OTHER OPINION: Wets win another city in formerly dry region

Daily Journal Editorial

Northeast Mississippi’s demographic and economic landscape changed again Tuesday when voters in the city of Ripley approved beer and alcohol sales in a two-question referendum requiring simple majorities.

Ripley, surrounded by dry Tippah County, voted Tuesday to approve the sale of beer, wine and liquor within the city limits. Forty percent of Ripley’s 3,799 voters went to the polls, a total higher than the general election turnout in June.
Ripley joins New Albany, Corinth and Tishomingo County in recent votes for alcohol sales. A recent change in Mississippi law allows cities of 5,000 or more in otherwise dry counties to hold legal liquor referendums. The population minimum for beer sales referendums is 2,500.

In Ripley, Proposition 1, the sale of liquor and wine, passed with 887 votes, or 55.2 percent. Proposition 2, the sale of beer and light wine, earned 883 votes, or 56.3 percent.

The Ripley vote, with legal sales possible by October, leaves only five Northeast Mississippi counties without at least a municipality with legal beer and/or alcohol sales: Prentiss, Pontotoc, Itawamba, Calhoun and Benton.

The northeastern corner of the state once had proportionately more dry counties than other state regions, but changing attitudes and a realization that money flows out of dry counties to counties and cities with beer and alcohol sales has made an impact.

Corinth’s vote for legal alcohol put it back in the wet column after years of prohibition imposed countywide by a reverse referendum. The city had a period of legal sales after statewide prohibition ended in 1966.

Ripley had to conduct a two-part referendum because of arguably convoluted state laws related to beverages with alcohol content.

This is a key excerpt of the state’s rule: “Although beer contains alcohol, it is not considered an ‘alcoholic beverage’ in Mississippi’s local option laws and is regulated differently from distilled spirits and wine.” A 2012 state law raised from 5 percent to 8 percent the volume of alcohol by weight legally allowed in beer. The state considers an alcoholic beverage a distilled spirit or a wine product that contains more than 8 percent alcohol by weight.

The most important result of legal sales is control, usually resulting in bootleggers going out of business and a greater opportunity to prevent sales to the underaged.