Who is legally allowed to sell - and buy - alcohol?

When, where and how?

Why do the answers to those questions keep changing?

From Wednesday's Post and Courier: "New businesses selling alcoholic beverages in the heart of the historic tourist and nightlife district likely will have to close at midnight instead of 2 a.m., after the Charleston City Council Tuesday gave the plan initial approval."

The 12-1 first-reading margin makes the proposal a 101-proof favorite to become a city ordinance after two more readings. Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, Police Chief Greg Mullen and Tim Keane, city director of planning, preservation and sustainability, poured the idea to council members in a memorandum.

And if you intend to open a new bar that must close at midnight while established competitors keep serving until 2 a.m., you might need a stiff drink of your own.

Or you could buy an already-open bar - if you could find one for sale. Also from our story: "When businesses that now are allowed to stay open until 2 a.m. are sold, the new owners also can stay open until 2 a.m., Riley said. The purpose of the ordinance is to keep the number of such businesses from growing."

That sounds like a good idea to downtown residents fairly wary and weary of besotted rowdies loudly roaming their streets in the wee hours.

Then again, some misguided folks thought the 18th Amendment, aka Prohibition, was a good idea when it went into effect in 1920.

However, after 13 years of flowing cash into the nationwide spread of organized crime, the 21st Amendment ended that failed experiment.

Back to this century, from Thursday's Post and Courier:

"State lawmakers approved a virtual sea change in South Carolina's beer laws Wednesday, lifting restrictions to help craft breweries grow and attract outside beermakers with the potential to invest millions and hire hundreds."

The House margin was 96-0, the Senate's 43-1. More from that Thursday story: "Legislators also approved a provision that would do away with a ban on Election Day alcohol in exchange for a ban on Christmas Day sales."

Gee, another excuse for not voting:

You were too stinking drunk to drive to the polling place.

A liquored-up legacy

Sure, demon rum remains America's No. 1 drug problem.

But sloshed or sober, you should know that imbibing inebriating spirits is as American as gobbling hot dogs and apple pie. Fresh evidence of our hitting-the-bottle tradition from my unimpaired Friday morning drive to work:

A large beer truck parked at a Mount Pleasant convenience store was emblazoned with an inspiring image of a U.S. soldier saluting next to these words in large print: "Welcome Back to the High Life."

According to the Miller Coors website, that advertising message "illustrates Miller High Life's steadfast commitment to our country's veterans."

Hey, it's nice to know somebody - though clearly not the VA - still has a "steadfast commitment to our country's veterans."

OK, so drunks - including the mean, sweet, happy, sullen, chatty and weepy varieties - can be quite annoying.

Some are also dangerously belligerent. Drunks can even be deadly when driving.

So don't drink and drive.

Yet don't forget what a disaster Prohibition was, either.

And don't forget this vintage American lore:

Moonshine runners speeding away from federal tax "revenuers" are an intoxicating blend of Southern legend - and the forefathers of stock-car racing.

For a Northern exposure of alcoholic elixirs' benefits, review this dispatch about Gen. U.S. Grant from the Sept. 30, 1863, New York Herald:

"After the failure of his first experimental explorations around Vicksburg, a committee of abolition war managers waited upon the President and demanded the General's removal, on the false charge that he was a whiskey drinker, and little better than a common drunkard. 'Ah!' exclaimed Honest Old Abe, 'you surprise me, gentlemen. But can you tell me where he gets his whiskey?' 'We cannot, Mr. President. But why do you desire to know?' 'Because, if I can only find out, I will send a barrel of this wonderful whiskey to every general in the army.' "

One more for the road

Forward to a much more recent past:

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, wayward Charleston youth, including me, routinely patronized local bars.

Back then, the legal drinking age was 18. Back then, this then-drinker was regularly served alcohol in local taverns despite looking younger than my already-underage years.

Many pals also got an early start on drinking - often after midnight.

And look how great we turned out.

So if you, like me, don't drink, good for us.

But if you insist on living in a land where alcoholic beverages are verboten, try moving to Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq or Saudi Arabia.

Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is wooten@postandcourier.com.