“Sorry, no drinking on this side of the street.”

“Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.” — old Texas saying

There is no waiting period to buy a handgun in Texas. If your point-of-sale computer background check turns up clean, you can buy a .45 or a 9mm with ammo to go while you’re still angry enough to go out and shoot the sumbitch. Here in Dallas, however, you may have to drive a mile or two to get from one of the city’s dry districts to a wet one in order to get liquored up properly before your shooting spree.

As explained by fellow Dallas resident Jacob Sullum, the city’s crazy quilt (see below) of wet and dry districts dates back to earlier Justice of the Peace precincts, giving some real teeth to the notion of local rule, I suppose. (For that matter, don’t get me wrong. I approve of Texas gun laws.)

Dallas Wet / Dry Original JP Districts

Worse yet, it’s not just wet or dry. Some districts permit package beer and wine sales only. Some permit beverages to be served in restaurants. Others are completely “wet” while still others are completely “dry.” Except that they’re not. Restaurants are permitted to offer their patrons “private club memberships” (wink, wink) and then sell their “members” liquor by the drink.

However bewildering these varying neighborhood alcohol laws may be, all you have to do in practice to buy booze is get on one of the city’s many secondary thoroughfares (say, Mockingbird or Lovers Lane — yes, Dallas really does have a major street named Lover’s Lane) and drive until you see liquor stores on either side of a cross street.

Still, it’s an idiotic system (or lack thereof) which mostly goes to disadvantaging grocery and convenience stores inconveniently located in the dry districts. At long last, Dallas voters will have the opportunity to end this silliness by voting Yes on Propositions 1 and 2 on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, of course, Californians will have a more interesting ballot proposition to consider, even though passage would have dubious if any legal effect given the federal preemption in the matter of substance control.

Which does raise an interesting historical, legal and political question. If the federal government lacked the legal authority to prohibit alcohol without a constitutional amendment, under what constitutional theory does it have the legal authority to regulate drugs without need of a constitutional amendment?

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9 Responses to “Sorry, no drinking on this side of the street.”

  1. James K says:

    Under the theory of “shut up, that’s why”.

    Basically it’s because jurists like Scalia hate hippies more than they hate Wickard v Filburn.

  2. Matty says:

    If the federal government lacked the legal authority to prohibit alcohol without a constitutional amendment, under what constitutional theory does it have the legal authority to regulate drugs without need of a constitutional amendment?

    Even with my incredible ignorance of legal matters, I can see a sort of argument on this.
    What you do is put together all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land with the United States having signed up to limit exclusively to medical and scientific purposes the production, manufacture, export, import, distribution of, trade in, use and possession of drugs.

    As far as I know the US never signed any treaties requiring it to control alcohol in a similar way so that could be it.

    I don’t intend to defend this argument since I don’t know enough about your laws to do so but I would be interested to see the counter-arguments.

  3. AMW says:

    Matty,

    (Theoretically) The U.S. doesn’t get to sign treaties that would be unconstitutional. And theoretically, the President doesn’t get to send troops longer than 30 days without a declaration of war.

  4. James K says:

    Matty:
    Another problem with this logic is that ethanol is a drug, which means that any substance meant for human consumption that contains a significant amount of it is also a drug.

  5. Kolohe says:

    Basically it’s because jurists like Scalia hate hippies more than they hate Wickard v Filburn.

    Very much this. And conversely, a whole lot of liberals hate commerce more than than love freedom.

  6. Matty says:

    James K, just as a factual point the convention appears to treat ‘drugs’ as only refering to the substances listed.

  7. Seamus says:

    If the federal government lacked the legal authority to prohibit alcohol without a constitutional amendment, under what constitutional theory does it have the legal authority to regulate drugs without need of a constitutional amendment?

    Are you serious? Are you serious?

  8. D.A. Ridgely says:

    Readers might have missed Seamus’ reference above to Nancy Peolsi’s response when asked whether mandating purchase of health insurance was constitutional. Think Progress doesn’t think much of “the fringe right-wing theory behind this question,” either.

    Of course, the Court has weighed in on the constitutionality of regulating traffic in marijuana as recently as 2005 in Gonzales v. Raich. My question remains, however, and can be rephrased as follows: if Congress does have the constitutional authority to regulate sale and distribution of marijuana, why didn’t it have the same broad interstate commerce based authority in the case of Prohibition?

  9. What I would like to know, and don’t know, is whether there were attempts by the federal government before Prohibition to ban alcohol or the interstate commerce in alcohol? Relatedly, did anyone seriously argue in favor of such regulation before the passage of the prohibition amendment?

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