June 20, 2008
The Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. Seventy-five years ago, the Division went by a different name and was its own Department– the Department of Malt and Vinous Beverages. Through stories and records handed down from agent to agent, we’re able to piece together an interesting past.
The Department of Malt and Vinous Beverages was first created at the end of Prohibition, which was from 1920 to 1933. In 1933, Amendment 21 to the U.S. Constitution repealed Amendment 18, which had made the manufacturing and sale of alcohol illegal. That year, the Florida Legislature created the Department of Malt and Vinous Beverages, and for the next four years, laws were created to regulate alcohol.
When the Department of Malt and Vinous Beverages was created, the cultural icon and notorious gangster Al Capone was serving time at Alcatraz, and the era of speakeasies and rumrunners was ending (the word “rumrunner” came from the people who went down to the Caribbean and smuggled rum back into the U.S.) Today, you’ll find a very different Division – one that has evolved over the years.
Immediately after Prohibition, alcohol was available in only a few Florida counties, and many counties prohibited spirits. Some people saw a business opportunity—an illegal one—in making moonshine. The Department of Malt and Vinous Beverages concentrated its enforcement efforts on finding moonshine stills and arresting those making illegal alcohol. When the Department’s name was changed to the Department of Beverages in 1935, the focus stayed the same – moonshine.
It was not until 1969 that the Department of Beverages became the Division of Beverages and fell under the Department of Business Regulation. In 1977, the Division’s name was expanded to include the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco and has remained the same ever since. Shortly after the name change, Governor Bob Graham ordered the Division to help reduce the sale of drugs in licensed premises, and this order was incorporated into the Division’s mission.
The Division has changed significantly over the years. While in the 1930’s, agents worked hard to protect citizens from bootleggers, now agents work to ensure that there is no illegal activity, including drug activity, in licensed establishments. Last week, ABT agents in Miami partnered with the Miami-Dade Police Department, the Miami Gardens Police Department, and the Opa-Locka Police Department and raided more than a dozen establishments with beverage licenses that were selling drug paraphernalia. Undercover officers purchased drug paraphernalia and arrested the clerks who sold them. This sting helped prevent neighborhood children from being exposed to and sold the drug paraphernalia.
Our agents are sworn law enforcement officers, and they make sure that alcoholic beverage licensees comply with state laws. As with any law enforcement job, they put themselves at risk day in and day out for our protection. As a former Police Chief and law enforcement officer, I know the commitment and passion that our agents give to achieving their mission. The mission of ABT is to keep alcohol and tobacco out of the hands of underage persons, to ensure that licensed establishments are in compliance with the laws and rules regulating the industry in Florida, and to collect taxes and fees related to these industries.
I’m proud of their work and of their 75-year history. If you see one of our agents, please help me to wish them a happy anniversary.
Department of Business and
1940 North Monroe Street
Tallahassee, Florida 32399
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