By M.H. Cavanaugh
Christian Action League
February 6, 2015
RALEIGH – “This may be a challenging legislative session on alcohol measures,” said Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “I know of three serious initiatives coming down the pike, and possibly a couple more.”
One proposed change to North Carolina’s alcohol policy was filed this week, SB 24 – Liquor Sales – Permitted Distilleries. The bill would allow Distilleries in North Carolina to sell to visitors of the distillery who take a tour of its facilities. The liquor sold would be labeled “North Carolina Distillery Tour Commemorative Spirit” and would be limited “to purchasing, per calendar year, no more than one of any North Carolina code item listed for sale in the State.”
SB 24 would also allow for samplings of the distillery’s products at trade shows, conventions, shopping malls, beverage festivals, street festivals, holiday festivals, agricultural festivals, balloon races, local fundraisers, and other similar events approved by the state’s Alcohol Beverage Commission.
Dr. Creech sited three problems with the proposed measure, (1) It will be the first time in state history spirits could be sold outside of an ABC store; (2) North Carolina communities voted for the sale of spirits in the strict parameters of an ABC store – no community anywhere in the state has passed a referendum for the sale of spirits in any other manner; (3) The bill fails to qualify that tasting events of liquor occur only in places where an appropriate alcohol referendum has passed. Dr. Creech says the only appropriate place for these samplings to occur would be where the sale of mixed beverages has been approved.
Dr. Creech says that no legislation has been filed yet, but he expects an effort by microbreweries in the state to push for the authority to sell more of what they manufacture directly to retail, rather than having to go through the three-tier system.
The three-tier system is a time tested state-based regulatory system created 80 years ago, after the repeal of prohibition. It works successfully to maintain an orderly market, one that provides critical checks and balances, making each part of the industry accountable and effectively controls the production, distribution, and sale of alcohol. By allowing for microbreweries or any other manufacturer of alcoholic beverages to by-pass the three-tier facilitates the likelihood for corrupt industry practices, irresponsible forms of marketing that lead to alcohol abuse, and the production and sell of counterfeit, even poisonous products.
“Sometimes certain groups vehemently protest the state’s regulatory system of alcohol sales, claiming free-market principles. I too believe in free market, but alcohol is no ordinary commodity and it presents a significant risk to the life, liberty and property of the people. Therefore, it needs stringent rules and controls to suppress its negative outcomes.
One can claim personal responsibility all they want, but the use and abuse of alcohol is something that can have very painful results affecting all of us on various levels,” said Dr. Creech.
Dr. Creech also says that he has great apprehension about another proposal he expects to be filed at some point in the session – a bill that would allow for ABC stores to have liquor tastings at the ABC store.
“I find it hard to believe most communities that have an ABC store would approve of this,” said Dr. Creech. “Having samplings or tasting events at ABC stores would be a paradigm shift in ABC – a move away from its mission of control to allying itself with the spirits industry to promote liquor sales and profit thereby.”
Traditionally, ABC has been about regulating the sale of spirituous liquor, sticking to neutrality, and not one of active participation with the industry. Its purpose has been to provide controlled access where communities have approved local alcohol referenda. Tasting events, however, are a partnership by the stores with the industry for mutual profit, compromising the mission they were given by voters for control.
Two other initiatives Dr. Creech said could come to the table is an effort to roll-back Sunday sales of alcohol from the current state law that prohibits sales before 12:00 noon to 11:00 am. The second would be an effort by the Cherokee nation to allow for 24 hour alcohol sales in their casinos.
“You’ll forgive the pun,” said Dr. Creech, “but it looks as though there’s going to be a lot of alcohol legislation on tap.”
The Christian Action League urges its supporters to be prepared to respond to these proposals as necessary in the coming weeks.
“You will need to be ready to contact your lawmaker, letting him or her hear from you. We shouldn’t be tripped up by this issue. These matters are about alcohol public-policy and not the question of whether it’s right or wrong to drink,” said Dr. Creech. “These matters are about what kind of alcohol policy we will have in North Carolina – whether those policies will compromise and work against the public’s health or whether they will work to protect it as much as possible.”