Wacky, weird and wonderful

Wacky, weird and wonderful

We might moan about nanny state governments these days, but over the years legislators across the world have tried all sorts of bizarre things. Here Christine Green looks at some of the stranger alcohol laws

News | 04 Jun 2004 | Issue 40 | By Christine Green

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Do you consider yourself a whisky connoisseur or someone who merely enjoys partaking in a glass or two when entertaining? Alternatively, you may find your fascination of the world of alcohol draws you into exploring its history.And if you take up the challenge and delve deep into the archives you will find amongst other things a collection of strange laws, many of which were penned by members of the clergy or local business people some of whom regarded alcohol as being the ‘demon drink’. In their eyes legislation needed to be enforced in order to ‘save the souls’ of the weak willed who succumbed.Fortunately, many of those laws have long since fallen into the abyss of time, gone but not totally forgotten, especially by historians for whom they are a reminder of what life was like in days gone by.And what of the others that remain locked in the historical archives and have yet to be eradicated.Who knows, in the eyes of the legal system they may well be still enforceable, but for the moment they are there to be read and enjoyed, giving everyone in the 21st century the chance to step back in time and find out what life was really like.If you are prepared for a transitional journey back to days long before non alcoholic beverages were even conceived, draw up a chair, pour a glass of your favourite chilled wine or wee tot of whisky and relax as you are taken for a brief look back in time at some of the most bizarre laws.Of all the weird laws relating to drinking no one could possibly deny that the United States of America must rank as having by far the most entertaining.Love me love my dog sure – but not enough to ply him with whiskey surely? It must have happened, though, or why else would legislators in the state of Illinois enforce a law prohibiting that anyone give a dog a tot of whiskey?And whilst on the subject, can you imagine having to contend with an intoxicated monkey let alone having to deal with an inebriated elephant – neither of which would be a pretty sight.?But for some bizarre reason visitors to Manville Zoo in the state of New Jersey must have felt some of the animals needed ‘perking up with a ‘wee tot of the hard stuff’ which as a result led lawmakers to initiate an edict banning visitors from feeding any of the animals with whiskey.And it wasn’t only animals that people could customarily ply with alcohol, apparently. In the state of Ohio some fishermen would use the rather underhand tactic of covering the bait with alcohol, so that the fish would become tipsy and easier to catch. This too was outlawed.No one enjoys visiting the dentist but in days gone by and in the township of Flint, Michigan, dentists would have been popular due to a statute which compelled all dentists to offer a ‘slug of whiskey with no additional charge to said patients’ – one way of forgetting the discomfort.Many of the old laws were penned just after Prohibition and so deal more with the moral aspects of drinking. Many states banned the sale of alcohol on a Sunday and ensured that pubs were not established close to a church.However, there were certainly strong feelings towards people getting drunk as illustrated by several prohibitions.Public intoxication was considered a crime in the state of Pennsylvania but not regarded as such in Minnesota; whilst in the state of Kentucky ‘anyone who has been drinking is ‘sober’ until they cannot hold onto the ground’.If you think they are weird laws try these: again from the state of Kentucky, a person can be sent to jail for five years if caught sending a bottle of wine, spirits or beer as a gift to a friend. And from Missouri: anyone under the age of 21 who takes out household trash containing even a single empty alcohol beverage container can be charged with illegal possession of alcoholIt isn’t fair to label America as being the only country with wacky drinking laws. They are not alone.Take for example, Bolivia. Since the beginning of the 20th century women have been banned from drinking more than one glass of wine in bars and restaurants.Apparently law makers considered that the larger amount of alcohol consumed by a woman made her morally and sexually pliable. As a result the penalty for breaking the law would result in a $100 fine and if the woman were married it would make good grounds for a divorce.Whoever thought the Russians were bereft of a sense of humour have obviously never looked through their historical archives relating to drink otherwise they would have found the following edict: you are not legally drunk until you can no longer stand without someone holding you up.To put it in to context it seems in parts of Russia the law says if you are drunk but able to stand with one person on each side then legally, you are sober – the situation could change, however, if one person released their hold.In Saskatchewan in Canada, drinking any alcohol whilst watching exotic dancers is illegal; and in Finland it appears one law allows people to be intoxicated in public but prohibits anyone from taking a bottle of wine out on a picnic.When you think of Scotland you associate it with bagpipes, scotch whisky, rich shortbread and haggis, but they may have taken things a little too far in relation to drinking – why would anyone legislate it is illegal to be drunk in possession of a cow? This may well stem back when local
farmers would take their prize ‘cow’ down to the local village for a pint!The English have a reputation of being slightly eccentric so perhaps this explains how they came up with a drinking law that states that it is illegal to be drunk on licensed premises in a bar or pub.Needless to say there would be a great many lawsuits if this legislation was still upheld. And indeed, the law is key to the current debate on whether licensing hours should be extended.Finally back to America and the crème de la crème of wacky laws: in the state of Indiana guests are not allowed to carry a cocktail from the bar to a table. The waiter or waitress has to do it for you; and drinking from your own bottle in a bar can actually lead to your arrest.It could turn out to be quite an expensive evening if you end up drunk in the state of West Virginia where an ancient edict reads: ‘if any person at the age of discretion profanely curses or swears or gets drunk in public, he shall be fined by a justice one dollar for each offence.’In Nevada those people who continually drank themselves into a stupor could expect far more than a hangover.Very often the local sheriff of the township, or the imbiber’s family, would request that the saloonkeepers post their names so everyone could read how weak willed that person was.And if the sheer humiliation of reading one’s name displayed for all to see wasn’t bad enough imagine the shame of a husband having to gain the written permission of his wife to purchase alcohol – such was an ancient law upheld in the state of Pennsylvania.Do bear in mind that many of the laws you have read are no longer enforced, but then again are they?
Happy drinking!
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