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Rebecca Spicer

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Cheers to America's Alcohol System

Posted: 12/05/11 08:45 AM ET

Have you seen any of these headlines recently? "Warning over fake vodka." "Antifreeze chemicals found in fake booze." "Dodgy vodka could kill, warn environmental health experts." Chances are you probably haven't read these headlines because they didn't happen here.

These headlines are from other countries that don't benefit from the American system of alcohol regulation -- the very system that is celebrating its anniversary today.

On December 5, 1933, Utah, Pennsylvania and Ohio ratified the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, giving it the three-quarters majority needed to legally repeal the 18th Amendment and end the 13 years of national Prohibition.

As Ken Burns illustrated in his recent PBS documentary Prohibition, the era "turned law-abiding citizens into criminals, made a mockery of the justice system, caused illicit drinking to seem glamorous and fun, encouraged neighborhood gangs to become national crime syndicates, permitted government officials to bend and sometimes even break the law, and fostered cynicism and hypocrisy that corroded the social contract all across the country." These unintended consequences also are chronicled and well-publicized in HBO's popular series Boardwalk Empire.

As evident in those televised programs, a national, one-size-fits-all approach to alcohol regulation proved to be ineffective. In search of a solution, Congress responded with the 21st Amendment which not only repealed Prohibition but also established today's state-based system of alcohol regulations.

Nearly 80 years later, this system is the international gold standard as it successfully balances a dynamic marketplace with community protections such as ID checks and anti-drunk driving laws. The U.S. system also works to protect consumers because alcohol can be traced and tracked unlike any other product. While incidents are rare, brewers and importers can work seamlessly with distributors and retailers to quickly identify a potentially effected product and quickly pull it from store shelves. When there was an incident of this nature several years ago, it never even made headlines because the suspect bottles of beer were removed from the marketplace within a matter of hours.

Today's system also supports some 13,000 different labels of beer available in the U.S. marketplace. America's 3,300 beer distributors and their 98,000 hardworking employees are proud to serve as partners with brewers and retailers to make this possible. It's why I can go home to Tennessee and enjoy a craft beer from Vermont and the reason I can order a great California brew after spending a day at a Delaware beach.

As President Franklin D. Roosevelt said after declaring an end to Prohibition, "I think this would be a good time for a beer." I hope you'll join me in raising a glass to celebrate the anniversary of Prohibition's repeal, and today's effective, state-based system of alcohol regulation that safely delivers your favorite beer!