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Alcohol Regulation Roundup: Back To School Edition

Alabama: Up until last year brewpubs were illegal in Alabama due to a law that prevented beer being sold on the same site where it was brewed. Since the change, thanks to the efforts of the grassroots group Free The Hops, the state has seen about a dozen brewpubs open for business.

Also in Alabama: The liquor control board reversed its earlier ban on beer with “bastard” in the name thanks in part to those diligent ‘Bama beer fans who cried foul when ABC rejected the labels for use of “rough” language. Stay up to date with changes in Alabama beer laws by following @freethehops on Twitter.

California: San Rafael hops on the bandwagon by creating an individual rights free zone, I mean alcopop-free zone. Conjured up by neo-prohibitionist group “Alcohol Justice” (yes, that’s really their name), alcopop-free zones urge retailers to stop selling pre-made sweetened malt beverages like twisted tea and hard lemonade. For now, at least, it is a voluntary program.

Kentucky: Good and bad news out of the Bluegrass State. The good news is that a federal judge ruled in August that the state’s law banning wine and spirits sales in grocery and convenience stores is unconstitutional in violation of the equal protection clause.

The bad news is liquor stores filed an appeal less than a week later.

Maine: Maine considers trading a private monopoly for a state monopoly. Currently only one company has the right to import and distribute hard liquor in Maine. The Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations asserts that ending the contract would increase revenue to the state and lower prices for consumers. If they really want to help consumers and increase tax revenue to the state, they should allow many distributors to operate in the state, increasing variety and competition and lowering prices. Heck, they might even consider letting craft distillers distribute their own liquor, a move that would increase variety, bolster state businesses and increase revenue by encouraging companies to start up and grow in Maine.

Maryland: Farmers in Maryland take advantage of a new law that allows them to sell up to 15,000 barrels of farm-brewed beer.

Massachusetts: State legislators consider lifting the 28-year ban on free or discounted drinks. Some of the most vocal opponents of the change are bars and restaurants.

Michigan: As I predicted almost a year ago, the new keg tagging laws in Michigan probably didn’t reduce underage drinking, but certainly reduced keg purchasing.

New Hampshire: New Hampshire’s liquor commission is in hot water as some accuse the agency of illegally using a lobbyist (the same guy who lobbies for the Beer Distributors of New Hampshire) in order to defeat a bill that would have allowed liquor sales in grocery and convenience stores -- a threat to the state monopoly.

New York: Starting January 1, small brewers will be able to end contracts with distributors without going to court -- a time consuming and expensive process. Thanks to a bill signed into law in August by Governor Cuomo, breweries whose products make up  3 percent or less of sales at his or her distributor can simply pay “fair market value” for the loss of the brand. We’ll see if in practice it’s as simple as it sounds.

Oregon: As Oregon considers privatizing liquor sales, it looks to Washington State for what not to do.

Texas: Small brewers say archaic laws that bar breweries from selling beer on-site are costing them money. According to a study commissioned by the state craft brewers guild, changing some of the laws, like allowing beer sales on brewery tours and allowing brewpubs to sell their beer in off-site stores, would have an economic impact of $5.6 billion and create thousands of new jobs by 2020.

Utah: After a few tries, it seems the state hospitality association’s suite against the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage is at an end.

Also in Utah: A summit of health advocates and lawmakers in Provo  served to reinforce the entrenched belief that privatization of liquor sales would be bad for Utah. Some of the health advocates, patting lawmakers on the back for resisting the urge to privatize, based their assertion on a seriously flawed CDC study that used questionable methodology to reach the conclusion that privatization increased alcohol-related harm. While I will have a much more detailed criticism of that 2011 survey, in a nutshell it asserts that the less drinking moderate/responsible drinkers do the less drinking extreme drinkers will do, thus reducing harm. Of course, few lawmakers had reason to question the study or the experts that reaffirmed their beliefs and validated their past decisions.