Utah’s liquor laws not abnormal

By By John Hannon

By John Hannon

Confusing, inconvenient, strange, annoying. These are a few terms that have come to describe Utah’s interesting set of laws designed to curb the negative effects associated with the consumption of alcoholic beverages.

Safe, however, is strangely missing from the list of oft-heard comments regarding the laws. Partly because of our state’s brush with Olympic fame and the resulting media coverage, Utah finds itself viewed largely as a state of “fun-haters” who have made minor concessions in order to accommodate the tourism portion of our economy.

Of course, these views are not completely unfounded. Certainly, there are a number of seemingly trivial consumption laws that don’t seem to address any particular problem. Try this fun learning activity: order a vodka cranberry and a shot of vodka at any restaurant and watch your waiter try to explain why they can’t serve it to you and stammer the combination of drinks that they are allowed to serve you. And admittedly, some of these laws create frustrating scenarios that can become difficult to navigate. What is often absent from the debate about Utah’s liquor laws, however, are their benefits.

Because these laws appear to be a product of the dominant religion in the area8212;a large majority of Utah lawmakers are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints8212;it is sometimes easy to label them as examples of overzealous religious influence. Consequently, it’s a common misconception that Utah has the strictest liquor laws of any state.

Utah is not the only state to utilize these types of precautions. According to Utah’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, 18 other states (that serve 28 percent of the total population) employ the strategy of controlling the sale of liquor, operating state-controlled liquor agencies as opposed to allowing its sale by private companies.

I was surprised to discover that there are even three other states that require beer sold in gas stations and supermarkets to be less than or equal to 3.2 percent alcohol by volume.

Yet many people still believe that these ideas are unique to our state. I suppose that invalidates the claim that’s often made that breweries around the world must brew 3.2 percent ABV beer because Utah hates fun.

States that regulate the control of liquor invest millions of dollars (from taxation on liquor sale) annually into programs to curb underage consumption. Furthermore, the DABC reports that states that control the sale of hard liquor experience an effect of moderate consumption among their populace that other states do not. It has found that on average, liquor-controlling states have 25 percent lower per-capita consumption rates.

Another oft-heard gripe concerning the state liquor agencies is that of their hours. Most liquor stores are open until 7 or 8 at night, with only a handful remaining open until 10 p.m. This can become an obstacle if you live near a location that closes early. It’s been my personal experience, unfortunately, that no good can come from buying hard liquor after 10 p.m. And anyone who’s been to Nevada or other non-control states would likely concede that there are serious drawbacks that come from the ability to purchase hard liquor at any hour of the day.

Again, there are numerous laws that are indefensible. Indeed, many of them are silly. Still, most of these regulations are truly good for society. Many of them assist in minimizing the harm that can come from the abuse of alcoholic beverages. Most people would agree that the safety of an entire population is far more important than the degree of convenience regarding the purchase of alcoholic beverages.

So next time you’ve missed that 10 p.m. deadline, go to Maverick, buy a sixer with a slightly lower percentage of alcohol, and enjoy responsibly.

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John Hannon