We've Been Remiss!

drew's picture

I feel like we've been remiss here. We totally forgot to mention that homebrewing will finally be legal in all 50 states! It's taken a few years, but once Mississippi's law goes into effect in July, you can no longer consider yourself a wanton criminal in these here states. So congratulations to Mississippi (signed in March) and Alabama (signed last week) and to the fleet of homebrewers who've worked for multiple years to finally get the hobby fully legalized.

The saga for all this legalization started way back in pre-history and by pre-history, I mean before i was born with the founding of several homebrew clubs, the only one of which still remains would be my club, the Maltose Falcons. This was before the founding of the American Homebrewers Association (AHA). Between several of the clubs in California, there were efforts to first get the hobby legalized in the state, which happened in August 1978 and was signed by the once and future governor of California, Jerry Brown. At the same time, homebrewers worked with Senator Alan Cranston to legalize brewing on the Federal level. Since Senator Cranston would later be weighted with his membership in the "Keating Five", we'll just consider his efforts to pass homebrewing his career high water mark. Yes, that's a joke.

What a lot of folks don't realize from the time is just how much opposition was marshaled against homebrewing. It wasn't just moral absolutists that claimed legal homebrew would lead to the destruction of the American family like today. Witness the recent testimony of Joe Godfrey, director of an Alabama neo-prohibitionist group, who said "“We’re opposed to all alcohol expansion bills... the less restrictions there are, the more drinking there is. The more drinking there is, the more social issues that arise, family breakups, traffic accidents, all of those kinds of things.”

Nope, back in the day the ATF had a major concern, moonshiners. Today we have a romantic image of moonshiners like Popcorn Sutton, but back when homebrewing was being legalized, there was a much larger moonshine tradition that caused concern for safety,crime and tax revenue reasons. (Never discount the revenue reasons.) So, when what was known as the Cranston bill was racing around the halls of Congress, a second bill, the Conable Bill was being passed in the house from a NY Representive, Barber Conable. The Conable still aimed to provide legalization of homebrewing, but it wanted to do so with an additional restriction - a license issued by the ATF. The ATF wanted to be able to suss out if a moonshiner was using homebrewing as legal cover for their distillation. Incidentally, I suspect this is also a probable source of the quantity restriction of 100 gallons (single) / 200 gallons (household). The Conable bill also restricted use strictly to the homestead, no meetings, festivals or competitions. This feature was picked up by a number of states in their laws and something that needs changing.

Fortunately, in September 1978, the ATF dropped their opposition. Our hobby was included as part of a bill (HR-1337)that changed the tax code for buses and heavy trucks, in addition to changing the laws regarding homebrewing. In October, the bill was presented to President Carter who signed into on October 14th, 1978. Incidentally, all of this started officially all the way back in January of 1977. Fast - right?

So don't forget to raise a glass to Sen. Cranston, Rep. Conable, Jerry Brown, Jimmy Carter and most importantly, Lee Coe, founding member of The Draught Board, who was the homebrewer with a lot of drive and passion behind the efforts.

Some newsletter References:
Meeting with Lee Coe About the Bills
The Signing of California's Legalization Bill by Jerry Brown
With information about the other competing Federal bill to the Cranston Bill - the Conable Bill being defeated - the Conable Bill would have required Federal registration of homebrewing activities to help the ATF keep a finger on moonshiners.
President Carter signs the Cranston Bill
[url=http://www.maltosefalcons.com/system/files/private/V4%25234%204-79.pdf]The actual ATF change notice on the back page[/url]