This column is a partial reprint from a column I wrote for The Sun-Times in December 2011. In response to this topic being part of an active conversation in our county today, I felt I would publish it again, with a few updates, as I feel it is just as relevant today as it was in 2011.
Spring is almost here, and that means summer will be right around the corner. For many in this country, that means it’s time for summer barbeques, parties, wedding receptions, and a myriad of other festivities many associate with summer fun. Arguably, for most of these festivities, beer, wine, and other spirits are an integral part of many of these time honored traditions.
But not in Cleburne County.
Those interested in participating in these festivities must make plans in advance to make a road trip of at least 45 minutes, and that’s optimistic considering most drivers will end up behind a vehicle that insists on driving 30mph until you can pass them, at which point they speed up to 60mph. For those unable to plan far enough in advance, they must navigate through normal summer/tourist traffic and increased danger from the inevitable idiot that decided to partake in holiday festivities early and believes he or she is still a safe driver. The increase in drivers traveling to and from a liquor store can only increase the burden on local law enforcement that attempts to ensure a safe driving season for all.
Proponents of keeping Cleburne County a dry county often have legitimate and well-meaning intentions. Drinking in excess can pose a danger to the individual and sometimes the community at large. Overworked police have the added burden of alcohol related crime in addition to their normal responsibilities, though to be fair, our hard working local law enforcement already deal with alcohol related incidents on a weekly basis so this wouldn’t be new for them. Alcoholism can lead to addiction for some individuals prone to that disease. All in all, excessive alcohol is not healthy for the body or society as a whole. But the simple fact is that alcohol is legal, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
To believe that keeping alcohol sales out of the county results in keeping people from drinking is naive. Whether we admit it or not, alcohol is a presence here and will always be as long as the general sale of alcohol is legal. Dry county laws are a remnant of the Prohibition era. Efforts to outlaw the sale of alcohol nationally resulted in a colossal failure and an increase in crime, due to bootlegging. Continuing to maintain these failed policies is counterproductive for this or any county.
Page 2 of 3 - Cleburne County residents are going to drink. This is an indisputable fact. Some admit it openly. Some argue against it while trying to avoid being seen by other locals at a distant liquor store. The question to be asked is whether the revenue from this legal recreation is going to continue to go to Pulaski, Conway, and Woodruff Counties. It is absurd that all the money spent on alcohol by residents of this county goes to surrounding counties. The money raised from alcohol sales could and should be used to improve the life of our local residents. Restaurants can already petition the state government for liquor permits as a private club, which effectually nullifies county “dry” laws. In a bad economy and declining revenue for local governments, prohibiting the sale of a legal product that exists in the county anyway is irresponsible and serves no purpose except to line the pockets of surrounding counties.
I understand that there is a moral opposition by some against drinking. That is fair. My response to that is “If you don’t like drinking, then don’t drink.” With the exception of certain instances of general public safety as determined by law enforcement, alcohol is a legal product to anyone over the age of 21 and thus is a personal decision to be made by the individual as his or her life choice, and not by any person or persons who disagree with that life choice.
The morality of the issue is not at question here, though. The issue is the absurdity of losing thousands of dollars to surrounding counties, especially at a time when recession has hit Cleburne County as hard if not harder than other counties nationwide. To my knowledge, there is no measure on an upcoming ballot to correct this revenue drain. It has been done before and failed. Not necessarily because the majority of residents opposed liquor sales, but because those who did oppose organized better and actually went to the polls on election day. This is something that should be addressed again, in a rational and sensible way. There is an unfortunate popular notion of thinking of this county as Mayberry. Mayberry was fictional and so is the idea that this county is dry. This is not Mayberry. It never has been, it never will be. We need to dispense with the fantasy of that notion and address the realities that face our county. Until then, we will continue to be “the wettest dry county in Arkansas.”
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(James Jackson writes his “different perspective” column monthly. He can be reached at email@example.com)