The failed experiment of Prohibition [Commentary]

Every day, Maryland beer distributors safely and efficiently deliver thousands of labels of beer to local retail stores, restaurants and bars for Marylanders to purchase and enjoy — from the Baltimore Harbor to the Eastern Shore to the Washington Metropolitan Area. But the success of our local businesses today results from lessons learned years ago when this nation banned alcohol, drove it underground and released a torrent of unintended consequences.

On Thursday, while many prepare for holiday festivities, we celebrate another milestone in our country's history: the 80th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. More than 90 years ago, the United States Congress ratified the 18th Amendment prohibiting alcohol in the United States. As a result of the temperance movement, Prohibition effectively banned states from allowing the sale, distribution and consumption of alcohol in a safe and legal manner.


True to "The Free State" philosophy, Maryland was the only state in the union that refused to pass a law enforcing Prohibition. Legislators saw the law as a violation of Maryland's rights as a state. We like to think our state government was ahead of the curve. They knew that Prohibition was not the right answer.

However, despite Maryland's protest, federal law ruled. From 1920 to 1933, national Prohibition resulted in increased organized crime, widespread alcohol abuse, the production of illegal and unsafe alcohol and decreased respect for the rule of law.

As with most mistakes, there are important lessons we take away from the failed experiment of Prohibition, including the fact that a regulated environment works best at the state level. The 21st Amendment, enacted 80 years ago this week, placed alcohol regulation back into the hands of the states. It established a system for manufacturing, distributing and retailing alcohol in a safe manner to allow for legal access, while also addressing the societal issues from the pre-Prohibition era.

Today, our system is the gold standard globally and includes highly accountable, community-based producers, distributors and retailers working together within a system of state-based safeguards to deliver incredible choice and variety, all while protecting consumers.

Maryland consumers and businesses benefit from this system today. Local businesses like ours work together to ensure consumers see a wide variety of choice in their alcohol selection to complement everything from summer crab feasts to winter holiday parties. The system also helps small local brewers like Heavy Seas and Flying Dog build their brands and gain a following across Maryland and the country, as distributors work closely with retailers to promote new and exciting local brews while delivering a wide selection tailored to regional needs.

Local and state regulation also sets up a system of safeguards and accountability with checks and balances to protect the public. The time-tested system helps ensure that consumers are of legal drinking age and that they responsibly enjoy the product. A transparent supply chain ensures that we deliver and sell only safe, quality products across Maryland. It is the collaborative system between producers, distributors and retailers that allows Marylanders the ability to never question the integrity of a brew purchased at Power Plant Live or the local liquor store. Let's keep it that way.

Family-owned main street brewers, distributors and retail partners live and work in every Maryland neighborhood. We play a vital role in communities by employing residents and collecting state and federal taxes. We promote responsible consumption, support economic development and participate in a wide variety of charitable, community-building activities. We know the local economic and business landscape, and we know our customers and their tastes and how best to deliver and sell products that they will enjoy.

The partnership between brewers, beer distributors and retail outlets is a boost for Maryland's economy and provides jobs and quality products for Marylanders. According to the National Beer Wholesalers Association and the Beer Institute, more than 21,000 Marylanders work for breweries, beer distributors and retail outlets that sell beer directly to you. Across the state, local brewers, beer distributors and retailers ensure our communities have a diverse and quality product when purchasing beer. The Maryland beer industry also delivers approximately $1.2 billion to the state's economy.

So, join us in responsibly celebrating the anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition by raising a glass to the partnership between local businesses across the great, Free State of Maryland. Cheers!

Betty Buck is President of the Maryland Beer Wholesalers Association. Her email is

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