As an almost lifelong Utahn, I've always thought that strict state control of alcohol distribution and sales a $300 million-a-year enterprise was a singularly bad idea in a place that values free-market individualism and the virtue of self-determination.
On Tuesday, the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Review Committee got an earful from club and restaurant owners, vintners, home brewers and people who just like to have a drink in a nice bar or restaurant.
The forum was a public meeting of the committee, established by Democratic leaders in Utah's House and Senate. While its members expected to hear about the DABC's practices, good and bad, the spotlight was on the Legislature's maze of rules and regulations.
Why such high taxes and prices? How can the state require that restaurateurs pay double fees for a license renewal? How is it that serving, say, two shots of Jack Daniels is against the rules, but a patron can have one shot of Jack and another of vodka at the same time?
Why, said one bar owner, does it take a dissertation to explain Utah's booze laws to an out-of-towner?
And what gives with the Zion curtain that shields the public from the sight of liquor bottles and bartenders? Patrons don't know that bartenders mix drinks?
David Morris, owner of Piper Down Pub, complained that state law effectively denies his rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution the Fifth on double jeopardy and the Fourth on unreasonable search and seizure.
"If I mess up, and I can be charged criminally and administratively," he said. "And [an officer with a] badge can walk in and confiscate anything they want.
"Let's take a big step: Let beer businesses deliver beer, and let liquor sellers sell liquor," he added. "I make a better drink than [legislators] do, so quit telling me how to do it."
Big applause on that one.
Spencer Young, a self-described biblical scholar, noted that the biblical narrative,
the veracity of which he believed to be espoused by many of the state's Mormon legislators, was 'founded on rebellion,' adding that more rules and regulations inevitably foster more rebellion."
Spencer Young, a self-described biblical scholar, noted that the biblical narrative was "founded on rebellion," adding that more rules and regulations inevitably foster more rebellion.
"The Republicans who dominate the Legislature and statehouse believe in the free market," he said. "Why wouldn't we privatize liquor?"
Another pub owner wanted to know why, if his club is locked up at closing time, does he have to lock up his bottles again?
To which David Davis of the Utah Food Industry Association replied: "In-store pharmacies seem to handle drugs just fine. You can do that with alcohol."
The DABC Review Committee invited Republican lawmakers to the forum, but none showed up. So the committee will give the results of its inquiry to the Legislature, which begins its general session on Jan. 23. Given their history, I'd predict that lawmakers will go through the same tortuous deliberations as always on whether or not to change the way alcohol is handled in Utah.
Hey, lawmakers? Please. Prove me wrong.
Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.