Yes, Real Absinthe Is Legal In The US

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absinthe-flagIt's true.  After 95 years, real absinthe is now legally available and being sold inside the United States in bars and stores.

We don't say it's been "legalized" because no laws have changed. It appears that absinthe has been technically legal since the 1960s, possibly as early as the 1930s.  What happened?

Contrary to claims made by some companies, federal bureaucrats were not pressured into legalizing absinthe, it was merely demonstrated to them that it was already legal.  Due to changes in the understanding of these regulatory issues on the part of both the agencies and the producers, genuine absinthe is once again available legally in the US.  Here's why:

The law1 states that all foods and beverages containing Artemisia species must be thujone-free.  However, according to the law, "thujone-free" does not literally mean "zero thujone." 

In order to determine thujone content, an official method for thujone analysis was prescribed.  Although the information has been published and accessible since the 1960s, prior to 2007 it was not widely known that the threshold of tolerance—the fudge factor—for this method was ten parts per million, about 10 mg/L. 

This effectively legalizes most absinthes, since authentic absinthe contains only minute traces of thujone in the first place. The highest thujone levels so far detected in pre-ban samples is 48.3 mg/L, the lowest was "none detected." 2

Many pre-ban era absinthes would be legal in the US today by modern government standards.  Discovering this was a major breakthrough for absinthe in the US.

Most of the laws that impact absinthe in the US are out-dated, convoluted, un-evenly enforced, and misunderstood even by those charged with enforcing them.

 

 

1. CFR 21 172.510

2. "Chemical Composition of Vintage Preban Absinthe with Special Reference to Thujone, Fenchone, Pinocamphone, Methanol, Copper, and Antimony Concentrations" - Lachenmeier, et al, 1980, J. Agric. Food Chem. 2008, 56, 3073–3081

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