Kansas and 3.2 percent beer: a slightly buzzed history



Currently, five states have 3.2 beer: Minnesota, Oklahoma, Colorado, Utah and Kansas. While Utah loves its weak brine, Colorado is close to eliminating the stuff and Kansas may soon follow. The house will vote on a bill to raise the definition of a cereal malt beverage from a weak-ass 3.2 percent to a manly four percent as defined by this bill. (Warning! PDF and boring legalese.) 

If the bill doesn't pass it will have nothing to do with temperance or the evils of alcohol but with money, because there's no reason for 3.2 percent beer to exist anymore.

So why did Kansas serve it in the first place -- and why does it still? Let's take a trip down memory lane.

1933: Months before Prohibition ends, the Volstead act is amended to make 3.2 percent beer legal in what is known as the Blaine Act. In November of this year Prohibition officially ends.

1934: Ain't no party like a Kansas party! Kansas celebrates the end of Prohibition by voting to stay a dry state.

1937: The Kansas legislature allows the sale of 3.2 percent beer, saying it's not an "intoxicating liquor" but a cereal malt beverage (CMB). Drinking age is set at 18, like it was ever enforced back then anyway.

1948: Kansans come to their senses and become the third-to-last state to repeal its dry status. Out of this the legislation passes the Liquor Control Act, which still exists. The legal drinking age for liquor (anything not a CMB) is 21; CMB age stays at 18.

1950s through the 1960s: Lots of fighting back and forth about clubs and saloons but not much about CMBs. Proms continue to be a lot more fun than they are today.

1970: The State Supreme Court rules you can buy normal-strength beer cold, eliminating the last reason for someone 21 or older to purchase a cold CMB over a warm regular six-pack.

High school shenanigans forever suffer. To receive federal highway money, Kansas votes to raise the legal age for purchase of CMBs to 21. With the main audience for 3.2 percent beer now totally gone, the state should have done away with the CMB law.

1987: In an effort to make CMBs relevent, Kansas legislation says establishments can sell CMBs on Sunday. 

Since 1987, the main changes in the law surrounding CMBs have been involved lumping underage CMB drinkers with underage liquor drinkers (2001) and other conviction-type laws. The real reason CMBs exist is because Kansas liquor stores do not want to give up their sales to grocery stores. Chances are, if you're at a grocery store in Kansas, there's a liquor store within walking distance. If the CMB law changes, those liquor stores could be in a world of hurt.

Information from the very entertaining History of Alcoholic Beverages in Kansas Web Site hosted by the Kansas Department of Revenue.

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