By Rev. Mark Creech
Christian Action League
August 21, 2019
Looser Liquor Laws Let You Buy More than 1 Beer, Even in Dry Counties, read the headline in Wednesday’s edition of the Asheville Citizen-Times.
Hillman Beer, a brewery located on Sweeten Creek Road in Asheville, hailed the recent changes in alcohol policy that now allow breweries to sell multiple drinks at one sitting, even in dry counties.
Hillman Beer plans to expand their business to Old Fort, N.C., when the changes take effect. Old Fort is a dry town in McDowell County, a county which also happens to be officially dry. The co-owner of Hillman Beer, Brad Hillman, told the Citizen-Times that the changes had been received positively.
It’s obvious the reporting by the media has been positive, but the legislation, SB 290 – ABC Regulatory Reform, which was passed by the General Assembly on July 16th and signed by Gov. Roy Cooper on the 29th, was nothing to celebrate.
This article marks Part 3 in the series, ABC Regulatory Reform Bill: Nothing to Celebrate.
In addition to the egregious provisions already discussed, there is also the offensive provision in the new law which allows breweries to sell malt beverages owned by the brewery for on-or off-premises consumption, regardless of the results of any malt beverage election. This is, by far, one of the worst provisions passed in the legislation.
It is terribly wrong because it is an assault on the election process. Its effect is to overturn the will of the people in certain places that voted down the sale of malt beverages.
Breweries that located their establishments in places where the sale of malt beverages have not been approved, either already knew the rules when starting their businesses, or they surely should have known. Regardless, the stated will of the electorate should never be forced to take a back seat to the objectives of a brewery. Overturning the results of an alcohol election to serve the purposes of a brewery is an affront to the rights of the people to choose their own destiny regarding alcohol sales.
The argument made in favor of the modification was that breweries wanted parity with the wineries, which had already been given this privilege. But such rights constitute exclusive rights that should have never been granted to the wineries.
One injustice shouldn’t be the premise for allowing another. Providing the breweries with the parity they sought was an injustice to the communities who decided by the ballot box that they didn’t want beer sales.
This provision in the new law is an act of sacrilege to the sacred right of voting.
Every lawmaker who voted for SB 290 deserves to have the results of his or her election invalidated by some turn of events. It would be their just deserts for overturning the results of those who prevailed in alcohol elections.
For certain communities across the Tar Heel state, the purpose for local option alcohol referenda has not only been diminished but essentially rendered null and void whenever a winery or brewery chooses to locate where citizens voted dry. It is an outrage!
Second, the new law allows for purchasing more than one drink at a sitting: two beers at one time, but only one drink if its liquor. This provision is actually better than the original proposal.
The first proposal would have allowed as many as four drinks at one sitting for any form of booze.
The previous law, which only allowed for one drink per sitting, may have seemed “ridiculous” to some, and it may have caused a bit of an inconvenience. Nevertheless, it was a good law that worked to protect everyone.
Not all people who drink reach the BAC limit of 0.08% in the same manner as others. Many factors can affect the BAC, which can make it very difficult for a proprietor to judge whether someone has technically reached their limit. One person may reach their BAC limit with fewer drinks than another. It should also be noted that intoxication begins with the first drink.
The law as it stood provided a safe-stop measure that helped servers make sure that they were not serving someone underage or someone who was not sober. Serving as many as four drinks per sitting would have made that objective, as well as the legal duty of a permittee, much more difficult, if not impossible.
Serving two drinks per sitting and only one drink if the establishment is serving liquor was a compromise by lawmakers. Nevertheless, the previous policy was much stronger.
Not only does alcohol affect people differently, but all drinks are not created equal. Wine and beer vary in their concentrations of alcohol. The ABV of a mixed beverage may also significantly vary depending on the person mixing it. The one-drink rule made it easier for the patron and proprietor to track.
This provision is not especially bad, but it did compromise the strength of the state’s current laws.
The Citizen-Times quoted Leah Howard of Cultivated Cocktails, formerly H&H Distillery on Page Avenue in Asheville, as having said that the new law represents a giant boost for her business. “For us, this was almost the make it or break it point, really and truly.”
It’s difficult to understand why lawmakers, wineries, breweries, distilleries, and others don’t seem to care that every day is “a make it or break it point” for people who are tripped up in life by alcohol policies that work against public health and safety, “really and truly.”
Again, the new law is nothing to celebrate.