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Mississippians are drinking at a record pace during the pandemic

By Bobby Harrison

Mississippi Today

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has driven Mississippians to drink.

“When COVID hit, apparently everybody started buying toilet paper, liquor, fitness equipment and they started renovating their homes,” said Chris Graham, commissioner of the Department of Revenue. “Just overnight, our numbers (liquor sales) went through the roof. In March our numbers went way up and continued through December.”

Such is the dichotomy that is Mississippi: the heart of the conservative Bible Belt, where liquor was not made legal until 1966 and where until this day four counties remain dry for liquor and beer sales. Heck, in some counties before the law was changed in 2020, it was illegal to even possess liquor.

Former Gov. William Winter, who passed away recently, used to tell stories of collecting a liquor tax for the state in the 1950s during his tenure as tax collector even though the entire state was dry.

For much of the time since the pandemic hit in full force in March, socially conservative Mississippi has led the nation in terms of growth of liquor sales, Graham recently told a legislative committee.

The Alcohol Beverage Control, which is a division of the state Department of Revenue, regulates liquor sales in the state and also is the supplier of liquor and wine to the state’s 1,600 restaurants and catering services and more than 600 liquor stores. Graham said in a normal year, ABC delivers about 3.5 million cases of liquor and wine, but delivered about 4 million during 2020.