Utah has a drinking problem. But not the kind that can be addressed by Alcoholics Anonymous.
Legitimate entrepreneurs with sound business plans are held back by arbitrary state regulations that, were they impeding the progress of any other business, would be roundly criticized by many Utah lawmakers as nanny-state big-brotherism. But, because the limits are halting plans to open restaurants and taverns in growing areas along the Wasatch Front, the frustration only builds.
Arbitrary limits for the number of liquor licenses that can be authorized in any jurisdiction, based on population figures, were revised downward some time ago. The result was that some of Utah found itself oversubscribed in the number of permits issued. Now 18 applications for club licenses are stymied and applicants may have to wait months, or even years, to receive their golden ticket.
Some aspiring innkeepers are circling failing competitors like so many vultures, waiting to snap up their unexpired licenses. Others have paid premiums that effectively doubled their permit costs.
Meanwhile, other owners are amending their business plans on the fly. A provision in the law that establishes a separate category for reception centers has been a breach that at least one business has rushed into, opening an establishment that caters only to private parties and meetings.
All of this folderol is silly. Utah is not plagued by unusual or even usual amounts of drinking, alcohol-related crimes or accidents, underage drinking or any of the other sins that excessive drink can, admittedly, lead to. Willing sellers of a legal product are effectively prevented from doing business with willing, adult buyers for reasons that seem to make sense to members of the Legislature but to few others.
Yes, the overwhelming majority of the Legislature is guided by the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a faith that rejects the use of alcohol. And, yes, that cultural influence is doubtless a major cause of Utah's low rate of alcohol-related misery.
But the limits on the number of taverns and, more importantly, full-service restaurants that can serve liquor is arbitrary, bad for business, bad for the state's image and amounts to our own government holding its own adult citizens in contempt, mistrusting their ability to govern themselves.
Lawmakers are delving into apparent mismanagement at the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, as they should. But they should also examine their own mismanagement of the state's permit system, and make some changes. Soon.
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