The Two Worst Pieces of Alcohol Legislation I’ve seen in Nearly Twenty Years of Addressing Alcohol Policy
By Dr. Mark Creech
Christian Action League
April 7, 2017
Could I get your undivided attention for a little while?
There are so many issues today that claim most of our attention. I find that conservative evangelical Christians are always interested in matters pertaining to the preservation of traditional marriage and the family, life, and religious liberties. They are not, however, seemingly as concerned about our state’s alcohol policies.
Perhaps it’s because some Christians choose to drink, and they quickly dismiss any opposition to proposed initiatives that expand the privileges of the alcohol industry as a purely prohibitionist point of view.
Sometimes people marginalize me as the Baptist preacher that’s always trying to keep someone from getting a drink. Although admittedly, unashamedly, I am a teetotaler, and as a minister, I always encouraged my parishioners to avoid alcohol, this is not the approach I take in the public-policy arena.
I think anyone who is thoughtful concerning alcohol in our society recognizes it is not an ordinary commodity and poses significant risks for public health and safety.
The statistics for alcohol related troubles are profoundly alarming. Each year they seem to grow worse. These problems touch us on every level – the dissolution of family life – underage drinking and consequentially negative adolescent brain development – academic failure in college – alcohol-related unintentional injuries – sexual assault and date rape – 40% of our violent crime – 30 people dying daily in some alcohol-related crash.
Additionally, there is the huge financial burden in increased welfare costs, higher insurance premiums, law enforcement and court costs, costs of incarceration – costs that we must all pay, whether we drink or not. Nationally, the price tag for alcohol abuse in America is at near $250 billion annually, and $6.8 billion for the state of North Carolina.
Many years ago when the Tennessee River would destructively course above and beyond its banks, a Tennessean was heard to say, “Well, you can’t keep the rain from falling.” To which a government engineer wisely replied, “That’s true, but we can build a system of dams along the river that will help to stop it from destroying life and property.”
This is what’s been done in North Carolina with respect to alcohol marketing and sales. We have a system of Alcoholic Beverage Control, ABC, with the emphasis on the “C,” meaning control. Its purpose has been to harness the alcohol industry and so govern it that damage from alcohol use and abuse will be kept to a minimum.
What we are seeing in recent years, however, is a slow and gradual dismantling of that system in the pursuit of profits at the public’s expense. Various arguments are being offered in the name of “freedom” and “free markets” that readily, even quite conspicuously, avoid the truth that although alcohol is legal, it should not be considered on the same par with other products.
Because alcohol is scientifically recognized as a drug with the potential for great harms, neither can it simply be relegated as a matter of personal responsibility. It must also have rigid governmental restraints imposed.
There are two legislative measures scheduled to be discussed before the N.C. House Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Committee, Tuesday, April 11th, 9:00 am in Room 1425 of the Legislative Building on Jones Street in Raleigh. Both are prime examples of the endeavor to weaken the current system.
At the risk of being accused of hyperbole, these two bills are the worst pieces of alcohol legislation I’ve ever seen in my nearly twenty-year history of addressing alcohol policy in the North Carolina General Assembly.
The first, HB 500 – ABC Omnibus Legislation has numerous provisions of concern, but one provision, in particular, would spell disaster for North Carolina’s alcohol control.
Small brewers, joined under the banner of the North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild and Craft Freedom want to go around the state’s Three-Tier system. They want to raise the current cap that craft brewers could distribute their beer directly to retailers without working through the middleman of a wholesaler.
The state already seeks to assist their small businesses by allowing brewers up to 25,000 barrels annually, without having to go through Beer and Wine Distributors. Yet despite the fact that 90% of brewers produce less than 7,000 barrels annually, they are insisting through legislation such as HB 500 that the limit be lifted from 25,000 barrels to 200,000.
This is not only outrageous! It’s dangerous, especially when considering that our neighboring states of Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia allow no self-distribution None! HB 500 would make the Tar Heel state a haven of lawless behavior for brewers.
North Carolina’s Three-Tier system is made up of manufacturers, wholesale distributors, and retailers. Actually, the original intent behind the creation of the Three-Tier, after the repeal of Prohibition, was to curb the abuses that precipitated the 18th Amendment. We can be certain that if this system is undermined, many of these same abuses will return.
The Three-Tier system isn’t perfect, but it has worked exceedingly well through the decades to encourage temperance. Since there is a middleman (Beer and Wine Distributors), the price of alcohol is made a bit higher, which to a worthy degree discourages over indulgence. It also makes the process just a little cumbersome, making access more difficult. Numerous social studies on alcohol have concluded that higher prices and certain restrictions on access work to slow dangerous consumption rates.
The Three-Tier also ensures an orderly market with proper checks and balances. Without the strong safeguards of the Three-Tier, brewers are reduced to little more than an “on your honor” system, which leaves the door open for corrupt, manipulative, and even “gray market” type sales to unauthorized sources such as underage drinkers.
Plus, the Three-Tier works to create transparency for taxation. No business is happy about taxes, but if said enterprise generates significant social costs, it should have to pay back to society. Impediments obscuring the ability of the state to collect taxes by the brewers shouldn’t be allowed.
This week, NC Department of Revenue officials explained in a letter to the House Finance Committee that 23% of NC Brewers “were not in total compliance.” If brewers aren’t currently handling their tax issues in a dutiful way, then how can we trust them to self-distribute their products in a responsible manner? This is a classic case of the fox guarding the hen house, and another example of why the Three-Tier system is a counterbalance of excess in the business of beverage alcohol.
Lifting the cap from 25,000 barrels annually, which is very reasonable, to 200,000 barrels, would practically make the industry of craft brewers in North Carolina unaccountable. It would constitute a circumvention of the Three-Tier. And to the degree that the Three-Tier is diminished, protections for all North Carolinians will be lost.
Groups like “Craft Freedom” would certainly be granted liberty to produce and sell as they preferred, but their freedom would be enjoyed at the expense of our bonds.
I understand that issues other than alcohol policy may be much higher on the Christian’s radar. Still, I suggest that every injurious practice or some potential for harm, including an alcohol issue with its inherent hurdles and hitches, is a challenge for the church of Christ to respond.
Monday, I’ll send to you or post on Facebook, concerns about the second bad alcohol proposal. Nevertheless, please don’t misinterpret the delay as a lack of urgency. I just don’t want to overwhelm folks with too much information at this time.
Alcohol issues can be difficult to understand.
Moreover, there still should be time to contact your Representative in the state House. These two bills will be taken up by the House ABC Committee for discussion only on Tuesday. But I hope you’ll prepare yourself now to contact your lawmaker in the North Carolina House and urge him/her not to agree to these alcohol initiatives.
I say again, they are, by far, the worst I’ve seen in my tenure as executive director of the Christian Action League.
Don’t forget to watch for the second article to appear in your inbox or Facebook on Monday.
TAKE CHRISTIAN ACTION NOW:
PREPARE TO RESPOND BY CONTACTING YOUR REPRESENTATIVE IN THE NC HOUSE:
If you don’t know who represents you in the N.C. House and Senate, and don’t know their contact information, go to this link: http://www.ciclt.net/sn/pol/po_districtlookup.aspx?ClientCode=calnc&State=nc&StateName=North%20Carolina
Whatever you do, please don’t neglect to pray.