How Did Absinthe Become Legal?


Cool right?  Here’s our story….

After being banned in the United States for 95 years, absinthe was made legal for purchase on March 5th, 2007.  How did this supposed ‘evil drink’ ever become legal?

The truth, according to Mr Robert C. Lehrman of Lehrman Beverage Law, PLLC, is that absinthe has technically been legal since 1938 or even before then: “the 1912 Food Inspection Decision that originally banned absinthe was repealed in 1938 by the creation of the FDA and had not been enforceable even prior to 1938.” In other words, due to legal technicalities, the 1912 ban on absinthe has essentially been invalid for most of its 95 year lifespan.

However, this is a legal technicality and does not illuminate in any way why evil absinthe is now legal.  After all, even if the 1912 ban was invalid due to legal reasons, doesn’t absinthe nevertheless make people hallucinate and go insane? Forget legal reasons — how did they get around the humanitarian reasons for keeping the ban in place?

The thing to recognize — and the thing which probably led the US government to ban absinthe in the first place — is that absinthe in its modern incarnation is not actually harmful, but its connotation most certainly is.  To explain: over a century ago, a highly effective propaganda drive created the perception of absinthe as an ‘evil’ drink — really more of a ‘drug’ — that was responsible for societal ills.

In the 2000s, two different lawyers, Robert C. Lehrman and Jared Gurfein, separately spent several years prior to 2007 convincing the US government to allow absinthe, and surprisingly, according to Lehrman, the US government refused — but not because absinthe was harmful; rather, the government refused to allow absinthe because the negative connotation of the term itself had persisted and, if anything, was just as strong as it was a hundred years ago.  In Lehrman’s words, “TTB [Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau] confirmed that the product was safe… but… TTB would not allow it to be labeled as ‘absinthe.’… TTB said it was an illegal drug term.”

In other words, the government did not care that absinthe was safe; it cared that people perceived it as extremely unsafe — indeed, as an “illegal drug.” To this day, absinthe carries with it numerous connotations that distort and exaggerate what it really is: a very strong and unique herbal spirit with an unusually rich history.



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