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Utah’s “Civil” War

by tommy kirchhoff

The battle over alcohol staggers on. And if you have any intention of changing the way Utah regulates alcohol, it’s better to sound like an educated aficionado than a white-trash sot who smells like a brewery.

Lesson One: Although both Utah law and the U.S. Constitution outlawed alcohol from 1917 to 1933, it was still heavily produced, sold, and consumed during the period of Prohibition in this state. Public officials were often frustrated in their attempts to enforce the law. Legitimate businesses became illegal, and an underground institution of bootleggers and speakeasies became ubiquitous.

In their study of prohibition in southeastern Utah, Jody Bailey and Robert S. McPherson found that “Mormons and gentiles, miners and cowboys, farmers and businessmen, Mexicans and Navajos all trafficked in liquor.” Many violators of prohibition were immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe for whom moderate alcohol consumption was a long-established way of life. In many communities, even law enforcement officers were involved in the illegal alcohol business. Between 1923 and 1932, Utah law enforcement officials uncovered 448 distilleries, 702 stills, thousands of pieces of distilling apparatus, 47,000 gallons of spirits, malt liquor, wine, and cider, and 332,000 gallons of mash. Yet this was only a small percentage of what was actually being produced as practically every community and every neighborhood in the larger cities housed an illegal still.

One of the easiest types of bootleg alcohol to produce was known as “sugar whiskey.” It required a 100-pound bag of sugar, a sack of cornmeal and a sack of yeast, which were mixed together and boiled in fifty-gallon drums.

In February 1933, Utah became the thirty-sixth and DECIDING state to approve the Twenty-first Amendment abolishing prohibition through repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment.

Lesson Two: In 1932, the Olympic Games were held in Los Angeles, California. The Eighteenth Amendment’s Prohibition Law was still in effect. The French team, claiming that they were unable to compete without having had their usual daily quota of wine, refused to attend. The Italians quickly followed suit. To accommodate the French and Italian athletes, the U.S. temporarily suspended its prohibition laws so they could bring their own wine into the country. The French athletes alone imported several thousand bottles of wine.

Lesson Three: Legislature is the law-making body for alcohol regulation. Don’t throw verbal darts at the Department of Alcohol Beverage Control (DABC). Your local representatives (of whom, very few drink liquor) are the ones to call. And we mean call, write, e-mail and bug the shit out of. But do it intelligently.

Lesson Four: The DABC is not the five-member group you think they are. The DABC is the administrative department of government that carries out the day-to-day trench-work set forth by legislature and the Alcohol Beverage Control Commission. This department is comprised of fifty-something people with widely differing roles.

Lesson Five: The Alcohol Beverage Control Commission is the five-member group scrutinized by both drinkers and non-drinkers. The ABCC sets policies and makes rules regarding the subject of alcoholic product control, and issues/renews commercial alcohol licenses. This group is appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. No more than three members may be of the same political party.

Lesson Six: Only one member of the ABCC drinks alcohol. Her name is Vickie McCall. She has become somewhat of a hero to alcohol consumers in Utah for intelligently conveying the alcohol culture to the four other buttwipes who want to control alcohol, but don’t know what beer tastes like. Today, June 20, 2001, Vickie McCall’s term of office ends. Let’s hope we don’t lose her.

Lesson Seven: All liquor products sold within the state are marked up not less than 61 percent above the cost to the department, excluding federal excise taxes. The exception to this is liquor sold to military installations—this liquor only has to be marked up 15 percent. Wine has a minimum markup of 30 percent.

Lesson Eight: “Private Parties” (quoted from Utah Code) “Individuals and organizations hosting private social, business, or recreational events or functions are not required to obtain a permit from the state if the event is not open to the general public, and alcohol is provided to invited guests without cost.” The door’s wide open here; you should be able to figure out whatever you need under this (Fifth Amendment) law.

Lesson Nine: A polygamist woman once said, “The only way to cause legitimate change is civil disobedience.” Just like in the days of Prohibition, some people are going to get caught for breaking the law. Most won’t.