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After heated debate between wets and drys, Lubbock prepares to vote on whether to relax prohibition rules

Seventy-six years after America’s “noble experiment” with prohibition was brought to an end with a flourish of Franklin Roosevelt’s pen, pockets of the country have yet to catch up with the changing times.

Tomorrow the largest “dry” town in Texas will vote on whether its ban on the sale of wine, beer and spirits outside restaurants has lasted long enough. By all accounts, the population of 210,000 is evenly divided and the result too close to call.

Since the 1930s, the purchase of alcohol in shops and supermarkets has been prohibited in Lubbock and anyone wanting to buy a bottle to take home has had to drive about 40 minutes from the town centre to a collection of stores known as the Strip, where special dispensation has been granted.

Since 1972 the city has allowed wine and beer to be sold by the glass at restaurants and taverns, but the ban on over-the-counter sales remains.

Tomorrow’s poll is the most prominent in Texas since the state made it easier to petition for an anti-prohibition vote in 2003. In that time almost 200 Texas communities have voted to legalise alcohol sales.

Other towns with votes pending, including Paris and Tyler, are watching events in Lubbock closely.

The debate in the flat, dusty home town of such musical luminaries as Buddy Holly and Natalie Maines, of the Dixie Chicks, has been heated but civilised. A group called Truth About Alcohol Sales has led the campaign to keep the town dry.

The group has close ties to religious groups, notably the Baptists, who are influential in the town and across the Bible belt, but the organisers emphasise it is not an exclusively religious movement.

Co-chairman Brant O’Hair said his main motivation was to protect young people and victims of domestic violence from the detrimental effects of greater alcohol consumption. “I am putting my concern for fellow man before my own convenience,” he said.

Literature put out by the anti-change lobby suggests that “alcohol is the only psychoactive drug that in many individuals tends to increase aggressive behaviour temporarily while taking effect”.

O’Hair sees the vote as a battle of David and Goliath, as the lobby to turn the town wet has been backed by big commercial interests โ€“ notably the supermarket chain Wal-Mart. According to O’Hair, the wets have had more than $300,000 to spend on campaigning, compared with $60,000 or so in the coffers of the drys โ€“ a disparity he calls “offensive”.

Those pushing for a vote to allow alcohol sales in stores say their mission is to modernise the town and to no longer treat its citizens as children. Melissa Pierce, who heads Lubbock County Wins, which is pressing for change, said: “This is about responsible adults having freedom of choice and putting an end to a monopoly.”

By her calculations, alcohol costs about 40% more on the Strip than in neighbouring wet towns. “Lubbock is increasingly competing all over the country with other cities for jobs, businesses, citizens and anything that makes us look unprogressive could hurt us,” she said.

Pierce’s group has put up flyers debunking what it calls the myths of the prohibitionists. It points out that drink-driving deaths on the roads have dropped by more than 7% in Texas since 2003 when the neighbours started going wet.