Watered-Down Beer Turns Into Watered-Down Reforms


We’ve written about weak beer laws before in this space—including calling for Utah to get rid of its 3.2-percent alcohol-by-weight cap that limited the strength of beers that could be sold by grocery stores in the state. Utah finally reformed the cap earlier this year, leaving Minnesota as the only state left in the country with a 3.2 law. But as R Street’s Jarrett Dieterle points out in a recent piece for Governing, the states that have repealed their 3.2 laws have simply replaced them with a slightly higher cap:

Today, 3.2 laws are mostly a thing of the past. This is because a handful of state legislatures -- including long-time holdouts Kansas, Oklahoma and Utah -- have cleared away their versions in recent years. Minnesota is now the last state to limit convenience stores and groceries to 3.2 beer. (Unlike some former variants of 3.2 laws in other states, Minnesota permits licensed liquor stores to sell stronger beer).

This string of modern reforms may seem to beer-lovers like cause for celebration, but the reality is that America's weak-beer wars are far from over. Not only does Minnesota still have its law on the books, but many of the states that did repeal their 3.2 laws merely replaced them with slightly less onerous versions.

For instance, while Kansas overturned its 3.2 law this year, it ended up only raising the permissible alcohol level for beer to 6 percent alcohol-by-volume. Because of the different units of measure -- the original 3.2 laws used alcohol-by-weight, whereas Kansas' new limit uses alcohol-by-volume -- the reform is less than meets the eye: A 6 percent ABV beer is actually only a 4.7 percent ABW brew, a disappointingly modest increase. Oklahoma did slightly better in raising its threshold to 8.99 percent ABV (around 7 percent ABW) while Utah was only able to muster a raise to 5 percent ABV (around 4 percent ABW).

The larger issue is that these new limits are still completely arbitrary and especially unsuited to the modern craft-beer era…

Read the rest here.

The Benefits of Legalizing Sunday Liquor Sales


Numerous states around the country still restrict or prohibit the sale of distilled spirits on Sundays, a Prohibition era relic known as “blue laws.” Last year, Minnesota took steps to legalize Sunday sales, and now a wave of additional states—including West Virginia, Texas, North Carolina, and South Carolina—are considering similar legislation. Doing so is a good idea from both a revenue-raising perspective and as a freedom-enhancing measure. A recent article for the Duluth News Tribune by Lindsey Stroud of the Heartland Institute recaps the economic success stemming from Minnesota’s reform:

July 2019 will mark two years since Minnesota repealed its Prohibition-era ban on selling alcohol on Sundays. In 2017, then-Gov. Mark Dayton, a DFLer, signed legislation "allowing for the sale of alcohol from stores on Sundays between the hours of 11 a.m. and 6 p.m."…

To understand the impact of Sunday sales, it's actually better to look at excise tax collections. An estimated 75 percent to 80 percent of all sales, as measured in volume, occur at off-premise establishments. According to data from the Minnesota Department of Revenue, the state collected an estimated $86.8 million in annual excise taxes during the pre-Sunday sales period. Since Sunday sales began, excise taxes have increased to $90.4 million, a growth rate of 4.2 percent. Typically, alcohol tax revenue grows around 2 percent to 2.5 percent annually. Sunday sales in Minnesota seems to have generated a much higher revenue growth rate.

Moreover, with full-strength beer sales boosted as well, it's safe to say that Sunday sales has provided an economic gain to Minnesotans and will continue to do so…

Stroud’s entire article is well worth a read (here).

Minnesota Benefitting from Sunday Sales


Last year, Minnesota allowed Sunday alcohol sales. After a year, evidence suggests that this has been a beneficial move. While some businesses have seen this impact more than others, this is a sign of consumers choosing their product as opposed to harming the economy. Some people that were formerly opposed to allowing Sunday sales are now eating their words:

One year ago, on July 1, Sunday liquor store sales became legal in Minnesota for the first time. Although there are no definitive figures available to determine the economic impact on state liquor tax revenue and liquor store operations, there is some evidence it's been a positive move.

"It's not too soon to eat my words from last year," said Edina City Manager Scott Neal, who oversees operations at the city's three municipal liquor stores.

Last year he was among the majority of liquor store operators who thought Sunday liquor sales would be a money-losing proposition. Instead, he estimates gross sales are up about $240,000, with about $50,000 of that being profit.

Read the whole article here.

Is it time to let Minnesotans buy booze in grocery stores?


Minnesota recently legalized Sunday alcohol sales, and now some commentators in the state are wondering whether the next step should be to permit grocery stores to sell alcohol. Mike Mullen writes for City Pages:

We Americans are a divided people. Especially when it comes to who gets to buy booze at grocery stores, convenience stores, and gas stations. 

Such laws are set state-by-state, leading to a patchwork regulatory scheme that swings wildly as one crosses borders. Consider Minnesota's neighbor states: North Dakota does not allow alcohol sales at grocery stores; South Dakota and Iowa do; Wisconsin leaves it up to local governments to decide. The majority of states have legal grocery store liquor sales of some kind.

With the curious, fabulous exception of Sentyrz Market in northeast Minneapolis, Minnesota allows for the sale of 3.2 beer (insert Monty Python joke), and nothing else. That might be about to change.

Well, someday. Maybe. 

A bill that would allow beer, wine, and "Minnesota-distilled spirits" to be sold at "food retailer" stores in Minnesota will get an "informational hearing" on Wednesday, as flagged by Minnesota Public Radio's Briana Bierschbach. The "informational" nature means shoppers shouldn't get their hopes up this year. Committee deadlines passed long ago, and Minnesota's (already highly productive) 2018 legislative session ends in a week.

But next year? Sure, yeah. Maybe...

Read the whole column here.

Challenge to Minnesota's In-State Grape Growing Requirement Rejected


Last year, two Minnesota wineries brought a case challenging the state's requirement that all state-based wineries use Minnesota grapes in their wine (a requirement that doesn't apply to breweries in the state who frequently purchase out-of-state hops and other ingredients). Represented by the Institute for Justice, the wineries argued that the restriction violated the U.S. Constitution. According to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, however, a federal judge has rejected the challenge (although there are plans for an appeal):

A federal judge has rejected a lawsuit brought by a pair of Minnesota vineyards objecting to a Minnesota law that most state wineries must use mostly Minnesota grapes to make their wine.

The Star Tribune reports on the ruling, which dealt a blow to New Prague's Next Chapter Winery and  Alexis Bailly Vineyard in Hastings, which had claimed that the state rule unfairly hampered their business by blocking them from using, say, mostly California grapes in their Minnesota wine.

U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright didn't rule on the merits of the state's law but said the wineries lacked grounds to sue because they had a way around it. Minnesota lets wineries that obtain a manufacturing license to make wine with any grapes they choose. But that would mean giving up direct sales to consumers, because of a separate state law...

More here.


Minnesotans mob liquor stores to buy booze on Sundays for first time

Minnesota has finally repealed its Sunday "blue law," and Minnesotans are rejoicing by, uh, being able to buy booze on Sundays, of course! The Mercury News reports:

"People were lined up at the door to Haskell’s on Sunday morning. Others drove by the St. Paul liquor store honking and hooting.

The occasion: They were able to buy booze from a liquor store on Sunday, for the first time ever.

After a lifetime of no Sunday sales in Minnesota it was an adjustment for some. 'Yes, it’s new for all of us,'  Haskell’s manager Brent Gregoire said. 'I was just saying it feels like a Friday or a Monday.'

The ability to buy booze in Minnesota on Sundays came when state lawmakers, after years of rejecting Sunday sales, passed a bill this year wiping one of Minnesota’s so-called “blue laws” from the books. The change came after a big lobbying campaign helped sway public opinion and won over state lawmakers..."

Read more here: http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/07/03/minnesotans-mob-liquor-stores-to-buy-booze-on-sundays-for-first-time-in-a-century/

Uncorking Economic Opportunity in Minnesota and Beyond

The Institute for Justice recently filed a lawsuit challenging Minnesota's restrictions on in-state wineries using out-of-state grapes for their wines. IJ's Meagan Forbes explains:

"The U.S. Constitution guarantees free trade among the states, and free trade has been a hallmark of American economic freedom ever since our nation’s founding. Now—more than 200 years later—Minnesota is violating this founding ideal at the expense of local farm wineries by limiting the grapes from other states that Minnesota winemakers can use to make their wines.

I know what you are thinking: wine from Minnesota? How? Most drinkable wines are made from grapes that struggle in the state’s extremely cold and harsh climate. Winemaking grapes grown in the region are a recent and promising phenomenon but they are often too acidic for most wine drinkers. So to make delicious wines, winemakers blend Minnesota-grown grapes with grapes grown elsewhere to create an essentially Minnesotan wine that is also drinkable.

Unfortunately, after opening their wineries, winemakers face a major obstacle to growth: The state bans farm wineries from making their wine with a majority of grapes grown outside Minnesota. This restriction forces farm wineries to buy a majority of their grapes from Minnesota growers, even when these grapes do not suit their winemaking needs. This trade restriction therefore prevents farm wineries from expanding their offerings to the broad variety of wines that their customers want. The law does not apply to the state’s thriving craft breweries that use hops grown in the Pacific Northwest, where the climate is much more suitable than the Upper Midwest. In other words, breweries can decide what is best for their customers, but farm wineries cannot..."

Read the rest here: http://ij.org/ll/june-2017-volume-26-issue-3/uncorking-economic-opportunity-minnesota-beyond/

This is yet another example of using economic liberty litigation to reform protectionist alcohol laws. R Street's Jarrett Dieterle recently authored a policy study on this potential trend: http://www.drinksreform.org/blog-1/2017/6/13/new-alcohol-policy-study-could-economic-liberty-litigation-free-the-booze

Why this year's version of the omnibus liquor bill in Minnesota is getting so much pushback

Earlier this year, Minnesota O.K.ed a proposal to allow liquor stores to sell booze on Sundays, and apparently some of the state's legislators have decided that that's enough reform for one year. Briana Bierschbach has the full story for MinnPost:

"For years, budding booze industries have had a good thing going in St. Paul. 

Minnesota legislators opened up the gates in 2011 with the “Surly bill,” named after the popular Minneapolis craft brewery that spearheaded an effort to allow breweries to serve pints of their beer on-site. A few years later, a bill followed that allowed craft distilleries to serve their own products on-site as well. Those changes helped start a craft alcohol boom, with taprooms and cocktail rooms opening up across Minnesota.

In the years since, legislators from both parties have opened up the laws even more, allowing small breweries and cocktail rooms to directly sell niche servings of their product, like 64-ounce jugs known as growlers, for customers to take home.

But a new slew of proposals introduced during the 2017 session, measures that would expand growler and craft liquor sales even more, are now in doubt. And at least part of the reason, advocates say, is because of another change the industry supported: Sunday liquor sales.

Legislators voted earlier this session to lift the state’s 159-year-old prohibition on Sunday liquor sales, a proposal long opposed by many of the state’s small independent liquor stores.

Dayton signed the Sunday liquor sales bill in March, and legislators who were on the fence over the issue have said the feel that lifting the ban is enough changes to the state’s alcohol regulation for one session. So now they’re pushing back on a handful of changes in the omnibus liquor bill, the state’s yearly package of alcohol law changes..."

Read the rest of the story here: https://www.minnpost.com/politics-policy/2017/05/why-years-version-omnibus-liquor-bill-getting-so-much-pushback-capitol

DrinksReform.org previously covered Minnesota's Sunday liquor sales reform: http://www.drinksreform.org/blog-1/2017/4/19/minnesota-sunday-liquor-sales-bill-gets-final-ok-dayton-to-sign

Minnesota Sunday liquor sales bill gets final OK; Dayton to sign

Tim Pugmire reports for MPRNews:

"The Minnesota House on Thursday sent a final bill to Gov. Mark Dayton to end the state's longtime ban on Sunday liquor sales. Dayton has said he'll sign it. The change could start in July.

Minnesota is one of just 12 states that still ban Sunday liquor sales. Supporters say lifting Minnesota's ban, which dates back to Prohibition, would mean an end to cross-border beer runs into Wisconsin and North and South Dakota on Sundays that cost the state tax revenue..."

Read more at: https://www.mprnews.org/story/2017/03/02/sunday-liquor-sales-minnesota-ok-dayton-to-sign