By Graham McDowell
Christian Action League
August 12, 2020
The Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission held its September meeting virtually on Wednesday. During the meeting, the Commission held a public hearing on proposed permanent rules for ABC Store Spirituous Liquor Tasting events.
A provision for liquor tasting events was included in an alcohol reform measure that passed by the General Assembly in 2019 and was signed by Governor Roy Cooper. The ABC Commission writes the permanent rules for the new law.
Liquor tasting events may only be held between 1:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. and may not last more than three hours. Each local ABC store may hold no more than three events per calendar week, and no more than two at the same time. A consumer may sample not more than ½ ounce on any calendar day. Advertising is limited to posting at the ABC store and local ABC Board offices, and notification to mixed beverage permittees.
Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, spoke during the hearing and registered the following concerns:
Good morning Chairman Guy, Commissioners Mitchell, and Stout. I am Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina.
It is both a blessing and an honor to speak before you today. Furthermore, I want to thank each of you for your service on the ABC Commission. Your work is critical to encouraging a temperate society and keeping North Carolinians as safe as possible from the abuses of alcohol.
Although everyone who knows me understands that I abstain from alcoholic beverages and as a clergyman have always encouraged the same of others, I still believe very much in your work, without which I am confident that many of the old evils against which Prohibition was invoked could easily return. This is why I am a staunch defender of our current control system, and everything that I say to you today is offered out of that disposition.
I do not speak to you in the hope of changing anything already done. I understand the die is now cast. Instead, I speak in the hope that my words might be made a part of the ABC Commission’s record – that my words might be available somehow to future generations – for I fear that after more than eight decades, ABC has turned a corner that could ultimately bring about its demise. That may seem like nothing short of hyperbole to some when I explain how this could be the case, but I still believe it’s true, and I have never hoped more concerning anything that I am wrong.
The Christian Action League was the primary opponent, perhaps even the sole opponent, to liquor tasting events in local ABC stores. For several years we succeeded in convincing state lawmakers of the wisdom in rejecting such a proposal. Contrary to some reports, our opposition was never based on concerns that the small samplings of liquor allowed for tasting events would present any serious danger for intoxication and its unfortunate consequences. The League’s position was always a philosophically-based argument.
In 2005, when the North Carolina General Assembly was debating the merits of whether to adopt a state-operated lottery, one of the contentions erroneously made in favor of enacting the lottery was that the state was already in the liquor business. The League argued then, as it always has, even with a sense of pride that North Carolina has never been in the liquor business. ABC has traditionally been about control – about regulating the sale of a product that is not an ordinary commodity and presents considerable health and safety risks.
Characteristically, ABC stores have never been about promoting the sale of liquor. ABC stores and their local Boards have rightly kept to a position of neutrality and avoided appearances of endorsements or encouragements to drink. The purpose of ABC stores has only been to provide accessibility to spirits through a highly regulated form of liquor sales, and only where the electorate authorized it by the ballot box.
Liquor tasting events at ABC stores, however, cross a line. It changes the core objective of an ABC store from the neutral stance of providing accessibility to an alliance between the stores and the spirits industry in the earnest promotion and sale of liquor.
It is this principle of the matter which should concern everyone who genuinely cares about preserving the ABC system. Though it may seem to be a relatively small thing to most, liquor tasting events at ABC stores reflect a significant paradigm shift in philosophy from a position of neutrality to one of active participation with the spirits industry. Just as a slight turn of the steering wheel on one’s car can slowly turn the entire vehicle around, so liquor tasting events at ABC stores ever so slightly shift the stores’ focus from “control” to a concentration on “profit.”
At the repeal of prohibition, when systems like North Carolina’s were being adopted, and John D. Rockefeller Jr. was a chief engineer of such systems, Rockefeller warned:
“Only as the profit motive is eliminated is there any hope of controlling the liquor traffic in the interest of a decent society. To approach the problem from any other angle is only to tinker with it and ensure failure.”
This truth remains constant for every generation.
When the legislation for liquor tastings was on the table last year, the League was gravely disappointed the North Carolina Association of ABC Boards changed their position of “neutral” on in-store tasting events to one of “support.” The League believes this was a grievous error that may eat away like cancer into the very purpose of our ABC stores’ existence.
Many of my friends and colleagues have told me such changes must be made to keep ABC stores viable. If they aren’t profitable, then they can’t survive, so they say. In response, I draw attention to something spoken by the wisest person who ever lived. Jesus said that no man could serve two masters; either he will hate one and love the other. ABC cannot serve two masters. An ABC store is about control, or it has the potential to become just like any other private store based on profit. Privatization of liquor sales would be a disaster for public health and safety in North Carolina.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the Commission. I appreciate your time this morning. May God bless you and may God bless the great state of North Carolina.
Larry Etheridge from Elm City also spoke at the hearing on behalf of the Wilson County ABC Board. Etheridge had concerns about one section of the proposed rules which he said would negatively impact the fairness for all representatives of the spirits industry to participate in the tasting events. Because of Mr. Etheridge’s concerns, the Commission postponed taking any vote on the rules until his concerns could be thoroughly vetted in another meeting.
Chairman “Zander” Guy concluded the meeting with expressions of appreciation for everyone who participated. Guy humorously singled Rev. Creech out in his remarks and said that he especially appreciated his “eloquent” speech and felt as though he had been to church for the week.