Looser alcohol laws: a losing proposition


Take a moment and go through a quick thought experiment with me. Let’s say the Utah Association of Snake Oil Businesses came to your community and asked that you loosen regulations on selling legal forms of snake oil. The reason, according to the business association, is that their preferred type of snake oil, which your community’s laws make hard to sell, promises to make a lot of money for snake oil businesses and will produce jobs in the community. Sounds good, right? I mean, who doesn’t want more jobs?

But in researching the issue, you and your community discover that this brand of snake oil also impairs people’s abilities to think rationally and make good judgments, and is associated with higher levels of crime when used in large amounts. Further, you learn that it can lead to significant health problems over time and is especially harmful when used by children.

Would you want the leaders in your community to change its snake oil laws?

Most responsible citizens in Utah would probably answer “no” to this question. Why? Because reasonable people understand that there are some things in life – such as the health, safety and well-being of themselves, their families and others in their community – that are more important than money.

As it turns out, this “hypothetical” isn’t so hypothetical after all. In fact, Utah’s pro-alcohol lobby has pushed state policymakers for years to loosen or repeal laws designed to restrict over-consumption of alcohol and underage drinking so they can make more money from selling alcohol (what they call “economic development”).

Heavy alcohol consumption, of course, like the hypothetical snake oil, impairs rational thinking/judgment and is associated with violent crime and poses significant health risks. If children consume alcohol, it can be extremely damaging to their health and development. And further research has shown that drinking alcohol is costly to society, including harmful effects on families, employment and the economy (see here, here and here).

Those who wring their hands at or scratch their heads because of Utah’s alcohol laws, since more drinking means more “economic development,” should remember this important fact: Alcohol laws are about more than money.

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  • Anonymous

    If snake oil is allowed in the neighboring town (and not my own town) and the neighboring town gets to keep the revenue from my next door neighbor going to get his snake oil there I would just as soon he be allowed to buy his snake oil in my town.  I think it bizarre that we make people drive miles to buy their alcohol.

  • Larry Vojtecky

    The problem you failed to point out concerning Utah’s liquor laws is the resent scandal that involves Liquor Commission higher ups who have been manipulating the system for years.  Don’t praise the control of alcoholic beverages when those leaders who were entrusted to enforce those regulations only did so to line their own pockets!  To me this points out a failure in the current laws and those laws now need to be changed.  Utah loses out on millions of dollars on tax revenue involving alcoholic beverages because most Utahns travel to Nevada, Idaho, or Wyoming to purchase alcoholic beverages.  Drinking is a personal choice and we will be hard pressed to try to stop people from doing so if they so chose to.   The laws need to be changed because we can no longer trust those who are suppose to enforce these great and wonderful alcohol laws.  The failure is on the part of the government, who regulates the regulators?

    • Derek H Monson


      Just because there are some bad apples in the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control does not necessarily mean that Utah’s alcohol control laws are flawed. To me it seems that the problem is poor oversight mechanisms, not really bad alcohol control laws.

      Also, I find it hard to believe that “most” Utahns travel all the way to another state to get alcohol when there are state liquor stores and bars located within a reasonable distance of the majority of Utah’s population. For instance, are you saying that someone in the Salt Lake Valley will drive for hours to Nevada, Wyoming, or Idaho just to get a drink when they have several state liquor stores and bars (The Salt Lake Tribune recently published a list of “50 Great Bars in Salt lake City”) less than 30 minutes away? Doubtful.

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