Alcohol Regulation Roundup: October 7, 2011


A Supreme Court decision is being heralded as potentially liberating the advertising market for tobacco and alcohol as it expands first amendment protections on all types of commercial speech. Eugene Volokh analyzed the Sorrell v. IMS Health Inc. decision and it’s implications on whether or not commercial advertising may be generally restricted on the grounds that it might persuade people to do something that the government thinks is bad.

Also in National news, the neo-prohibitionist group “Alcohol Justice,” (formerly known as the Marin Institute) is taking aim at Facebook. The group claims that Diageo, makers of popular drinks such as Guinness, have struck a “youth oriented” advertising campaign with the social media site and they are demanding that the Federal Communications Commission step in.

Georgia: One of the last few states to overturn its statewide ban on Sunday sales will soon give each district a chance to vote on whether to keep the ban or open up Sunday liquor sales.  Georgian towns will vote on the referendum on November 8.

Massachusetts:  In September, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced approval for proposed ballot questions in the 2012 election, including a proposal to end the ban on grocery store beer and wine sales. Also approved were questions about legalizing medical marijuana and repealing the state’s health care law.

Michigan: The state Senate is expected to vote on a bill that would allow homebrewers in Michigan to serve beer to members at meetings held on brewery premises. During the summer the House passed a bill 4061 by a landslide. A Senate committee then quickly approved similar legislation and sent it up for a full vote. The bill stalled, however, after the liquor control commission is rumored to have asked Senate to hold off on the bill.

Pennsylvania: A long-awaiting bill privatizing the state-run liquor system was finally introduced by Mike Turzai in September. The measure would create 750 Class A liquor store licenses for auction to big retailers and grocery stores and an additional 500 Class B specialty store licenses.

In light of the miserable failure of the PLCB’s wine kiosk program, most residents are looking forward to the state government turning over liquor sales to private organizations.

Utah’s Liquor laws continue to confound. A cinema and pub was fined $1,627 for showing the film Hangover Part 2 while serving alcohol. While alcohol R-rated films are allowed to be shown and alcohol served in Utah, apparently, the state liquor control board took issue with alcohol being served while patrons saw “sexually explicit” images.

Also, the Utah “Undie Run,” which is meant to encourage residents to lighten up, were especially motivated by the recently updated liquor laws, which require a Zion Curtain in restaurants to hide servers of alcohol even if they serve nothing stronger than 3.2 percent beer.

Virginia: The Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) has initiated a comprehensive review of its regulations with the participation of alcohol beverage industry representatives.  The Virginia Craft Brewers Guild is actively participating in the review process. Reportedly, the review will cover the ABC’s extremely restrictive advertising laws in the state which, among other things, ban restaurants and bars from advertising happy hour specials anywhere outside of the bar.

Washington State:  For the second year in a row, Washington State voters will have a chance to determine if their government should get out of the liquor business. Already opponents to the privatization attempt are airing misleading ads.

Wyoming: Legislators want to raise the tax on beer, but history is against them. At 2 percent per gallon, it’s the lowest beer tax in the nation and hasn’t changed since 1935. Legislators hope to raise the tax to 28 percent per gallon, but face intense opposition from producers, distributors, retailers, and Average Beer-Drinking Joes.