This week’s Nanny State involves a trip into the Way-Back Machine, to a time almost 100 years ago.
You see, kids, back in the early 20th Century, there was actually a time when drinking alcohol was illegal in this country. It was called Prohibition, and for about 12 years it was a serious crime to be caught making or selling booze.
Luckily, times have changed and we now recognize that Prohibition was a serious misstep by the federal government that did more harm than … hold on, what’s the date on this story from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune? Does that say “February 11, 2016,” right above the headline that explains how two Minnesota men are facing felony charges – yes, felony charges – for selling beer?
Yes, it’s true. Two men in Maple Grove, Minnesota, were arrested this week and slapped with felony charges of transporting alcohol for resale without a license. They were nabbed as part of what the Star-Tribune called an “unusual bust” involving undercover state investigators.
Unusual, yes. Anachronistic too.
The illegal beer was a keg of Spotted Cow, a popular brew made in Wisconsin by the New Glarus Brewing Company. New Glarus does not distribute their products in Minnesota (or anywhere outside of Wisconsin, for that matter).
According to police, Maple Tavern owner Brandon Hlavka, 37, of St. Michael, and manager David Lantos, 28, of Brooklyn Park, made a beer-run across the border to buy a keg of the Spotted Cow, which they brought back to their bar and tapped for customers.
Here’s how it went down, according to the Star-Tribune: “The Wisconsin Department of Revenue received an anonymous tip about the alcohol-related crime and contacted Minnesota’s Department of Public Safety, according to the criminal complaint. Undercover officers visited the bar on April 13, ordered Spotted Cow from the tap and secretly tested the beer, which proved stronger than 3.2 percent alcohol.”
Those sleuths at the Department of Public Safety eventually uncovered a total of three kegs of Spotted Cow in the bar and found a receipt for 10 kegs purchased from Wisconsin liquor stores. It sure is good to know that public health menace has been removed.
The whole thing only gets more insane when you think about the details.
The two men bought the beer in Wisconsin, which is legal.
They brought it back across the border to Minnesota, which is legal (full disclosure: this reporter brings at least one six-pack of what he has code-named “Spotty Moo Moo” into Minnesota every time he visits Wisconsin) as long as you don’t re-sell the product.
They served it in a bar that has a license to sell beer in Minnesota, which is also legal.
And even though those three things are legal in the abstract, when you put them together it is a recipe for a felony offense.
They are officially charged with transportation of alcohol into Minnesota for resale without a license.
The last three words are really all that matters. Without a government-issued permission slip, all those otherwise-legal activities suddenly become serious crimes in the eyes of the Minnesota state government.
The final absurdity is the fact that Hlvaka and Lantos have been charged with a felony. Under Minnesota law, all felonies are punishable by at least one year in prison – let’s hope they get shipped off to Alcatraz like all those other famous bootleggers, right?
Ironically enough, Minnesota was somewhat famous during actual Prohibition for looking the other way when it came to bootlegging (and the organized crime that went with it). The capital city of St. Paul was considered a “safe city” for gangsters on the run from cops in Chicago and elsewhere, even though the author of the federal law that gave teeth to the 18th Amendment of the Constitution hailed from western Minnesota.
But now, long after Prohibition has ended, Minnesota might send two men to jail for selling beer. That’s life in the Nanny State. I need a drink.
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