Special Report

These 9 States Still Have Dry Counties

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6. Mississippi
> No. of dry counties: 12
> Population living in dry counties: 7.1% in 12.8% of state
> Pct. of adults who report excessive drinking in dry counties: 13.3%

Mississippi first passed a statewide ban on alcohol sales in 1907, 13 years before national prohibition. Mississippi was also the last state in the country to repeal prohibition, doing so in 1966 — 33 years after the 21st Amendment ended national prohibition. Today, Mississippi is one of three states that is entirely dry by default and requires localities to take specific actions to permit the sale of alcohol. The sale of alcohol is still illegal in 12 of the 82 counties in the state.

Some researchers believe that a dry county status may be associated with a higher drunk driving fatality rate, as residents of dry counties who elect to consume alcohol must drive longer distances. In the 12 dry counties in Mississippi, there are 7.1 drunk driving fatalities per 100,000 residents, nearly twice the statewide rate of 3.5 fatalities per 100,000 residents.

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7. South Dakota
> No. of dry counties: 1
> Population living in dry counties: 1.7% in 2.7% of state
> Pct. of adults who report excessive drinking in dry counties: 15.2%

Located within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Oglala Lakota is currently the only dry county in South Dakota. While the reservation voted to legalize the sale of alcohol by a narrow margin in 2013, the vote was highly controversial, and the law was never implemented.

Save for several months in 1970, the sale of alcohol has been illegal on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation since the ban came into effect in 1889. Alcoholism has long plagued the reservation — about two in three adults suffer from alcoholism, and one in four babies exhibit defects caused by fetal alcohol syndrome. While proponents of lifting the ban argue that the revenue from alcohol sales could fund alcohol abuse treatment programs, opponents argue that repealing prohibition could exacerbate the problem.

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8. Tennessee
> No. of dry counties: 5
> Population living in dry counties: 1.1% in 3.4% of state
> Pct. of adults who report excessive drinking in dry counties: 12.9%

Tennessee became the first state in the country to pass a prohibition law in 1838 — 82 years before national prohibition — when it made the sale of alcoholic beverages in taverns and stores a misdemeanor. The state outlawed the manufacturing of alcohol in 1909 and possession in 1917, turning the state completely dry. While Tennessee repealed statewide prohibition in 1937, five of the 95 counties in the state remain completely dry today.

While the relationship between alcohol availability and consumption is complicated and is affected by factors such as income and religion, states with more dry counties tend to have lower levels of heavy drinking. Just 12.9% of adults in Tennessee’s dry counties report drinking excessively, compared to 14.4% of adults throughout the state and 18.0% of adults nationwide.

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9. Texas
> No. of dry counties: 5
> Population living in dry counties: <0.1% in 1.7% of state
> Pct. of adults who report excessive drinking in dry counties: 19.1%

Statewide prohibition in Texas lasted from 1919 to 1935, about the same time as national prohibition. Like a majority of states, Texas gave local jurisdictions the power to regulate alcohol sales through public referendums when it repealed prohibition.

While 132 of the 254 counties in Texas were completely dry by 1959, that number fell to 30 by 2009. Since then, more than two dozen counties in Texas have voted to allow some form of alcohol sales, and today, just five counties — Borden, Hemphill, Kent, Roberts, and Throckmorton — remain dry, representing less than 0.1% of the state population. Voters in the most recent county to go wet, Martin County, approved the sale of beer and wine in the county seat of Stanton in 2018 by a 33 point margin.

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