Special Report

These 9 States Still Have Dry Counties

1. Arkansas
> No. of dry counties: 34
> Population living in dry counties: 32.3% in 45.0% of state
> Pct. of adults who report excessive drinking in dry counties: 14.7%

The sale of alcohol is prohibited in 34 of the 75 counties in Arkansas, home to 32.3% of Arkansas’ population — the largest such share of any state. Like in most states, prohibition in Arkansas is a matter of local jurisdiction, but there are several state hurdles to passing laws allowing the sale of alcohol. Local initiatives on alcohol sales require the signatures of 38% of local registered voters to get on the ballot, far more than the 10% typically required for ballot initiatives.

Proponents for repealing prohibition often cite the economic benefits and tax revenues associated with the sale of alcohol. According to a study commissioned by the state’s largest retailer, Walmart, turning all of the state’s dry counties wet could generate an additional $100 million in economic activity annually.

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2. Florida
> No. of dry counties: 3
> Population living in dry counties: 0.2% in 3.1% of state
> Pct. of adults who report excessive drinking in dry counties: 16.4%

The three counties where the sale of alcohol is prohibited in Florida — Lafayette, Liberty, and Washington — are located in the Panhandle region and represent just 0.2% of the state’s population. Like most states with dry counties, Florida law allows local jurisdictions to hold public referendums to approve local laws and regulations relating to the sale of alcohol.

The most recent county to repeal prohibition in Florida, Madison County, voted to allow alcohol sales in August 2012. The county had previously banned the sale of alcohol in 1906, 14 years before national prohibition. Lafayette County, one of the remaining dry counties, voted for prohibition in 1912, eight years before the nationwide ban on alcohol.

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3. Georgia
> No. of dry counties: 5
> Population living in dry counties: 2.4% in 3.7% of state
> Pct. of adults who report excessive drinking in dry counties: 16.5%

Georgia first banned statewide alcohol sales in 1908, 12 years before national prohibition. Today, five of the 159 counties in Georgia still do not allow the sale of alcohol. Attitudes toward alcohol sales throughout the state were recently gauged in 2011, when Georgia held a local vote on repealing the statewide ban on Sunday alcohol sales. Some 83% of cities and counties that participated in the referendum favored an end to the ban.

Local prohibition laws may have little effect on the consumption of alcohol in Georgia’s dry counties. According to data from the research program County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, 16.5% of adults in Georgia’s dry counties drink excessively, more than the 15.1% of adults who report excessive drinking across the state.

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4. Kansas
> No. of dry counties: 3
> Population living in dry counties: 0.3% in 2.6% of state
> Pct. of adults who report excessive drinking in dry counties: 15.6%

While national prohibition lasted from 1920 until 1933, a statewide ban on alcohol sales existed in Kansas from 1881 to 1948 — longer than any other state. Today, alcohol is still entirely banned in three counties in the state that cover 0.3% of the state population and 2.6% of land area.

Kansas is one of just three states that is entirely dry by default and requires localities to take specific steps to allow the sale of alcohol. While 102 of the 105 counties in Kansas have voted to legalize the sale of alcohol to the general public since the end of prohibition, alcohol sales are still subject to strict regulation in most parts of the state. In 67 counties, for example, restaurants must derive at least 30% of their revenue from food sales in order to sell liquor by the drink.

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5. Kentucky
> No. of dry counties: 15
> Population living in dry counties: 3.8% in 11.3% of state
> Pct. of adults who report excessive drinking in dry counties: 13.3%

While Kentucky is home to some of the most famous bourbon brands in the country, such as Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark, the sale of alcohol is prohibited in 15 of the state’s 120 counties. Dry counties are home to 3.8% of Kentucky’s population, the third largest share of any state.

While the relationship between the legality of alcohol sales and consumption is complicated and is heavily affected by factors such as income and religion, states with more dry counties tend to have lower levels of excessive drinking. In Kentucky’s dry counties, just 13.3% of adults report drinking excessively, compared to 15.8% of adults throughout the state and 18.0% of adults nationwide.

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