As the only constitutional amendment ever repealed, history confirms that the 18th Amendment was an abject failure. Dubbed the “noble experiment” by its advocates, Prohibition reduced alcohol consumption only moderately, but led to a dramatic increase in crime and corruption. Organized crime flourished, and bootlegging, rum running and smuggling became commonplace — especially in Baltimore, where resistance to Prohibition was strong.
The Sage of Baltimore, H.L. Mencken, put it best when he observed: “There is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.”
These days, most folks rarely think about this failed experiment in our history. We no longer need to find a speakeasy to enjoy an alcoholic beverage. And virtually nobody distills rum in his bathtub anymore.
Yet the vestiges of Prohibition live on in our state and country, most notably in the laws that govern the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages. In addition to repealing Prohibition, the 21st Amendment turned regulation of alcoholic beverages over to state government.
Most states, including Maryland, adopted some form of the so‐called “three‐tier” distribution system. Under this system, producers cannot sell their wares directly to consumers. In fact, they cannot even sell directly to grocery stores, restaurants or other retailers. Instead, they are required by state law to sell their products to wholesalers, who in turn sell to retailers, who then sell to consumers. Of course, each step in the process leads to an additional markup so in the end, consumers spend a lot more for the beer, wine or spirits than they should.