By F.M. Barton
Christian Action League
April 18, 2019
Cyrus the great of Persia once set a trap for his enemies and destroyed them. He pretended to retreat from the battlefield so hurriedly that he had to abandon large supplies of food and wine. The enemy took the bait, gorged themselves, and became drunk. Cyrus then returned and overwhelmed their army. Centuries later, however, wine had so debauched the Persians that the Saracens, whose religious founder, Mohammed, included in their sacred book, the Koran, commandments against the use of intoxicants, and readily conquered them.
History is replete with examples of mighty nations being lulled into decay because of the celebration of alcohol. History’s revelation about alcohol’s contribution to undermining the human will – the way it handicaps the human body and slowly takes over the citadel of men’s souls – the way its excess has led to societies staggering and ultimately collapsing – should be sufficient cause for North Carolina lawmakers to be cautious about policies which make alcohol more accessible. Nevertheless, this year, state legislators have been exceedingly careless and have passed new proposals for deregulation with the near abandon of common sense.
This week, three alcohol measures passed with little resistance.
Tuesday, the North Carolina House passed HB 363-Craft Beer Distribution and Modernization Act. The bill allows breweries that sell fewer than 100,000 barrels of malt beverages each year to self-distribute up to 50,000 barrels of malt beverages annually. It allows these manufacturers to circumvent the state’s Three-tier system.
The Three-tier system, which includes manufacturer, wholesaler, and retailer, provides critical checks and balances of alcohol sales. Law enforcement can pinpoint exactly where products have been from the time produced to the time sold. The Three-tier system provides a clear chain of custody and makes each part of the industry accountable for its practices, protecting against sales to minors and those who would abuse alcohol. It’s a system that’s flexible enough to reflect attitudes and concerns on the local level. It protects consumers from counterfeit and poisonous alcohol products that are prevalent in many other countries. These are all very serious consumer protection issues that North Carolinians should never take lightly.
Although the legislation doesn’t do away with the Three-tier system, it allows craft brewers to self-distribute directly to retail permittees up to 50,000 barrels each year, which essentially gives them a pass from stringent accountability. It’s a win, win, for the craft brewers, but public health and safety are put at greater risk.
HB 363 also passed its first reading in the Senate on Wednesday and was assigned to be considered by the Senate Rules Committee.
On Tuesday, The North Carolina House also passed HB 389-Alcoholic Beverage Control/University Athletic Facility. The legislation would authorize public colleges and universities to allow beer and wine sales at stadiums, athletic facilities, and arenas located on school property.
Alcohol goes hand in hand with collegiate sporting events. Fans gather in the parking lot several hours before the opening kickoff of football games for “tailgate” parties featuring abundant alcohol. Drinking continues during the game, especially among students who are adept at smuggling alcohol into the stadiums. Selling or allowing alcohol (beer and wine) at universities and colleges within the stadium only increases the availability and therefore the amount of alcohol consumed.
The likelihood of an illegal sale to an intoxicated person at a stadium sports event can be as high as nearly three out of four attempts.
Universities and colleges that choose to have stadium-wide sales of beer and wine may face potential legal liabilities. The University of Notre Dame was sued when an intoxicated fan accidentally broke a woman’s leg. The court held the university liable to protect fans from drunks. Incidents of persons being injured by an intoxicated fan would surely test North Carolina’s dram shop law.
Proponents of HB 389 contend that stadium-wide alcohol sales during collegiate sports events will actually help provide greater control. They cite statistics from universities that they argue shows that safety conditions improved where stadium-wide sales were implemented.
But Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said:
“Any reports advocating that this kind of policy helps reduce alcohol-related harms on college campuses is suspect. These reports are not studies which are peer-reviewed and in many cases, the improved circumstances can be explained by dynamics like a greater police presence or something else, not because the college chose to sell booze at a collegiate sports event. The argument defies the science on alcohol research, as well as common sense.”
Rev. Creech added that he encouraged the sponsors of HB 389 to include in the bill language for “best server” practices, which would provide guidelines to the universities.
“If we’re going to do this, I don’t think we should leave it up to colleges to set the guidelines. And I wouldn’t want to disparage the ABC Commission, but I’m not certain it should be left up to them either. Best server practices ought to be a part of the legislation. The sponsors assured me they would get back with me on this suggestion, but no one has,” said Rev. Creech.
HB 389 passed its first reading in the Senate on Wednesday and has now been assigned to the Senate Rules Committee.
Finally, on Wednesday the House ABC Committee passed HB 91 – ABC Laws Modernization/PED Study. This legislation evolved from the Legislative Program Evaluation Division’s study to determine if privatization of liquor sales would be in the best interest of North Carolina. The study did not recommend privatization of liquor sales, but it did make several recommendations for improving the state’s current system for selling spirits.
A total of seven recommendations were made, three of which the Christian Action League opposed. The Christian Action League contested:
- The opening of North Carolina ABC stores on Sundays.
- Liquor Tastings promotions in NC ABC stores.
- Requiring the merger of local ABC Boards into one Board in a county where there is two or more.
Rep. Pat Hurley (R-Randolph) offered three separate amendments to HB 91 to delete these three provisions. The result was the requirement for local boards to merge was repealed. But amendments to delete from the measure the opening of ABC stores on Sundays and allowing liquor tasting promotions inside ABC stores failed.
Rev. Creech said:
“The League has had success for more than eight years defeating the egregious liquor tastings initiative – an initiative that is a paradigm shift from ABC stores being about regulation and control to being about promotion and profit. Liquor tastings are an alliance between the stores and the industry to promote liquor sales. That’s just wrong!
“I think our success in the past, in part, against liquor tastings was because the North Carolina ABC Boards were neutral on the issue. Unfortunately, only days before the House ABC Committee met, they changed their position from neutral to supporting it. That was a powerful boost for the liquor lobbyists who have been pushing for it several years.
“No Sunday sales took a major hit a couple of years ago with the passage of the ‘Brunch bill.’ No one seems to value the importance of the Sabbath to our culture anymore, except maybe Chick-Fil-A. When lawmakers repeal blue laws, research has determined it injures the attendance and offerings of churches. Separation of church and state doesn’t mean the law can’t be friendly to churches. Keeping liquor stores closed on Sundays is a friendly ban, and there’s already plenty of time for patrons to get their booze Monday through Saturday.”
HB 91 now goes to the House Finance Committee.
Seeing the shadows which greater accessibility to alcohol has cast over the past, and with mounting evidence of its devastating toll on our modern world, it appears North Carolina lawmakers have disregarded the prayer of Rudyard Kipling:
“Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget!
It appears they’ve forgotten.