By Dr. Mark Creech
Christian Action League
August 2, 2019
This week, Gov. Roy Cooper, signed into law, SB 290, which was originally filed as the Distillery Regulatory Reform Bill. The legislation later became two bills rolled into one, when the language from HB 536 – ABC Omnibus Regulatory Reform, which passed the House, was included, converting it to SB 290-ABC Regulatory Reform Bill.
Gov. Cooper signed the measure at the Greybeard Distillery in Durham, while lawmakers and distillers looked on with pleasure and celebrated. But the legislation was nothing to celebrate, that is, if one really understands or cares about alcohol policy and its negative impact on public health and safety.
Earlier this month, the Christian Action League posted a news story on its website for its thousands of supporters, titled, Blatantly Bad Alcohol and Gambling Bills Pass (Championed by Republicans). In that article, author Hunter Hines quoted me as saying, “In the coming days and weeks, I hope to provide our supporters with an at length explanation of the bad provisions that remained in the bill. They need to know, and they aren’t going to get the whole truth from the lawmakers who voted for it.”
This is the first installment of that promise. The provisions that passed in SB 290 are not inconsequential but significant. It is my earnest hope and prayer that readers will not simply be resigned to what’s been done. Instead, I hope they are alarmed – alarmed enough to confront your lawmaker about the way he or she voted on the legislation.
First, the bill removed the restriction that distilleries could only sell five bottles of their product to each customer annually. SB 290 now allows distilleries to have unlimited sales of their products.
Proponents of this change argued that what distillers wanted was parity with the beer and wine industry in the state. More specifically, they wanted the same privileges the breweries and wineries have in North Carolina.
North Carolina has never believed, nor should it ever concede the point, that liquor is by nature equal with beer and wine. “Alcohol is alcohol is alcohol” is the mantra of the ignorant. It is not the same, and, therefore, the rules should not be applied in the same manner.
Allowing distilleries to sell unlimited bottles of spirits at the distillery rather than requiring them to be sold in local ABC stores concedes this fundamental principle. To undermine this principle is to diminish the foundation upon which the ABC system for liquor sales stands.
The sale of bottled spirits in this state has rightly been reserved to local Alcoholic Beverage Control stores because spirits are considerably more problematic by nature. In terms of Alcohol by Volume (ABV), spirits are typically much stronger than beer and wine. Standard spirits are about 35-40% ABV, and some even higher. Beer and wine are much lower.
The Tar Heel state has always wisely kept a tight leash on bottled spirits and for a good reason. It takes considerably less vodka, rum, or whiskey to get dangerously inebriated than from beer or wine. Moreover, purchasing and drinking spirits by the bottle is a much cheaper form of drinking than the more expensive mixed beverages. And generally speaking, the bottle lends to drinking more in one sitting and for less costs, making its form of imbibing more hazardous and disposed to overconsumption.
Although North Carolina ABC stores have been known to sell alcoholic beverages to underage drinkers, this is not common because the stores are not driven by profit as a retailer. If a group of underage drinkers were to get their hands on a bottle of spirits, in comparison to beer and wine, within one session of sharing that bottle, they would drink the equivalent of 22 glasses of full-strength beer, more than 2 liters of red wine, or more than three bottles of champagne.
Underage drinking is another critical reason for resisting proposals that undermine the state’s current ABC system for the sale of spirits. In North Carolina, one teen dies every week because of underage drinking, not to mention the way it can lead to dangerous behaviors, mental health problems, and can become a serious legal issue for parents.
To allow distillers to sell unlimited bottles at the distillery is to grant them not only parity with breweries and wineries, a status they should not have, but in principle, it allows them parity with a local ABC store.
Giving liquor equal status to beer and wine and a distillery equal status with a local ABC store will overtime seriously undermine the philosophy and function of North Carolina’s ABC system for liquor sales. And that is most consequential for the state’s public safety and health.
There are some powerful forces in our state determined to do away with our current ABC system for liquor sales. They are clever and patient. They know they can’t achieve what they wish quickly, but they’re confident privatization of liquor sales is doable if they can successfully keep chipping away at the system.
Should they succeed in privatizing liquor sales, North Carolina will have multiple liquor stores across the state, and much of the wholesome environment this state currently enjoys will give way to a host of problems associated with alcohol abuse.