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Perhaps more than any other state, Virginia is the cradle of American history. Four of the first five presidents hailed from Virginia, and its countryside is dotted with famous Founding Father estates, pivotal Civil War battlefields, and Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Authority liquor stores. These government-run booze stores are a direct descendant of Virginia's deep prohibition heritage.
After Prohibition, Virginia maintained a powerful temperance mindset, which let government-operated stores have complete control over the sale of distilled liquors. But what may have started as an understandable offshoot of a bygone era is now a woefully antiquated relic. Almost 90 years since the end of Prohibition, Virginia may finally upgrade its alcohol laws for the 21st century.
Virginia is one of 13 states that has government-run retail stores for liquor. Because distilled spirits can only be sold in government stores, every distillery that offers spirits on-site must become an ABC "agency store." Distilleries are forced to invite ABC into their businesses, which gives the state influence, albeit subtle. Distilleries must honor state-mandated markups on each bottle sold, which erodes the profits of the state's entrepreneurial craft distillers. The state also layers on additional excise taxes, giving Virginia the third-highest taxes on distilled spirits in America.
The ABC system, which exercises near-universal control over alcohol sales in the state, has proven notoriously resistant to change over the years. Not only does Virginia ABC employ close to 5,000 people, but it pads the state's general fund with hundreds of millions of dollars.
Few politicians can turn down the double-allure of government-backed jobs and built-in revenue streams, creating decades-long resistance to overhaul the state's booze business. Some politicians have resorted to invoking the language of the temperance movement, growling about the potential horrors of "saloons" overtaking every street corner.
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