Prohibition Makes a Comeback
Pennsylvania shuts down liquor stores. Panic buying ensues.
By The Editorial Board
April 6, 2020
The roaring 1920s and the so far deplorable 2020s already have one misguided policy in common. As state and local officials work to limit the spread of the coronavirus, some have ordered the closure of liquor stores. It’s going as well as history would suggest.
Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board announced March 16 that liquor stores would close the next day. The state hoped to keep residents at home, but instead Pennsylvanians flocked to buy booze while they still could. Lines stretched around the block, and sales spiked to $29.9 million in a single day-“the most spent on booze in Pennsylvania in one day, according to complete sales records dating back 12 years,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported last week.
Denver saw a similar rush on March 23 when Mayor Michael Hancock announced that liquor stores would not be considered essential businesses. “It’s created a safety issue in the short term,” Argonaut Wine & Liquor co-owner Josh Robinson told the Denver Post. “The mayor said not to panic buy, but that is exactly what he encouraged people to do by shutting us down.” Mr. Hancock decided within hours to reverse course and let the liquor stores stay open.
But in Pennsylvania the closures continue. Many residents are now driving to neighboring states to buy alcohol, potentially bringing the virus with them. The Monongalia County Health Department has banned liquor sales to anyone without a West Virginia ID, and Delaware police are pulling over out-of-state drivers and instructing them to go home.
Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board resumed limited online sales on April 1. But it restricts orders to six bottles per transaction and can’t guarantee that all who want to buy alcohol can. The number of orders immediately overwhelmed the site, and the state now rations access to the online store, too. Black markets thrive when the government refuses to let supply match demand, so expect to see rum runners make a comeback.
New York City has been wiser and allowed restaurants to offer alcohol for take-out and delivery. That satiates the thirsty while providing much-needed revenue for struggling businesses. Kentucky lawmakers have passed legislation allowing alcohol producers to ship directly to consumers. Such policies acknowledge that, even in a pandemic, prohibition creates more problems than it solves.