illegal drugs.

Alcohol is a drug, and Mississippi taxed it.