Let’s Get Wet! Prohibition Repealed in Benton County

by Nick Bahash

For most of you, the prohibition doesn’t affect you more than when “Boardwalk Empire” and “Lawless” come out on Blu-ray. But where I grew up– Benton County, Arkansas–packaged liquor stores were always illegal…until freedom finally rang free on November 6th, 2012. On this election day, 66 percent of local citizens voted to make Benton County wet once again.

We all know that prohibition was instituted with the ratification of the 18th Amendment on January 16th, 1919, and then repealed with the 21st Amendment on December 5th, 1933. But this didn’t mean everywhere was just free to booze it up again. This Amendment said that the states were allowed to set their own laws for the control of Alcohol. Which takes us to Arkansas. Here, prohibition was now determined from county to county. Obviously, Benton County was left behind and remained dry. Why didn’t they vote to overturn this, you ask? Well, in 1935 state law said that in order to even put this to a vote, a petition needed to be signed by at least 35 percent of a county’s electorate. Easy, right? Just get the signatures, get the issue on the ballot, and vote for alcohol. Yeah…no.

map of arkansas highlighting benton county svg Lets Get Wet! Prohibition Repealed in Benton County

Welcome back, you beautiful, wet county, you.

At least 40,000 signatures were needed to get this issue on the ballot. And getting signatures is maybe the hardest thing to do. I know if I was walking by someone who said, “If you sign this, you get free beer for life,” I would hesitate a bit because I have to stop and then sign something. It’s just so much work. Yet, if it wasn’t for Tom and Steuart Walton’s donation of more than a half million dollars to the Keep Dollars in Benton County cause, which got the signatures, it wouldn’t have been on the ballot this election. The cost and task of getting the signatures is what kept this issue off the ballot in the past. Oh, and yeah, that’s Walton of Walmart. Benton County happens to be the home and headquarters of Walmart, the largest retailer in the world. Here’s why a local signed the petition:

You would think that some people would oppose the change from dry to wet, but they wouldn’t make that big of a deal about it. You’d be wrong. There was a hot debate. The Citizens United to Preserve Benton County–yes that’s a real thing–heavily opposed it. They even have this amazingly bad website stating why it would be so horrible to wet the county. Crime, assault, prostitution, and traffic accident increases are amongst the reasons listed. With all of this downside, could there possibly be any upside? Oh yeah. The money. A study done by the University of Arkansas, which is located in wet Washington County to the south, estimates retail alcohol sales would bring $33 million into the county each year, in both revenue and jobs created. But mo money mo problems, am I right? I don’t know, maybe. I just wanted to link this video.

Back to Benton County. Here’s how the vote may affect the areas:

It might sound like living in Benton County, prior to the vote, was like living in that “Footloose” town. But honestly, if you visited, you wouldn’t even know it was a dry county. Most restaurants serve alcohol. There are bars. You’d only notice if you wanted to go buy some beer to take home. And then you’d have to drive about 10 minutes to the border to do that, which is a mild inconvenience at most. Don’t get me wrong, this still is a major victory for freedom in America. The shackles of the 18th Amendment are no more! Let the alcohol flow freely in Benton County! And twins!

If you could do this in real life, you'd dress however you want, too.

Repulsor rays! This movie really does have everything!

Nick Bahash is incredibly something? He and his life’s work can be found here. He also twitters with the worst of them. But speaking of alcohol, the sweet sweet American Honey is his drink of choice.

That delightful moment when your half-empty beer becomes a "Hooray! Prohibition is repealed!" celebratory drink

That delightful moment when your half-empty beer becomes a “Hooray! Prohibition is repealed!” celebratory drink.

Nick previously interviewed director Ben Popik about indie film The Exquisite Corpse Project. And hey, Benton County! Now that you’re back on the booze, educate yourself with Ten Things You Didn’t Know about Liquor.

More from Nick Bahash

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