I’m used to reading about cities that wish to place undue burden on brewers & bar owners in a down economy like we have by placing added fees & taxes (or at least trying to). When these stories pop up there’s a predictable outcry from those among us that like our drink, believe we pay more than our fair share of taxes & fees and don’t believe ‘drinkers’ ought to foot the bill for society as a whole in desperate times (or good times). It’s a dance we’re all familiar with, one that will no doubt play itself out again in the near future.

But there’s another side of alcohol sales & down economies, one that has me wondering and a bit worried. More and more there are small towns and counties across the country that currently ban the sale of alcohol on Sundays – or perhaps they’re under the control of the state with limited hours of availability, not sold in privately-owned stores (like grocers, privately owned liquor stores, etc). More and more these communities are looking at the cash-strapped local governments and debating whether or not to loosen restrictions on alcohol sales – allowing them to happen on Sunday, or at non-government stores.

Clearly I am all for loosening restrictions on alcohol sales across the land, but beyond the headlines there’s something in this story that nags at me. For whatever reason, I don’t like that the reason behind these looser codes is ‘the economy’. Why? The best I can put it is I think it makes it easier for cities and counties to up the taxation of alcohol in exchange for their benevolence. They won’t say it that way, of course, but there are many in government that like to remind us all that drinking is a privilege, not a right. As parents know all-to-well, when something is a privilege, it often comes at a price.

Furthermore, if the reasons behind relaxed alcohol laws are to help the depressed economy, it just seems like it would not take a lot for laws to become more restrictive once we’re back in the black. What’s to say that a dumbass behind the wheel some Sunday night after the game doesn’t spark furious outcries from an uninformed public to make the laws as they once were? Can’t you see how easy it’d be to influence the local lawmakers? If the reason for relaxing standards is based on economy, they have nothing really to fall back on when times are better and people want to see ‘new’ laws repealed.

What’s worse, I fear, is the possibility that cities with already relaxed alcohol laws (like SF) could connect the dots of rational argument. On the one hand we don’t want to pay more than our fair share for alcohol. On the other, we’re willing to compromise a bit for ease-of-access. Can we have it both ways?

Finally, I only urge thoughtful discourse on topics like this with my beer-writing brethren. It’s easy to get excited about the prospect of increased ease of access for the drinks we love, but before shouting from the mountain tops that now is the right time to change because our tax dollars will help the city (a true argument, by the way), consider the flip side of this statement.

In a way I’d rather see things stay the same in cities without Sunday alcohol sales if that means a more rational, well thought-out reasoning is behind changing the laws at a later date – arguments that have nothing to do with the economy. We can’t dilute our message that beer (in particular) is a part of healthy, vibrant society and has been since the beginning. Stay on message, don’t get sucked into the emotion of it all. If we do, I fear we may pay more than we know.

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