When the 21st Amendment repealed national prohibition in 1933, the power to regulate the sale and consumption of alcohol was left to the states. While 16 states explicitly prohibit the creation of dry localities — and Wisconsin state law does not address the local sale of alcohol — the majority of states allow local jurisdictions to regulate alcohol as they see fit.
24/7 Wall St. identified the states that still have dry counties and reviewed the history and effects of the prohibition laws governing them. While some counties contain cities or towns that allow the sale of alcohol in some form, we focused on counties that both prohibit the sale of alcohol within county borders and do not contain any municipalities that allow the sale of alcohol. Today, there are 83 counties in the United States where the sale of alcohol is completely prohibited. Dry counties are home to approximately 1.7 million Americans, or 0.5% of the U.S. population.
In many states with dry counties, laws restricting the sale of alcohol have long preceded national prohibition. Georgia, for example, first banned statewide alcohol sales in 1908, 12 years before the 18th Amendment and national prohibition went into effect. Mississippi first passed a statewide ban on alcohol sales in 1907, 13 years before national prohibition.
The majority of dry counties are located in the South, where religious beliefs echoing the Temperance Movement, which in the 1800s pushed for reduced alcohol consumption across the nation, continue to drive anti-alcohol sentiment. In other counties, the decision to ban alcohol may be related to public health. In Oglala Lakota County, South Dakota, for example — which ranks as the worst county to live in — alcohol abuse is rampant, and many advocates of prohibition believe that allowing the sale of alcohol may exacerbate the problem.
Advocates for repealing prohibition often cite the economic benefits of alcohol sales. Breweries and distilleries are major industries in the United States (here are America’s thriving industries in America), and can provide counties with millions of dollars in additional tax revenue. According to a study commissioned by Walmart, for example, turning all of Arkansas’ dry counties wet could generate an additional $100 million in economic activity annually.
For more on alcohol use in the United States, see how much people spend on alcohol in 22 major American cities.
To determine the states that still have dry counties, 24/7 Wall St. used data from the National Alcoholic Beverage Control Association. NABCA data is current as of 2017 and was updated by 24/7 Wall St. using recent local news reports and government press releases.
Population data came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and figures are five-year estimates for the period 2013 to 2017. Data on land and water area by county came from the Census Bureau’s 2010 decennial census. Data on the share of adults that report excessive drinking came from the 2019 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, and was aggregated for all dry counties using Census Bureau population data. All data are for the most recent period available.