Why Cities Should Consider Relaxing Open Container Laws


R Street's Jarrett Dieterle and Jonathan Coppage wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post on why more cities should consider easing their open container laws to allow for public drinking. They argue that doing so is not nearly as extreme of an idea as it may sound:

Every September, thousands make their way to the District’s H Street neighborhood for the H Street Festival. The outdoor event features 10 blocks of live music, exhibits, karaoke stages, kids zones, mobile portrait studios and a fashion stage. But for an event that seemingly has everything under the sun, visitors are still forced to drink in the shade.

Aside from a “liquor garden” or beer garden, most of the alcohol consumption that takes place at the H Street Festival is required to occur inside nearby bars and apart from the rest of the festival’s activities. Most other city festivals around the country operate similarly, keeping drinking to dark interiors and away from the sunshine. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Several cities have recently relaxed their public drinking laws, and it’s time more consider following suit...

[S]igns are emerging that the pendulum may be swinging back toward more lenient outdoor drinking. In recent years, numerous cities have eased up on their public drinking restrictions, and now towns as distinct as Fort Worth, Tex., and Erie, Penn. — and many in between — allow some form of public imbibing.

Formerly sleepy suburbs and towns are trying to develop their own downtown core, to become a place and not just a collection of bedrooms. They have recruited restaurant and shops, overhauled their zoning and repaved their streets. City leaders have realized that keeping every guest of these new establishments locked up inside the bar where they bought their beer will keep the newly built town squares unnaturally empty. Seeking to to breathe life into these new, dynamic districts, towns such as Duluth, Ga., have opened up their outdoors. Relaxing drinking laws can create buzz and energy, since it helps attract both new businesses and residents and allows vendors to share customers and atmosphere in a positive-sum game, rather than a cut-throat competition to lock people up indoors...

Read the whole piece here.

Michigan liquor regulators lift half-mile rule for liquor stores


DrinksReform.org has previously highlighted Michigan's "half-mile rule," which prohibits liquor stores in the state from operating within a half-mile radius of each other. According to The Detroit News, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission has voted to repeal the rule, although there's a chance the state legislature could overrule the commission and keep the rule in place:

"The Michigan Liquor Control Commission on Tuesday voted to lift a long-standing rule prohibiting liquor stores from operating within a half-mile of each other, advancing the plan despite opposition from existing owners and public safety concerns.

Approval from the three-member panel allows the rule-making process to proceed following a contentious public comment period. Michigan legislators could still intervene before the rule is officially revoked..."

Read the whole story here.

The Latest Texas Litigation Involving the Three-Tiered System


Texas courts have seen their fair share of litigation involving the state's three-tiered alcohol distribution system, which forbids any tier from owning even a minimal ownership interest in any other tier. MyStatesman.com reports on another recent federal case about the state's three-tiered system, in which the judge said the system was "absurd" but that he was legally bound by it:

"In a decision that even the judge who wrote it conceded was ridiculous, a Texas court this month concluded the state’s Byzantine liquor laws prohibit most publicly traded companies from doing business here, including such giants as Anheuser-Busch and Molson Coors Brewing. Experts say the ruling could upend Texas’ $40 billion booze industry.

Administrative Law Judge Robert Jones Jr., acknowledged his legal conclusion — that a large alcohol distributing company in business for years was technically ineligible for a state liquor license — made little sense. “The ALJ sympathizes with the absurdity of the outcome in this case,” he wrote.

But, the judge added, he had little choice in the matter. State lawmakers had failed to clean up vague laws to prevent cross-ownership among alcohol manufacturers, distributors and retailers — potentially defined by as little as one person owning a single share of stock each in companies in different sectors of the booze business...

Yet identifying and maintaining the boundaries has become increasingly complicated as corporate structures have grown more sophisticated. Regulators have struggled to identify where to draw cross-ownership lines, particularly with publicly traded companies boasting multiple layers of ownership and millions of investors. Individuals within giant pension funds can own shares in both alcohol manufacturers and retailers without even realizing it.

In the meantime, the number of businesses seeking Texas alcohol permits has soared, straining regulators’ resources. the commission now processes about 87,000 applications annually. Last year, it received approximately 17,000 new applications requiring the commission to vet the ownership of each business to ensure no tier boundaries were being crossed..."

Read more about the entire saga here.

Colorado panel rejects limits on full-strength beer at grocers, convenience stores


Last year, Colorado passed legislation that loosened the state's retailing restrictions on full-strength beer, as well as enacting other reforms (previously covered here on DrinksReform.org). To hammer out the exact details of implementing this legislation, the state created an advisory panel, which makes recommendations to the state legislature. According to the Denver Business Journal, the panel recently weighed in against a proposal that would have limited the types and amounts of stronger beer that groceries and convenience stores could sell under the new law:

"A working group of interested parties Friday overwhelmingly rejected a controversial proposal to have the Colorado Legislature limit the amount and strength of beer that grocers and convenience stores can begin selling in 2019.

Instead, the panel recommended that the Legislature allow all current licenses for selling low-strength beer to convert seamlessly into licenses for full-strength beer at that time.

With that, a committee that has been meeting since August 2016 dispatched what is likely to be its final report on how the state should implement Senate Bill 197, a law passed last year that makes the most substantial changes to alcohol sales in Colorado since the end of Prohibition in 1933.

And it is now up to the Legislature to decide how, if at all, to implement the changes the group has backed..."

Read the full story about implementing Colorado's reforms here.

The Last Frontier: The Online Economy and Booze


You can get online delivery of almost every product under the sun these days, but booze remains a stubborn exception. In Forbes, R Street's Jarrett Dieterle takes a look at what's stopping the on-demand and online economy from fully extending to the alcohol industry:

Alcohol chain retailer Total Wine & More recently announced a partnership with the app Minibar Delivery to launch an on-demand booze delivery system in Arlington, Virginia. The service, which includes free two-hour delivery, contained a notable exception: no hard spirits. Amazon Prime likewise started delivering beer and wine last month in Portland, Oregon. But again, the service did not include hard spirits.

Beltway millennials and Portlandian hipsters may be left wondering why their on-demand experience is being restricted in a way that seems so totally arbitrary. The answer is outdated alcohol laws that need updating...

The good news is that there’s hope. Evidence suggests that millennials prefer online shopping to the brick-and-mortar alternative, and many younger Americans have grown accustomed to having the world at their fingertips. It’s unlikely that a young mom hosting a weeknight barbeque in Portland will be sympathetic to rules that say she can have extra hamburgers delivered to her house in under an hour, but not a spare bottle of rum to add to the punch. Likewise, a recent college graduate working in Arizona’s solar fields may wonder why she’s unable to have her favorite small batch Kentucky bourbon delivered to her door within two days, just like the rest of her purchases...

Read the whole piece here.

Pennsylvania Regulators Just Made It Harder for Restaurants to Order Fine Wine


Pennsylvania's Liquor Control Board (recently in the news for its liquor mark-ups) has struck again. According to The Inquirer, the PLCB has enacted new rules that will make it more difficult for restaurants in the state to obtain fine wine:

"Pennsylvania restaurateurs are alarmed by changes the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is making to the way they buy wines and spirits that are not carried by state stores.

Starting Oct. 1, restaurant owners and other licensees ordering through the state’s special liquor order (SLO) system will have to pay 100 percent up-front, and they won’t be allowed to inspect an order when they pick it up at the state store. To fix an order or get their money back, a convoluted seven-step process is involved.

The agency is implementing this new model on relatively short notice and at the beginning of the restaurant industry’s busiest season..."

Read more here.

Utah Governor Suggests New DUI Law Could Be Tweaked


Earlier this year, Utah signed a controversial DUI law that would lower the blood-alcohol limit for drunk driving to .05, from .08. This gave Utah the lowest DUI limit in the nation (see previous DrinksReform.org coverage here). Perhaps in response to blowback concerning this change--even MADD came out against it--Gov. Gary Herbert is signaling that the law could be reformed, according to The Salt Lake Tribune:

"While he’s backed off plans to call a special legislative session this year to alter Utah’s new toughest-in-the-nation drunken driving law, Gov. Gary Herbert on Thursday outlined some major changes he would like to see next year.

Those include imposing lighter penalties for those who barely exceed the new 0.05 percent blood alcohol limit for impairment, while continuing existing tougher punishment for those who violate the current 0.08 standard.

Another option, Herbert said, may be to delay the effective date of the law — now set to kick in on Dec. 30, 2018 — until after perhaps two or three other states pass similar legislation..."

Read more here.



Man Arrested in Pennsylvania for Selling Bottle of Whiskey Secondhand


R Street has long favored legalizing the secondary spirits market to allow individuals to freely sell and buy antique and other previously-purchased spirits. As R Street's Kevin Kosar has written:

It seems like every month, I get an email or two from strangers asking me the same question. They read something like this: “Hi. My elderly father died, and when I was cleaning out his house to get it ready for sale, I found some very old looking bottles. Some of them are not open. Are they worth anything?”

Unfortunately, my response never is especially encouraging. There is, I inform them, no licit secondhand market for alcoholic beverages, for the most part... It is a confounding situation, which means, of course, it was created by government. People long have been free to sell their stuff. One need only visit an antique shop or a Goodwill store. There is a market for nearly everything, whether old baseball cards, DVDs and music cassette tapes, or jewelry, antique knives or eye glasses. The garage sale is an American tradition.

Yet various laws forbid consumers from reselling a previously purchased alcoholic beverage, even if it has not been opened... [More here].

Right on cue, the York Daily Record is reporting that Pennsylvania liquor authorities have arrested an out-of-state man for advertising a bottle of whiskey on Craigslist:

"A Maryland man who police say used Craigslist to sell a $750 bottle of whiskey was charged with violating Pennsylvania's liquor laws.

Paul Thompson, 60, of Westminster, was sent a summons for the misdemeanor unlawful sale of liquor. He was also cited for possession or transportation of liquor...

The criminal summons has nothing to do with Thompson crossing state lines, said Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. Adam Reed. Instead, it simply comes down to the state's liquor code, which bans the sale of liquor and alcohol without a license.

'It's pretty cut and dry,' Reed said. He added that officers with liquor control enforcement keep an eye out for these types of cases. He called it somewhat common for people to use places like Facebook or other online platforms to sell higher-end liquor and wine.

While the law might be simple, it was not necessarily designed to target individuals who sell without a license, argues Kevin Hoffman, a York-based attorney and adjunct criminal law professor at York College..."

Read the whole article here.




Free The Booze! DrinksReform.org's Weekly Roundup

Welcome to "Free the Booze," DrinksReform.org's new weekly newsletter! Each week, we will bring you the latest news, commentary, and research on efforts to reform the policies that regulate alcoholic beverages and stifle entrepreneurs in the drinks industry.

Our goal is to foster a community of individuals and groups involved in the world of alcohol—brewers, distillers, vintners, bartenders, and retailers—and everyone in between. We want to hear your stories and experiences with alcohol laws and regulations and how they affect your day-to-day business. Please feel free to reach out to our editor, Jarrett Dieterle, with tips and stories about drink reform efforts (or anything else!). 

DrinksReform.org is a project of the R Street Institute. We are the only national think tank with a dedicated alcohol policy team. In fact, we like to style ourselves as the nation's first "Drink Tank." We favor rational alcoholic beverage policies that respect individual freedom, free enterprise, and the public well-being. You can see some of our work on alcohol policy here. Join us in our effort by receiving (and promoting!) our newsletter, following us on Twitter and Facebook, and checking out our website DrinksReform.org. Together we can #FreeTheDrinks!

How Amazon Could Disrupt the Booze Industry


In recent months, Amazon has started to expand its booze delivery services to more cities (covered on DrinksReform.org here). However, restrictions on mailing alcohol as well as a bevy of state and local laws make such a service difficult. CNBC has an article on Amazon's foray into the alcohol world--and how Amazon's recent acquisition of Whole Foods could play a role:

"Alcohol has been mostly out of grasp for Amazon — until recently. Even with a network as vast and complex as Amazon, the logistics of shipping booze is somewhat nightmarish.

Intoxicating liquor can't be mailed in the U.S., and services like FedEx have strict requirements for delivery. Then there are individual state mandates on both shipping and retailing, not to mention the need to check the ID of every purchaser.

But at the end of August, Amazon quietly expanded the cities included in the alcohol delivery service through Prime Now, one of its subscriber services that mainly delivers groceries...

Amazon's acquisition of natural grocer Whole Foods gives it physical locations that could help it realize its 'strong interest in home delivery of beer,' MillerCoors wrote in a blog post about the merger. It could, for instance, allow consumers to 'click and collect' their beer at a local Whole Foods..."

Read the rest here.

In a similar vein, The Drinks Business also recently ran an article on Amazon and alcohol:

According to CNBC, online booze sales had been “Amazon proof” due to the complexity of the regulations surrounding online alcohol sales and delivery, but this was set to change following the company’s acquisition of around 450 Whole Food stores across the US, more than half of which sell wine and beer.

The surprise $13.7 billion (£10.7 billion) deal in which Amazon announced its intention to buy the organic food and drink specialist was first announced in June, with analysts on both side of the pond calling it a ‘wake-up call” for retailers across the US and UK. It is widely anticipated that Amazon will boost its click and collect service so that customer can pick up beer and wine sales at Whole Foods’ stores, and the online giant has also quietly expanded the cities covered by Amazon Prime for beer and wine delivery...

More here.