Alcohol Prohibitionists Aren’t Happy About COVID-19 Exceptions for Bars and Restaurants
Of all the deregulatory efforts undertaken during the pandemic, the loosening of state and local alcohol regulations has been perhaps the most noticeable, welcome, and widespread to date.
Now, some of these moves are being made permanent. Late last month, for example, Iowa lawmakers, who’d already moved to allow bars and restaurants to sell take-out cocktails, decided to make those changes permanent. At least four other states are considering similar permanent legislation.
That’s great news. As someone who’s long called for relaxing burdensome alcohol regulations, I support deregulation before, during, and after the pandemic. And if deregulating alcohol was a really good idea before the pandemic, the government-ordered closure of bars and restaurants has made that really good idea essential during the pandemic.
After all, alcohol sales can easily be the most profitable part of a meal for many restaurants. And bars that don’t serve food cease to exist without sufficient alcohol sales. Smaller (non-chain) bars and restaurants in particular are hemorrhaging cash. Expanding alcohol revenue has helped some restaurants and bars continue to employ and pay their employees. Even regulators acknowledge loosened alcohol rules have “provided a ‘lifeline’ to eateries during the lockdown.”
Is there a downside to loosening booze rules? I don’t think so. While data suggest Americans have increased our alcohol consumption during the pandemic, harms tied to alcohol have also decreased. For example, data show drunk driving arrests are “down dramatically” during the same period.
But not everyone thinks alcohol deregulation is a good thing. Indeed, while bar and restaurant owners and members of the public have welcomed looser alcohol rules during the pandemic—with many favoring they be made permanent—a handful of activists are taking the opposite approach.
Alcohol Justice is one such voice. The Marin County, California-based nonprofit, which pledges to “hold Big Alcohol accountable,” has been busy combating temporary (nevermind permanent) rollbacks of alcohol regulations, lest the gilded streets of Marin County start to resemble something akin to the
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