Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Change in Utah's Liquor Laws

It's no secret that Utah recently changed its unique liquor laws. The change has gotten national, even international, attention. Previously, all bars were considered private clubs, and to get in you had to be a member of that private club. This system has been replaced by one where anyone looking 35 years or younger must have their ID scanned to keep underage drinkers out.

I tend to think of alcohol as an invasive social ill. Statistics show that violent crimes are all too often related to alcohol consumption. DUI's, in particular, are a selfish and devastating crime that, I believe, should be punished more severely. In my opinion alcohol is far more dangerous than marijuana (not that I think marijuana should be legalized, but that's another discussion).

That said, Utah's old liquor laws were not effectively aimed at preventing alcohol abuse. Those that wanted to drink but were not interested in the hassle of the private club system would just head to the State Liquor Store and purchase their alcohol to drink at home, a friend's, or some other private place.

It might reasonably prove effective to make of-age drinking more accessible in public bars where a bartender is keeping track of consumption, a person is more likely to plan ahead and identify a designated driver, and taxis are waiting to drive people home. Despite all of that, the argument that won the day in the Utah legislature was that liberalizing Utah's liquor laws would increase revenue from tourists.

What is interesting is the role the Church played in this process. The Church has previously been very involved in shaping Utah's liquor laws and is widely considered the force that kept the unique laws in place. This recent go-round, however, the Church was conspicuously quiet. Its public statement on the matter was that its goal, as always, was "reasonable regulations on alcohol that reduce underage drinking, over consumption and drunk driving."

There is reason to believe that the Church liked the idea of scanning ID's for younger drinkers, but rightly opposed the idea of compiling that information into a central database. That issue was resolved by maintaining the records of those scans for seven days before discarding them. So with that compromise on the table, the Church was willing to quietly back the bill in order to avoid ballot initiative on the issue (which likely would have been more liberal and widely accepted by the voters) that would have dragged the Church into another public battle right on the heels of Prop 8. There is also the feeling that a change in Church leadership, following the deaths of Pres. Hinckley and Pres. Faust, made the change possible because both were involved in creating the original private-club program, whereas Pres. Monson, with his business background, may have been more inclined to support the more practical approach to the situation.

So the watch is on now to see if alcohol-related crimes, particularly DUI's, increase in the coming months and years. I would frankly be astonished if that were the case, but I would also like to see some additional measures taken to make sure that is not the case. The buses and trains should extend their service hours past around midnight and bars should be required to have taxis waiting. There need to be real alternatives to driving home drunk after a night of drinking.

All in all, it is probably a good compromise between economic considerations, moral considerations, and crime considerations. Hopefully it is a good signal going forward that the Church is going to be less actively politically outside the core areas of freedom of religion and expression, and the separation of church and state.


Anonymous said...

I still can't buy a bottle of wine in a supermarket, yet I can buy all the beer I want.
I'm a professional business traveler, and a responsible person who would like a simple glass of wine in my hotel room in the evening, yet I can't purchase one in this state without finding a state liquor store, and in the city I am in the ( Tremonton ) the state run liquor store is closed on both Sunday and Monday!!!
It seems to me that this state is STILL run by a bunch of small minded fanatic religious facists.

Anonymous said...

here here to that. Im from ohio staying in a Tremonton motel. I can not find a liquor store and the Walmart I went to doesn't even carry wine. Ridiculous. This whole state seems like a bunch of right winged religious nut cases. I even checked out a Mormon church in the area and person after person came to the front saying " this is the one true church and there is one true prophet." God, it's like they were all trying to convince each other. Very confused people. Can't wait to get the hell out of here...