Region catches alcohol fever

By Emily LeCoz / NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – A rash of alcohol-related activity has seized Northeast Mississippi in the past year with nearly two dozen communities debating spirits or brew.
Of those involved, most opted to lift bans or ease restrictions on when alcoholic beverages can be sold. In other cases, city boards heard citizen requests for Sunday beer sales but didn’t vote.
Only one community outright rejected alcohol sales – voters in Booneville said no to beer earlier this month.
But as soon as one community decides, it seems, another enters the debate. Petitions are circulating for beer or liquor or both in Pontotoc, Prentiss and Tishomingo counties, while the city of Oxford continues its seemingly endless discussion of when and how and at what temperature alcohol should be sold.
“In Northeast Mississippi, it’s been a flurry of activity,” said Kathy Waterbury, spokeswoman for the state Department of Revenue, which oversees the Alcoholic Beverage Control program.
In almost all cases, supporters of alcohol and beer sales cite the opportunity for economic growth and for keeping local dollars at home; opponents cite moral and safety issues.
The ABC has been tracking and regulating alcohol sales since Mississippi lifted prohibition in 1966, a move that allowed each county to decide for itself whether to go wet or dry.
Beer, on the other hand, has been legal in the state since 1934. Although counties also can decide whether or not to allow it, the ABC doesn’t regulate beverages with 5 percent or less alcohol by weight.
“Since it’s been legalized, it will go for a couple years where there’s no activity, and then we’ll see a lot at one time,” Waterbury said.
Activity tends to move around the state, she explained, concentrating in one region before falling silent, and then popping up in another region years later.
Right now, apparently, Northeast Mississippi has the ball.
Or the mug.
Or the goblet.
Or the shot glass.