A dry state is a state where the manufacturing, distribution, importation, and sale of alcohol is illegal or very restricted. While no state in the United States is completely dry today, dry counties within the states still exist.
Before the 1920 prohibition, the United States passed laws that allowed a county or township the option to be dry. Maine was the first state to implement a statewide law prohibiting the production and sale of alcohol in 1851. Delaware, Ohio, Illinois, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Massachusetts followed, bypassing their prohibition laws, and by 1913, nine states had statewide prohibition, and 31 others had local option laws.
On December 19, 1917, congress approved legislation to prohibit the manufacture, sale, transportation, and importation of alcoholic beverages. Mississippi was the first to ratify the Amendment in 1918, and Nebraska was the 36th state to do so, giving the Amendment the three-fourths majority from the states needed to pass it. Nationwide prohibition went into effect on January 17, 1920.
After the 21st Amendment was passed to repeal the nationwide prohibition, it still allowed for prohibition under state or local laws.
Today, counties that allow alcohol are considered to be “wet,” those that prohibit the sale of alcohol are “dry,” and those that have special circumstances or are mixed are “moist.” Thirty-three states have laws in place to allow localities to prohibit the sale, consumption, and possession of alcohol. Many of these are in the South, and religious beliefs are often the motivation for continuing prohibition laws.
Some of the 33 states that permit localities to go dry have specific statewide circumstances. Arkansas has 34 dry counties out of its 75, and all alcohol sales are prohibited on Sundays. New Mexico is wet by default but is dry on Sundays until noon. Laws prohibiting alcohol sales on Sundays are called blue laws. Kansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee are dry states by default, and counties must specifically authorize the sale of alcohol.
The 33 states that allow localities to go dry are:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- South Dakota
- West Virginia