Five O'clock Somewhere: As Arkansas debates Prohibition-era 'blue laws,' let's be glad for what we have in Michigan 

We in Michigan are pretty relaxed about alcohol compared to some states. We're known as a "control state," and that may sound a bit intimidating, but it's not as strict as some. You can still get your whiskey and beer in a place that sells Fritos, instead of some special state store, and the law has even been liberalized, allowing dining and drinking establishments to buy licenses to sell before noon on Sundays. Our officials out in Lansing may not be able to fund good roads or abide the people's will on medical marijuana, but they won't begrudge you a drink before church.

Well, it's not like that everywhere. Lots of places in the country have "blue laws," holdovers from the era of Prohibition (and before) that restrict the right of people to buy alcohol on Sundays — or sometimes at all.

By the time this newspaper hits the streets, the matter will have been decided, but Arkansas has been engaged in a good old bar fight in the run-up to its referendum on drinking on Nov. 4. You see, when Prohibition ended in 1933, it stayed on the books in half of the state's 75 counties. That means that some Arkansans will drive as far as 60 miles to get their alcohol from special county-line liquor stores. That could change with the passage of the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Amendment, which would eliminate bans on alcohol sales throughout the state, making Arkansas's dry counties a thing of the past.

The battle has been accompanied by a level of drama old Mencken would have appreciated. In Bible-thumping dry counties, amendment supporters are called "tools of the devil," as pastors thunder from the pulpit about the evils of drink. But, in an interesting turn of events, church groups opposing the amendment are getting financial support from the unlikeliest of places: existing liquor stores, eager to retain their franchise in a place where legal vendors are artificially scarce. And church leaders are predicting an epidemic of drunk driving.

As it turns out, the sky-is-falling rhetoric of the anti-drink mob doesn't stand up to scrutiny. (Surprise, surprise.) The mayor of small-town Harrison, Ark., Jeff Crockett, led the campaign that turned Boone County wet in 2010, and he notes that the county saw a 40 percent decrease in drunk driving arrests after the change. He told a reporter covering the vote: "I know for a fact fewer people are driving 30 miles for beer and popping a top on the way back."

More by Michael Jackman

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