Some State Booze Laws Are Improving, Others Are Only Getting Worse

The moral arc of the universe is actually a squiggly line


This month, Denver announced it would roll back some restrictions on drinking in public. Elsewhere, a new North Carolina law loosened some beer-distribution rules.

State (and local) alcohol laws are forever changing. Often, as in Denver and North Carolina, the changes are welcome.

That's also the case in Connecticut, where a law will allow out-of-state wine stores and retailers to ship wine to state residents. And it's true in Kansas, where a new law allows the sale of beers up to 6% ABV in grocery stores.

In many cases, one could be forgiven for a creeping sense of optimism. Wow, it's great that's legal now. But I tend to think otherwise: Why the heck wasn't that legal until now?

Still, my pessimism over the slow pace of progress is tempered by the fact that these incremental changes for the better are so often juxtaposed against far worse things—namely awful booze laws that won't change or, worse still, lousy, laws that have only recently found their way onto the books.

In fact, for every state that's embraced one or more facets of alcohol deregulation, you'll find others have done just the opposite. It's in this way that New Jersey's awful, backsliding new craft beer regulations, which I wrote about last week, hardly stand alone.

In Massachusetts, for example, all happy hour drink specials continue to be illegal and have been since the mid-1980s. The incident that spurred the ban took place when a drunk woman jumped onto the hood of a car in the parking lot of a Ground Round, a local pub chain. The car was also driven by another drunk person, right after both had consumed cheap beer at the pub. The woman fell off the car and died.

Massachusetts's happy hour ban was supposed to combat such tragedies. But it continues not to do so. Just this week, a 74-year-old allegedly intoxicated man was arrested after the police say he plowed into two people outside an Applebee's restaurant.

That's on top of the fact, as I wrote in a 2015 column, that Massachusetts "has the second-highest rate of drunk driving in New England, and a rate that's 15 percent higher than the national average."

Oftentimes, even in states that deregulate, the stench of Prohibition often still lingers.

Take a new West Virginia law, which took effect this week, reports the Williamson Daily News. The law increases the maximum ABV beers sold in the state may contain from 12% to 15%. It also allows customers to purchase more than two growlers of beer. Another law, which also took effect this week, will allow restaurants, wineries, breweries, and others to sell alcohol on Sundays after 10 a.m. Sunday bottle sales are still illegal until 1 p.m.

Hence, if you want to buy a bottle of Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA (which clocks in at 15-20% ABV)—or, say, a bottle of anything on Sunday morning—you'll still have to leave West Virginia to do so.

That stench of Prohibition also lingers in Texas, where a new state law will allow some restaurants to deliver alcohol to customers who also order food. That's great. But standalone booze deliveries are still illegal under the law. Of course, there's a catch that basically swallows the rule.

"[I]f you are ordering a dozen beers from a pizza parlor with a beer and wine permit," News 4 San Antonio reports, "you'll need to make sure to add a couple orders of breadsticks to go with it."

Craft beer—like the alcohol industry generally—can "only go as far as lawmakers will allow," I wrote earlier this year. Even as state alcohol laws continue to evolve, it's clear that a willingness to expand choice through deregulation is something many lawmakers don't yet possess.

NEXT: Stop Treating Government With Respect

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    1. Emperor Xi just blinked–they’ve “indefinitely suspended” the extradition bill.

      Congratulations to the people of Hong Kong.

      1. That wasn’t supposed to be a reply to anybody, but I’m sure there must be some way to blame Trump for this.

        In a post from yesterday, one Reason staffer seemed to want us to apologize to Iran because they attacked oil tankers.

        At the ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary, I was genuinely concerned that Obama might apologize to the Japanese for Pearl Harbor. Anything is possible from the left!

        I’m sure there must be some way to blame Trump for the people of Hong Kong successfully using protest to defend their freedom from the likes of Emperor Xi.

        1. I’m sure you’re on the case of figuring out how to give Trump credit, even though he was busy throwing a tit fit to Stephanopoulos instead of offering any thoughts on HK.

        2. Did John Bolton tell you that Iran was responsible for those attacks? And you believed him?

      2. From what I read it was more about the mayor or PM of Hong Kong who was pushing a bill to allow extradition in criminal cases. It had not passed yet in Hong Kong.

        Not sure that Xi had much to do with it but who knows.

        1. When all the trees are bending in the same direction, it’s pretty clear which way the wind is blowing.

          1. Actually the bill came about because of a murder case involving someone from Taiwan. The law does not allow extradition to Taiwan either.

            It seems more internal to Hong Kong. The people are opposing anything which could threaten their independent status which is a good thing.

            1. “It seems more internal to Hong Kong”

              Are you actually fucking retarded?

        2. You’re absolutely right. The god-king of China has nothing to do with Hong Kong…

          Do you read the stupid shit you post?

  1. Georgia, and especially Atlanta, is a craft beer paradise, or as close as one can get.

    1. You’d think it would be somewhere in the Midwest, somewhere in the rust belt full of the descendants of all those beer drinking krauts.

      1. Don’t confuse quantity with quality. Or at least flavor.

    2. The week I spent in Oregon 10 years ago made it seem like a craft beer paradise. It was plentiful everywhere and quite cheap.

      1. I have a friend there who is partners in an outfit making craft ciders. Very good stuff.

  2. HEB is offering free beer and wine delivery in Texas. I don’t see a good requirement here on the “favor” site.

  3. Hence, if you want to buy a bottle of Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA (which clocks in at 15-20% ABV)—or, say, a bottle of anything on Sunday morning—you’ll still have to leave West Virginia to do so

    Living in West Virginia is already like having an IPA IV straight into your soul.

  4. Massachusetts has a high rate of drunkenness? Weird. That just doesn’t sound like them.

    1. still a lot of Kennedys left

    2. If they sobered up, they’d be like, “wait, I’m in Massachusetts!” and they would skedaddle out of there.

  5. Booze laws are such a scam. They have a long history whereby the king or whatever had to get a cut of the profits.

    What really annoys me are Sunday laws and time limits. So I think you can’t sell after 3 am here. The guy getting off his night shift can’t buy a six pack on the way home.

    The Sunday laws are just a scam revenue thing here. You pay extra for different licenses. One place sells no beer or wine. Across the street beer after 1p, or beer and wine after 11a etc. Pure graft from the state.

    Then of course to sell anything stronger you pay the really big bucks. The major grocery has the only one here. The local guy who had it before I am told got like a million when they bought him out. Good for him.

  6. When I was a tyke, nearly half of Texas was coercively dry. Competition with Maria & Joanna changed that. Prohibition under the Jones 5&10 Law and Manly Sullivan decision wrecked the economy with Crash and Great Depression. In the land of the All-seeing Dollar, this is the fact most likely to bring about repeal of prohibition laws. It’s what defeated the GOP in 5 consecutive elections.

  7. Here in the DC suburbs (Montgomery County), liquor can only be purchased at a county run store (at which you can also purchase beer/wine, but it cannot be cold).

    If I didn’t love my cottage so much, I’d leave this damned (nanny) State. Instead, the girlie and I just get more firearms, so I can collect another “not disapproved” (really, that’s the actual phrase) ruling from the State Police.

    Off topic, but Maryland has said that they may start comparing the pot card list with the handgun list.

  8. Fuck the government.

  9. They just started selling wine and full-strength beer in groceries and convenience stores here, just at the moment I started buying pretty much all my groceries online. And I still can’t booze online here.

    Oh well, going to a liquor store gets me out of the house.

    1. Colorado? It’s like a different world at our grocery stores now. Although I kind of miss 3.2 Budweiser…it was my Sunday afternoon football choice. A six pack only equaled about 3 average craft beers.

      1. Before my tolerance was simply too high to get remotely buzzed on 3.2 beer no matter the quantity, I had some pretty good times with it. I bet there’d still be some demand, but apparently not enough for the beer companies to keep it around.

  10. […] recent articles for Reason on the broad topic of alcoholic beverage regulation include “Some State Booze Laws Are Improving, Others Are Only Getting Worse,” “New Jersey Regulators Crack Down on Craft Beer,” “Ontario’s […]

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