Local Option Alcohol Laws in the US: History & Status

A local option alcohol law permits jurisdictions within a state to decide whether or not to prohibit the sale of one or more forms of alcoholic beverage. A referendum is virtually always required.

Texas law provides an example. It permits jurisdictions as small as a justice of the peace district to vote on alcohol sales. They can choose to prohibit the sale of all alcoholic beverages. Can choose to allow the sale of beer, wine and spirits for both on- and off-premise consumption. They can choose almost anything in between. Can also decide whether to allow sales in convenience or grocery stores, in liquor stores, in bars, and/or in restaurants.

If a local decision is made in any state to prohibit the sale of one form, it is usually spirits. This is based on an old myth. That is, that spirits are more alcoholic. In reality, standard servings of beer, dinner wine and spirits all have the same amount of alcohol. So a beer has the same amount of pure alcohol as a shot of whiskey. A breathalyzer can’t tell them apart. The same is true of a glass of dinner wine.

Background

In 1833, Maine established the first local option law for alcohol. Such laws grew in popularity. By the late 1840s, 12 states and territories had approved them. During the 1880s 15 states approved option laws.  As time passed, more and more states joined the movement.

Letting local areas decide the matter of prohibition was a strategy used by temperance activists. It was much easier to obtain prohibition in a rural area or town than state-wide.

Cities tended to resist prohibition. One reason was their large population of recent immigrants. Catholics, Jews, Greeks, Spaniards, Portuguese and many others considered drinking an important part of their cultures. Indeed, prohibition was part of a cultural war against the newest wave of immigrants.

local option

Bishop James Cannon, Jr.

A Case Study of Local Option

New York City stood as a symbol of wet (anti-prohibition) strength. Bishop James Cannon was a major temperance leader. Speaking against the Catholic governor of New York, Al Smith, he told voters that Smith wanted

‘¦the Italians, the Sicilians, the Poles, and Russian Jews. That kind has given us a stomach ache. We have been unable to assimilate such people in our national life, so we shut the door on them. But Smith says ‘˜give me that kind of people.’ He wants the kind of dirty people you find today on the sidewalks of New York.1

The Anti-Saloon League sent one of its most effective leaders, William H. Anderson, to New York. His goal was to make the entire state dry. One of his first actions was to get a local option law passed. Then, beginning with rural areas and small towns, he worked to bring prohibition ever closer to the Big Apple. Before he could succeed in making the City dry, National Prohibition  (1920-1933) went into effect.

After Repeal

The repeal of National Prohibition was in 1933. Some states continued their own state-wide alcohol prohibition. Other states granted counties and municipalities local option. They could decide whether or not to be dry. At that time, 39% of the U.S. population continued living under prohibition. Currently, 10% of U.S. counties still maintain a ban on some or all forms of alcohol.

Today, some states prohibit local option about alcohol sales.

  • Alabama
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Maryland
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada (except for a few rural grandfathered jurisdictions)
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Utah
  • Wyoming

All other states permit local option about the matter. Over time, the number of dry counties, townships, and municipalities has dropped greatly. In local option referenda, it is usually the ‘wets’ who win. But in many cases, the ‘drys’ prevail, even after repeated referenda.

Those who initiate a referendum tend to business people. Often the chamber of commerce promotes the election. It’s typically argued that prohibition hampers economic growth. If wet, the area will prosper. And will no longer lose profits, taxes, and employment to wet areas.

Those who oppose an election are almost always religious leaders and their followers. They argue that permitting alcohol sales will lead to topless bars, increased crime, and  prostitution. To immorality, violence, and driving while intoxicated.

Research provides little support for either side. Places that permit alcohol sales obtain some economic benefit. But they don’t suddenly boom as a result. Nor do they experience rising crime, violence, or other problems.

Dry townships and municipalities today

For a list of counties that are dry, visit  Dry Counties.

The following is a listing of dry townships, justice of the peace districts, and municipalities.


Alabama

Of Alabamas 460 municipalities, 56 (12%) are wet. NOTE: There are so few wet municipalities that they, rather than the dry ones, are listed below. For county-level prohibition, see Dry Counties.

Municipalities (53)

  1. Albertville
  2. Aliceville
  3. Arab
  4. Athens
  5. Blountsville
  6. Boaz
  7. Brent
  8. Bridgeport
  9. Carbon Hill
  10. Cedar Bluff
  11. Centre
  12. Centreville
  13. Chatom
  14. Cleveland
  15. Collinsvile
  16. Cordova
  17. Cullman
  18. Decatur
  19. Dora
  20. Elba
  21. Enterprise
  22. Florence
  23. Ft. Payne
  24. Frisco City
  25. Geneva
  26. Good Hope
  27. Grove Hill
  28. Guin
  29. Guntersville
  30. Haleyville (Marion County)
  31. Haleyville (Winston)
  32. Hamiton
  33. Hollywood
  34. Jasper
  35. Jemison
  36. Monroeville
  37. Mouton
  38. New Brockton
  39. Oneonta
  40. Priceville
  41. Reform
  42. Rogersville
  43. Russellville
  44. Ft. Florian
  45. Samspn
  46. Scottsboro
  47. Slocomb
  48. Stevenson
  49. Sulligent
  50. Thomasville
  51. Thorsby
  52. Town Creek
  53. Winfield

Alaska

Municipalities (83)

  1. Allakaket
  2. Alakanuk
  3. Atqasuk
  4. Anaktuvuk
  5. Anatquzuk Pass
  6. Angoon
  7. Arctic Village
  8. Barrow
  9. Bethel
  10. Birch Creek
  11. Brevig Mission
  12. Buckland
  13. Chalkyitsik
  14. Chefornak
  15. Chevak
  16. Deering
  17. Diomede
  18. Eek
  19. Elim
  20. Emmonak
  21. Golovin
  22. Goodnews Bay
  23. Gulkana
  24. Holy Cross
  25. Hooper Bay
  26. Hughes
  27. Huslia
  28. Iloamna
  29. Kaiskag
  30. Kaktozik
  31. Kiana
  32. Kipnuk
  33. Kivalina
  34. Kokhanok
  35. Kongiganak
  36. Kotzebue
  37. Koyuk
  38. Kwigillingok
  39. Manokkotak
  40. Marshall
  41. Mekoryuk
  42. Metiakatia
  43. Minto
  44. Mountain Village
  45. Nanaoitchuk
  46. Nanwalek
  47. Napakiak
  48. Napaskik
  49. Newtowk
  50. Nightmule
  51. Noatak
  52. Nondalton
  53. Noorvik
  54. Nuiqsut
  55. Platinum
  56. Plot Station
  57. Point Hope
  58. Point Lay
  59. Port Alexander
  60. Quinhagak
  61. Red Devil
  62. Russian Mission
  63. Saint Mary’s
  64. Saint Michael
  65. Scammon Bay
  66. Selawik
  67. Shageluk
  68. Shaktoolik
  69. Sheldon Point
  70. Shishmaret
  71. Stebbins
  72. Stevens Village
  73. Tanacross
  74. Tattitlek
  75. Teller
  76. Tetlin
  77. Togiak
  78. Toksook Bay
  79. Tuluksak
  80. Tununak
  81. Tuntutuliak
  82. Wainwright
  83. Wales

Arkansas

For county-level prohibition, see  Dry Counties.

Townships (79)

  1. Alix
  2. Austin
  3. Barber
  4. Barren
  5. Baxter
  6. Bearhouse
  7. Blew Mountain
  8. Boone
  9. Branch
  10. Bryan
  11. Buckville
  12. Cane Hill
  13. Caswell
  14. Cauthron
  15. Cedar Falls
  16. Clear Creek
  17. Collier
  18. Collins
  19. Cominto
  20. Cornie (Three Creeks Precinct)
  21. Cow Lake
  22. Crawford
  23. Crook
  24. Delaware
  25. Des Arc
  26. Dyess
  27. El Dorado (Country Box 3 and Box 4)
  28. Ellsworth
  29. Farmer
  30. Farmington
  31. Fisher
  32. Franklin (Union Precinct)
  33. Greenland
  34. Greenwood
  35. Henderson
  36. Hickory Ridge
  37. Howard
  38. Humphrey
  39. Hurricane
  40. Jackson
  41. Jasper
  42. Johnson
  43. Lee
  44. Manchester
  45. Marion
  46. Nix
  47. Norphlet
  48. Owen
  49. Petit Jean
  50. Phillips
  51. Poland
  52. Prairie
  53. Price
  54. Red Hill
  55. Redland
  56. Reveille
  57. Rison
  58. Roc Roe
  59. Rowell
  60. Saline
  61. Salem
  62. Sugar Creek
  63. Smith
  64. Spring Hill
  65. Starr HIll
  66. Tomlinson
  67. Tyronza
  68. Union
  69. Valley
  70. Veasey
  71. Vineyard
  72. Washburn
  73. Washington
  74. Weiner
  75. Wesson
  76. West Fork
  77. Whiteoak
  78. White River
  79. Winslow

Municipalities (14)

  1. Bassett
  2. Bearden City
  3. Caulksville
  4. Chicot
  5. Colt
  6. Dell
  7. Desha
  8. Lepanto
  9. North Little Rock Precincts Ward 4, 157 (4D, 4E, 4K), 156 (4M), 158 (4P & 4Q), and Precinct 614 (old Bayou Meto area)
  10. Paragould (Ward 4)
  11. Prairie Grove
  12. Strong
  13. Trumann
  14. Wheatley

Florida

See  Dry Counties.


Kansas

See  Dry Counties.


Kentucky

See  Dry Counties.


Illinois

Municipality (1)

  1. South Holland

Massachusetts

Townships (8)

  1. Alford
  2. Chilmark
  3. Dunstable
  4. Gosnold
  5. Hawley
  6. Montgomery
  7. Mount Washington
  8. Westhampton

Michigan

Townships (25)

  1. Arenac
  2. Baltimore
  3. Blissfield
  4. Bloomingdale
  5. Camden
  6. Carlton
  7. Gustin
  8. Hastings
  9. Haynes
  10. Fillmore
  11. Ganges
  12. Irving
  13. Ishpeming
  14. Jordan
  15. Kingston
  16. Leighton
  17. Manlius
  18. Martin
  19. Mason
  20. North Branch
  21. Overisel
  22. Valley
  23. Vermontville
  24. Wellington
  25. Zeeland

Municipalities (198)

  1. Adams
  2. Aetna
  3. Algansee
  4. Almont
  5. Amboy
  6. Antrim
  7. Arthur
  8. Attica
  9. Au Sable
  10. Barton Hills
  11. Batavia
  12. Bay
  13. Bellevue
  14. Bengal
  15. Bertrand
  16. Bethany
  17. Blendon
  18. Bliss
  19. Bloomfield
  20. Bridgehampton
  21. Brookfield
  22. Brown
  23. Buel
  24. Bunker Hill
  25. Burlington
  26. Burns
  27. Burnside
  28. California
  29. Camden
  30. Campbell
  31. Cedar
  32. Chandler
  33. Chapin
  34. Cherry Valley
  35. Chester
  36. Clam Union
  37. Cleon
  38. Climax
  39. Cohoctah
  40. Coldwater
  41. Colfax
  42. Columbia
  43. Conway
  44. Crystal Lake
  45. Custer
  46. Dayton
  47. Deerfield
  48. Denver
  49. Dover
  50. Duplain
  51. Eden
  52. Elbridge
  53. Ellington
  54. Ellsworth
  55. Elmer
  56. Essex
  57. Evergreen
  58. Ewing
  59. Fairgrove
  60. Ferris
  61. Ferry
  62. Florence
  63. Flushing
  64. Flynn
  65. Forester,
  66. Fork
  67. Fremont
  68. Free Soil
  69. Gaines
  70. Geneva
  71. Gilford
  72. Gilead
  73. Gilmore
  74. Girard
  75. Goodwell
  76. Greenwood
  77. Grant
  78. Hadley
  79. Hamilton
  80. Hamlin
  81. Hartwick
  82. Hazelton
  83. Hersey
  84. Highland
  85. Hinton
  86. Holland
  87. Home
  88. Homer
  89. Hope
  90. Imlay
  91. Ingersoll
  92. Ingham
  93. Iosco
  94. Jamestown
  95. Jasper
  96. Jefferson
  97. Johnstown
  98. Kalamo
  99. Keene
  100. Kinderhook
  101. Klacking
  102. Lafayette
  103. Lake Angelus
  104. Lamotte
  105. Leavitt
  106. Lebanon
  107. Leonard
  108. Leroy
  109. Locke
  110. London
  111. Lyndon
  112. Maple Grove
  113. Maple Valley
  114. Marilla
  115. Marion
  116. Marquette
  117. Martin
  118. Mason
  119. McBain City
  120. Mead
  121. Medina
  122. Melvin
  123. Middle Branch
  124. Middlebury
  125. Minden
  126. Montgomery
  127. Moore
  128. Newark
  129. New Era
  130. Newton
  131. Noble
  132. North Adams
  133. Plains (North)
  134. North Shade
  135. Norwich
  136. Norwood
  137. Novesta
  138. Oak Park
  139. Odgen
  140. Olive
  141. Oliver
  142. Oregon
  143. Orient
  144. Orleans
  145. Osceola
  146. Otto
  147. Penora
  148. Pioneer
  149. PIttsford
  150. Platte
  151. Pleasanton
  152. Polkton
  153. Quincy
  154. Ransom
  155. Reading
  156. Rich
  157. Richland
  158. Ridgeway
  159. Riley
  160. Riverside
  161. Riverton
  162. Rives
  163. Ronald
  164. Rose,
  165. Roxand
  166. Sage
  167. Sciota
  168. Sebewa
  169. Seneca
  170. Sharon
  171. Shelby
  172. Sheridan
  173. Sherman
  174. Solon
  175. Sparta
  176. Springport
  177. Springvale
  178. Summit
  179. Sumner
  180. Sylvan
  181. Sylvan Lake
  182. Tompkins
  183. Tustin
  184. Venice
  185. Vernon
  186. Volinia
  187. Wakeshma
  188. Waldron
  189. Walker
  190. Washington
  191. West Branch
  192. Westphalia
  193. Wheatland
  194. Wheeler
  195. White Oak
  196. Woodbridge
  197. Woodland
  198. Wright

Minnesota

Municipality (1)

  1. Lakeside

Mississippi

Mississippi is dry by default. A referendum must be passed to permit alcohol sales within a local jurisdiction. A majority are dry. There are too many to list.  For county-level prohibition in Mississippi, see Dry Counties.


Nevada

Municipality (1)

  1. Panaca

New Hampshire

Municipalities (3)

  1. Ellsworth
  2. Millsfield
  3. Monroe

New Jersey

Townships (15)

  1. Delanco
  2. Downe
  3. Elk
  4. Lawrence
  5. Lower Alloway Creek
  6. Mannington
  7. Mantoloking
  8. Maurice River
  9. Ocean City
  10. Oldmans
  11. Quinton
  12. South Harrison
  13. Stow Creek
  14. Upper Deerfield
  15. Upper Pitsgrove

Municipalities (19)

  1. Audubon Park
  2. Cape May Point
  3. Collingswood
  4. Elmer
  5. Far Hills
  6. Haddonfield
  7. Haddon Heights
  8. Interlaken
  9. Island Heights
  10. Pemberton
  11. Pennington
  12. Pitman
  13. Port Republic
  14. Prospect Point
  15. Riverton
  16. Saddle River
  17. Shiloh
  18. Wenonah
  19. Wildwood Crest

New York State

Townships (23)

  1. Argyle
  2. Berkshire
  3. Bovina
  4. Butler
  5. Caneadea
  6. Caton
  7. Clymer
  8. Franklin
  9. Fremont
  10. Harford
  11. Jasper
  12. Lapeer
  13. Middlesex
  14. Neversink
  15. Newark Valley
  16. Orwell
  17. Pike
  18. Rathbone
  19. Rose
  20. Seneca
  21. Spencer
  22. Wethersfield
  23. West Almond

Ohio (3)

  1. Albany
  2. Porter township
  3. Portsmouth

Pennsylvania

Almost 700 local governments in the state are dry or partially dry. That’s 27% of the local governments. There are too many to list.


Texas

For prohibition at the county-wide level, see  Dry Counties.

Townships (203)

  1. Abernathy (part)
  2. Ackerly
  3. Atlanta
  4. Alto
  5. Ames
  6. Avery
  7. Albany
  8. Aspermont
  9. Autism
  10. Bailey
  11. Bangs
  12. Bardwell
  13. Barry
  14. Beckville
  15. Bells
  16. Bellevue
  17. Bethel
  18. Blanket
  19. Blooming Grove
  20. Blossom
  21. Bluegrove
  22. Bogata
  23. Booker
  24. Boyd
  25. Briar Laks
  26. Broddus
  27. Briscoe
  28. Brown
  29. Bushland
  30. Byers
  31. Caddo Mills
  32. Callisburg
  33. Campbell
  34. Canadian
  35. Canton
  36. Celeste
  37. Centerville
  38. Chester
  39. Christine
  40. Clark
  41. Clarksville
  42. Coahoma
  43. Colmesneil
  44. Combine
  45. Como
  46. Corbet
  47. Cottonwood
  48. Crandall
  49. Crosscut
  50. Cross Plains
  51. Cross Timbers
  52. Cushing
  53. Daingerfield
  54. Daisetta
  55. Darrouzett
  56. Deport
  57. Dodd City
  58. Dodson
  59. Dorchester
  60. Double Oak
  61. Dozier
  62. Earth
  63. East Mountain
  64. Ector
  65. Edgewood
  66. Edem
  67. Edroy
  68. Eliasville
  69. Enchanted Oaks
  70. Eustace
  71. Evant (part)
  72. Farwell
  73. Flower Mount (part)
  74. Follett
  75. Forsan
  76. Franklin
  77. Frankston
  78. Friona
  79. Frost
  80. Fruitvale
  81. Galena Park
  82. Gause
  83. Gholson
  84. Glazier
  85. Goldthwaite
  86. Gordonville
  87. Graham
  88. Grapevine (part)
  89. Grayson
  90. Gruver
  91. Gunther
  92. Gustine
  93. Guthrie
  94. Hale City
  95. Hamlin
  96. Hardin
  97. Harleton
  98. Hart
  99. Hartley
  100. Happy
  101. Hawley
  102. Holliday
  103. Honey Grove
  104. Hooks
  105. Jacksboro
  106. Jayton
  107. Jean
  108. Kellerville
  109. Kirbyville
  110. Kress
  111. Lakeview
  112. Lawn
  113. Leona
  114. Leonard
  115. Lipan
  116. Lockney
  117. Lone Oak
  118. Loving
  119. Lutie
  120. McLean
  121. Marshall Creek
  122. Maud
  123. May
  124. Memphis
  125. Mertens
  126. Miami
  127. Mildred
  128. Montague
  129. Moody
  130. Moores Station
  131. Mount Enterprise
  132. Mobeetie
  133. Murray
  134. Navarro
  135. Nevada
  136. New Hope
  137. Normandy
  138. Oak Leaf
  139. Oak Valley
  140. Odem
  141. O’Donnell
  142. Oglesby
  143. O’Keene
  144. Olney
  145. Orvilla
  146. Plton sp???
  147. Paradise
  148. Parker
  149. Pecan Hill
  150. Perrin
  151. Pine Forest
  152. Point Comfort
  153. Powell
  154. Poyner
  155. Prairie
  156. Quail
  157. Queen City
  158. Quemado
  159. Reno
  160. Retreat
  161. Revenna
  162. Roaring Springs
  163. Rochester
  164. Ropesville
  165. Roxton
  166. Rose City
  167. Rosser
  168. Sadler
  169. Samnorwood
  170. Santos
  171. Savory
  172. Seminole
  173. Shady Shores
  174. Sidney
  175. Sipe Springs
  176. South Bent
  177. South Mountain
  178. Spur
  179. Stanton
  180. Star Harbor
  181. Stinnett
  182. St. Paul
  183. Sudan
  184. Swenson
  185. Talty
  186. Tira
  187. Tolar
  188. Tom Bean
  189. Trent
  190. Tuscola
  191. Twitty
  192. Tye
  193. Utopia
  194. Wake Village
  195. Weinert
  196. Wellington
  197. Wells
  198. Westminister
  199. Weston
  200. White Oak
  201. Whitesboro
  202. Windom
  203. Woder

Justice of the Peace (JP) Districts within Counties (48)

  1. Cahoun (JP 3)
  2. Callahn (JP 5, 6)
  3. Cass (JP 2)
  4. Castro (JP 1, 2, 3)
  5. Collingswood (JP 1)
  6. Dickens (JP 2, 3, 4)
  7. Eastland (JP 3, 5)
  8. Floyd (JP 2, 4)
  9. Gaines (JP 2, 3, 4)
  10. Garza (JP 1, 2)
  11. Glasscock (JP 2, 3, 4)
  12. Gray (JP 3)
  13. Grayson (JP 6, 7)
  14. Hale (JP 2)
  15. Hall (JP 1, 2)
  16. Hardin (JP 6)
  17. Hemphill (JP 1)
  18. Hockley (JP 2, 3)
  19. Howard (JP 2, 3, 4)
  20. Jasper (JP 3, 4, 6)
  21. Jeff Davis (JP 3)
  22. Kent (JP 1, 2, 3, 4)
  23. Lamar (JP 1, 2)
  24. Leon (JP 2)
  25. Liberty (JP 3)
  26. Lynn (JP 2, 3, 4)
  27. Martin (JP 1, 2, 3, 4)
  28. McLennan (JP 6)
  29. Maverick (JP 3-C)
  30. Montague (JP 4)
  31. Morris (JP 1, 3, 4)
  32. Navarro (JP 4)
  33. Newton (JP 1, 3)
  34. Parmer (JP 1, 3, 4)
  35. Real (JP 4)
  36. Roberts (JP 1)
  37. Rusk (JP 3)
  38. San Augustine (JP 1, 3)
  39. Shelby (JP 2, 3, 4, 5)
  40. Swisher (JP 2, 3, 4)
  41. Taylor (JP 4)
  42. Throckmorton (JP 1)
  43. Tyler (JP 3, 4 )
  44. Uvlade (JP 3)
  45. Van Zandt (JP 2)
  46. Willacy (JP 5)
  47. Yoacum (JP 3, 4)
  48. Young (JP 1)

Virginia

See  Dry Counties.


Wisconsin

Municipalities (2)

  1. Ephriam
  2. Sparta

References

  • 1. Winkler, J. What we say, what we do. Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, April 22, 2007.