When we’re asking if something is a controlled substance, it’s important to consider first what a “controlled substance” is.

While laws that require liquor stores to check ID, to close at 9:00 PM, and to have a government license do “control” the purchase of alcohol somewhat, that’s not what we’re talking about here. “Controlled substance” doesn’t refer to anything that has laws regulating availability, sale, possession, or use.

In the legal realm, “controlled substance” refers to government list of drugs. In Wisconsin, this is specifically the list covered by the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, Chapter 961 of the Wisconsin Statutes. Chapter 961 includes things like methamphetamines, marijuana, crack / cocaine, heroin, and a number of other drugs. The federal government also has a Controlled Substances Act, and the Wisconsin and federal lists have a massive amount of overlap – but they’re not the exact same list.

To answer the question, alcohol is not a controlled substance according to the legal definition – even though there are many, many laws regulating its availability, sale, possession, and use.

In fact, alcohol wasn’t even a controlled substance during Prohibition. Part of this is because we didn’t even have a Controlled Substances Act back then, but another part of it was that it wasn’t really “regulated” – it was just outright banned. This may seem like a distinction without a difference, but it’s an important distinction. Prohibition was an amendment to the Constitution, not a line item in an administrative rule like the Controlled Substances Act. To repeal Prohibition, another amendment was needed. Drugs covered by the federal Controlled Substances Act can be added or removed with a (relatively) simple vote from Congress, or even by the executive branch without explicit congressional approval.

Despite the fact that alcohol isn’t a controlled substance, this doesn’t mean that alcohol use is completely safe or without risk. We know that excessive alcohol use contributes to fights and other violent crimes, general danger to the public from crimes like drunk driving, etc.

This is why almost every government regulates it to some degree. Most state and local governments have regulations that cover the manufacturing, sale, possession, and use of alcohol. Some states and local governments even ban its sale outright. But again, these are “regulations”, “not control” by the legal definition.

Bottom line? Is alcohol a controlled substance? No. Is it a heavily regulated substance? Yes. Should you exercise care when using it? Absolutely. And if you find yourself in a bad situation due to substance issues – regulated, controlled, or otherwise – don’t hesitate to pick up the phone, call a Wisconsin criminal lawyer, and get the help you need!

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