Thursday, April 11, 2013

The irony of Kentucky's dry counties

Being back in Kentucky, I marvel over a stark contradiction: Many places still do not have smoking bans, particularly the rural areas, and restaurants are often smoke-filled; however, many of those same places prohibit the sale of alcohol. Banning smoking is seen as an infringement on personal liberty, while banning alcohol is not. A further irony is that some counties with liquor bans (or which have had bans until recently) produce bourbon whiskey-- 95% of the world's bourbon is produced in Kentucky, one of the "driest" states in America. 

Some of these dry counties are tourism hotspots. In the lakeside county where my parents resided, it's normal to see confused Yankee tourists asking gas station attendants why they don't sell beer. "You have to drive 10 miles that way, or 30 miles that way" they reply (and the "10 mile" part is only very recent). Maybe the best Italian restaurant in the state is also one of the few Italian places of its caliber in the world unable to serve wine.

Various restrictions exist on restaurants selling alcohol with meals and various exceptions are able to be made for places such as golf courses. The Supreme Court has called the maze of laws "confusing at best" (yes, this topic has its own wikipedia page).

In Kentucky it's illegal to sell distilled spirits and wine in grocery stores. I've heard of one rural grocery where the owner literally closes and locks up one side of his store and unlocks a separate side of his store when someone wants to buy liquor-- classifying them legally as two separate stores.
The county seat we currently reside in recently lifted a ban on packaged liquor sales but few are lining up to sell it. The local CVS pharmacy doubles as the only liquor store in town, whereas CVS stores located in dry parts of the state interpret the law to mean they can't sell liquor because they also obtain "substantial" revenue by selling "staple groceries." The alcohol producers' lobby is all over this issue, arguing in part that prohibition was perpetuated in many counties by bootleggers, police, and even ministers who were all illicitly profiting off the restricted competition (economists love that argument).

So, tourists passing through these areas note the irony-- they are expected to consume others' cigarette smoke while consuming an adult beverage themselves is illegal. It's definitely a throwback to an older era of America. Perhaps Kentucky should market this quirky aspect about itself for tourism purposes?

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