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Editorial: Sunday Alcohol Bans are Ineffective and Outdated


The city of Palmetto is again wrestling with the proposed repeal of a long-held Sunday alcohol ban. It originally voted 3-2 to draft an ordinance that would repeal the current ban, but the measure died last week in a 2-2 stalemate with Commissioner Lancaster (who'd supported the repeal) absent.

An overwhelming majority of citizens who responded to a survey on the subject were in favor of the repeal and Palmetto Chief of Police Garry Lowe anticipated no effect on crime, the main reason stated by dissenting commissioners, Tambra Varnadore and Tamara Cornwell.

So called "Blue Laws" have a long history in southern communities, where it was once common to restrict all commerce on the sabbath, and many municipalities throughout the U.S. still honor such tradition when it comes to alcohol. Most commonly, alcohol is not permitted to be served before noon, or during "church hours."

Having lived in seven states, I can tell you that regulations on the sale of alcohol are far from uniform and often downright ridiculous. What they all seem to have in common is that they fail to accomplish anything they purport as their aim.

Pennsylvania: I grew up in PA, where you had three different places to buy alcohol and none of them were a gas station or grocery store. Wine and Liquor was sold at state owned stores, which were inconveniently located and kept banker's hours.

If you wanted to host a party, you'd have to make a special trip on your lunch break, but you couldn't buy your beer while you were there. That required another trip to the "distributor." Whereas beer distributors in Florida sell to bars and restaurants and are forbidden from selling direct to the public, this was where you went to get kegs or cases (24) of beer.

Oh, you only wanted a six pack or two for the poker game? This meant a trip to a "package store" that sold quarts (limited to five) or six-packs (limited to three) and certain wine coolers under a specific alcohol volume (the others were back at the state store). State stores closed early on Saturday and were closed on Sunday. Distributors were also closed on Sunday and had to close before package stores, who in turn had to close before bars.

If you missed the distributor before it closed on Saturday and wanted a case of beer, you paid through the nose buying it by the six-pack. If the package store was closed, you paid an even greater mark-up to get a six pack to go from the corner bar. The result: the coal mine-lined county had the highest per capita alcoholism rate in the nation. People simply figured out the schedule and planned ahead.

Colorado: Colorado was the first state I lived in that sold beer at a supermarket, which I found to be an incredible convenience. Unfortunately, it took me two years to figure out that supermarkets there sold reduced alcohol beer, which was why it was the only place you could buy it on Sunday. I had thought it was just the high altitude that made the beer at the pub seem so much stronger

Alabama: I only lived in Alabama for six months, while attending Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Weapons School at Ft. McClellan. I never did quite figure out the funky Blue Laws of that state. There were numerous dry townships, dry counties, and all kinds of restrictions that fortunately did not apply to the post commissary. If you asked for a beer when you ordered your food in the wrong place, you'd get the kind of stern and condescending look they might give the devil himself.

Washington (state): had package stores that sold everything, but were forced to be closed on Sundays in many areas, though you could still get beer and wine in supermarkets. The laws in New York and New Jersey were the most liberal, with bars being able to stay open to 4 and 5 a.m. Connecticut had a statewide Sunday ban, which led to traffic jams across the state line into New York and increased DUI's for people on their return.

When I moved to Florida, I had to once again learn the rituals. While living in Sarasota County, I'd watch an endless display of frustration when I grocery shopped on Sundays and someone would put a thirty pack of Miller Lite on the conveyor along with all of their grilling goodies and snack bags in preparation for Sunday football with friends, only to be told it would be another 13 minutes (noon) before they could ring them up.

That law, and ones like it, are as ridiculous as such a scenario demonstrates. Problem drinkers will be the first to develop systems to overcome prohibitions. They'll stockpile alcohol when it's available and will use it whatever day or time they please. Proponents of Blue Laws cite vague justification for the policy, but I have yet to hear one that makes sense in application. As Chief Lowe noted, crime isn't going to change because someone doesn't have to cross a bridge to buy a few beers, that is unless they drink them before they drive back.

These laws always run up against common sense opposition, which is in turn met with rabid resistance from a small, if fanatical group of people who make vague arguments about crime, it being a family day, etc., when it's primarily an issue of commerce. I don't think many of these supporters truly believe the bans have any discernible impact. For them, it might be more of a statement about their community and its differences from the ones surrounding it, the same ones so many members of their community cross into in order to buy what they can't in their own, demonstrating that they're really not that different at all.    

Our history has taught us in no uncertain terms that prohibition of alcohol does not work and without a national or even state prohibition, local ordinances are meaningless, except for the local businesses and tax rolls that are hard hit by the loss in revenues when people go to restaurants, bars, and grocery stores across the line. You are not going to end or even impact any sort of behavior, while punishing the innocent in the process.


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