Liquor Laws in Utah

This week I want to talk about Utah’s liquor laws – and, as usual, yours truly will cut to the quick.  I think Utah’s liquor laws are confusing and unnecessarily complicated.  I also believe that an unorchestrated convergence of the liquor lobby, confused Mormons, the “Utah nice” crowd, and Mormon-haters have made it that way.

As public policy, liquor laws aren’t that complicated to understand.  We begin with a premise – is drinking liquor something society wants to encourage or discourage?

That discussion allows libertines the opportunity to express the effrontery that drinking liquor is nobody’s business but the drinker himself.  To which, the reasonable response is – what, are you stupid?  But we now they’re not stupid, their drunk – drunk with the idea that what they do personally has no impact on anyone around them – that they are an island unto themselves.

Blame it on Hume, Bentham and, especially, John Stuart Mill for the destructive idea that liberty means doing what you desire, or blame it on unschooled minds and other libertarians for insisting that their notion of liberty has anything to do with reality, let alone America – but there are a vocal group of people who honestly believe that what they do is nobody’s business.  It’s not mom’s business or dad’s business or the kid’s business, or the boss’s business, or the neighbor’s business – if they want to drink liquor and “relax” (that’s what drinkers call getting drunk…relaxed) then that’s nobody’s business but their own.

Because of the large Mormon population in Utah, there’s strong public sentiment to discourage drinking.  And, in fact, that would be a proper and legitimate approach to liquor laws – let’s discourage drinking, period.  But we just can’t quite get ourselves to do that.  You see, drinkers are constantly complaining that the non-drinkers aren’t being fair…the Mormon haters take it one step further and actually insist that, as a matter of everything holy (or everything self-righteous or whatever the best term is to describe the attitudes of anti-Mormon bigots), Latter-day Saints shouldn’t be allowed to regulate stuff they know nothing about.  A very curious notion.

But, even more curious, is that many silly Mormons actually let themselves be bullied and swayed by those sentiments.  Their “Utah nice” gene kicks in and all of the sudden they’re society begins to reflect the values of other people, not their own.  And then we have another group of Mormons who are so righteous that they “righteous” themselves right out of their good senses and religious identity.  Frankly, they’re just too smart to be fooled by their own religious values and doctrines – and so they let go of the one bar they claim to embrace and belly up to the bar of sophisticated opinion.

These myriad of conflicting opinions have led us to the current labyrinth of liquor laws.  But that’s just democracy in action – sometimes getting from Point A to Point B isn’t a tidy little process.

So why do we have liquor laws at all?  Two reasons.  The first reason is that liquor impairs human judgment and behavior, and that impairment affects the lives of others, at home or in public.  And the second reason is that we don’t want to encourage kids to impair their judgment any further than the minds of youth are already naturally impaired.

The liquor industry is every bit as culpable in the sale of their harmful product as the tobacco industry.  On the one hand, they have all of these cool advertisements that have led to the myth that most people drink their products – at the very least, certainly the cool people drink their products – and youth are taken in by those images.  On the other hand, and this is the high-sign when you know you’re being snookered, they run ads about “drinking responsibly.”  When a company runs ads to tell you not to use so much of its product, that’s the high-sign that either their doing something wrong or their product isn’t good for you, or both.

Here is the best liquor law for Utah: sell booze from outlets where children aren’t around and require real accountability from consumers.  This means that liquor, including beer and wine, should be sold from licensed liquor stores, whether state-run or not (I prefer not), or from restaurants and bars; if from restaurants and bars, then those establishments should be off-limits to children; and, lastly, consumers of liquor (no matter how many times they roll their eyes) should be required to enlist like they are shopping at Costco with a membership, whether at the restaurant or the local liquor store.

And for those who resist this sober thinking – remember, don’t drink and derive.

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