One hundred years ago, almost to the day, our nation crippled the alcohol industry and swept its economic impact under the rug with the launch of nationwide prohibition.

In banning alcohol, we opened the door for the legend of Al Capone, for the literature of F. Scott Fitzgerald in the Great Gatsby, and for the great sport that is NASCAR. And yet, it is now time to fully close the door on this failed policy in Mississippi.

You may think that prohibition ended long ago, but in truth, antiquated laws and regulations have remained on the books which have crippled many small businesses, stifled entrepreneurship, and left Mississippi in the dust when it comes to the modern boom of the alcohol industry. Luckily, sensing the shift in public opinion, a series of bills have been introduced this year in our legislature that would work to release the shackles which have so long weighed down our market in the state.

Sunday sale of alcohol. Grocery stores allowed to sell wine. Direct shipment of wine. Expansion of liquor licenses. Privatization of distribution. Craft brewery freedom. Regulatory reform. A range of great bills have been introduced that would dramatically empower both the consumer and the entrepreneur. These ideas have the capacity to decisively make this the year of alcohol freedom, and officially end prohibition in the state.

This legislation is not just about alcohol, but about one’s fundamental right to make decisions for ourselves without the government trying to make decisions for us. Does the state believe we are not intelligent enough to control our own lives? While this expansion of freedom and personal liberties should truly be enough to stir the heart of any patriot into action, it is also worth noting the dramatic economic impact that these policies could have on our communities.

With many of our leaders discussing workforce development and constantly seeking to attract new business into the state, often with taxpayer money or resources, it becomes all the more critical that we embrace existing market opportunities and encourage entrepreneurship locally. Give the craft brewer the freedom he needs to run a successful business, the store owner the freedom she needs to expand and open multiple stores, and the consumer the chance to choose where he wants to purchase his wine.

The 2018 Economic Impact Study of America’s Beer, Wine & Spirits retailers found that beverage retailers alone create more than 2.03 million jobs from the sale of alcohol. The direct economic impact of the retail industry is “more than $122.63 billion annually; the total economic impact of the industry is $363.33 billion annually. This creates $47.9 billion in local, state, and federal taxes.” Yet, we have turned our back on these jobs and this investment, by restraining our local businesses and making it difficult, if not impossible for them to operate.

Furthermore, while the entire alcohol industry is growing around the country, the Beverage Information Group has found that it is the small businesses in the market who are expanding the fastest. Thus, in continuing our current policies, we hurt local small businesses the most. With massive restrictions on how breweries and distilleries can sell directly to customers, it is no wonder that Mississippi is annually ranked last in terms of craft beer production. While this industry operates with $650 of economic production per capita in Vermont, in Mississippi it only produces $150 per capita. This industry is so impactful, the University of Vermont even offers a program on the business of craft beer.

Imagine the degree of growth we could experience if we released the chains that we have used for so long to tie down our small businesses in Mississippi, within the alcohol industry and beyond. Only by finally and truly ending prohibition in the state, can we launch an economic expansion powered by alcohol freedom.

Not only do we deserve the liberty to build businesses and make consumption choices without government shutting us down, but we deserve to experience the economic growth and investment in our economy that so many other states are currently seeing. I dream of the day that I can enjoy a locally brewed beer with the knowledge that I live in a state that encouraged that small business to flourish and expand rather than wither.

This column appeared in the Meridian Star on February 21, 2020.