Johnston County Commissioners Put Countywide Alcohol Referendum on the Ballot
By Hunter Hines
Christian Action League
May 6, 2016
SMITHFIELD – Johnston County Commissioners voted Monday to place a referendum for countywide sales of beer and unfortified wine on the ballot for November.
Towns in Johnston County have already passed referendums for the sale of alcohol with certain limitations. In 1997, the county passed mixed drinks sales, but has consistently rejected countywide sales of malt beverages.
The decision by County Commissioners comes on the heels of a push by rural store owners who claim they are at a competitive disadvantage. They argue that because they are not allowed to sell alcohol, customers bypass their stores and go to businesses in town. The passage of a referendum for countywide sales would make the playing field more equal and fair, they claim.
Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, spoke to Commissioners concerning the proposed alcohol referendum at their April meeting and urged them to let business interests circulate a petition, rather than presume that Johnstonians would want the question of countywide alcohol sales on the ballot.
“One way to determine the will of the county is the petition route,” Dr. Creech said. “North Carolina law says if a petition requesting an election is signed by at least 35% of the voters registered in a county, it goes directly to the Board of Elections – meaning you don’t have to vote on whether the county will have a referendum at all.”
“But if you should choose not to go in that direction,” Dr. Creech added, “I suggest that the least you could do is call for a public hearing on the question before deciding to vote to put it on the ballot.”
In April, Commissioners decided to table the issue until their May meeting, mostly because they were uncertain at that time what question should be placed on the ballot.
“Now we know what the question will be,” said Dr. Creech on Monday. “It will be for ‘on and off premises’ sales of beer and wine countywide and that’s not good.”
Chairman Tony Braswell and Commissioner Jeffrey Carver voted against the referendum because they said a question of “on and off premises” might be “too much of a leap” for voters.
“On and off premises” sales means consumers may purchase the alcohol, consume it at the business, as well as take it home for consumption.
Braswell said he supported the referendum and thought many voters might “hold their nose and vote for ‘off premises,’” sales, but ‘on premises’ might put the referendum in jeopardy of failing.
Dr. Creech said the referendum needs to fail for two reasons.
“The question on the ballot, although not stated, is whether or not the citizens of Johnston County are willing to accept the additional costs that come with greater alcohol outlet density. The most reputable studies available, after many years of research, consistently conclude that the more alcohol stations of sale a community has – the more alcohol consumption takes place. Regardless of claims to the contrary, alcohol is never a financial boon to any economy, local, state, or national, but a drag perpetuated by the additional social costs of alcohol abuse. The evidence to this end is irrefutable. And every one of us pay these costs whether we drink or not,” said Dr. Creech.
“The second reason it should fail,” said Dr. Creech, “is because if passed the measure will allow consumers to drink the beer they purchase on the premises.”
Dr. Creech contended that allowing people in rural areas to drink the beer they buy on the premises will unquestionably be problematic for law enforcement in the county. It will create new and inevitable scenarios for alcohol-related crimes such as public drunkenness, various forms of violence, and drunk driving.
“It’s one thing to be able to buy your six-pack and take it ‘off premises’ – take it home with you – keep it closed and in your portable cooler until you reach the mountains or the beach – but it is another thing altogether – it poses significant risks – when in places out in the country its allowed to be consumed on premises – where there is no police department to quickly address a problem – and it’s going to take a while for the Sheriff’s Department to reach the location of the alcohol-related crimes that are bound to occur,” said Dr. Creech.
“Moreover, unlike a bar tender who has been trained to know when someone has had too much to drink and can stop sales, whose going to do this at some rural place of business where folks are allowed to drink? This goes too far,” added Dr. Creech.
Alcohol policy in North Carolina has been a signature issue for the Christian Action League for nearly seven decades. It assists communities in addressing alcohol referendums when invited by communities.
The Christian Action League urges concerned citizens of Johnston County to start putting together a campaign to defeat the referendum in November.