When states treat alcohol like contraband, entrepreneurs suffer

Alcohol Prohibition was one of the most disastrous experiments in this nation’s history. Its failure was so manifest that within just 13 years, the nation pivoted from enacting the Prohibition Amendment (with the support of 46 states) to enacting the Repeal Amendment (with the support of 38). Yet despite this lesson of history, many states continue to treat the alcohol industry as a second-class business, subjecting it to restrictions that would be considered outrageous if applied to other products.

Virginia, for example, prohibits businesses from advertising the price of any happy hour special. The state also outlaws using any term other than the sanitized “drink special,” or generic “happy hour.” There can be no “Wednesday Wine Night,” in Virginia. Instead, there can only be Wednesday “drink specials,” where discounted drinks are ostensibly offered but the price remains a mystery until one gets to the bar.

What’s the point of denying consumers access to truthful commercial information? Perhaps Virginia paternalistically believes that creative advertising would lead to overconsumption, but there’s no evidence that consumers in neighboring Maryland and DC are unable to control their alcohol intake when exposed to such indecent advertisements as “Turn Down for What Tuesday,” or “$5 draft beers.” Virginia’s regime serves only to create an absurd parody of the Prohibition Era; businesses are once again forced to advertise with a wink and a nudge, even though, now, the underlying business practices are perfectly legal.

Perhaps Virginians should consider themselves lucky. In Ohio, no alcohol advertisement can contain Santa Claus. In Alabama, alcohol advertisements cannot be too “sensuous.” Other states regulate the type of container from which you drink alcohol. In Florida, standard-size growlers — traditionally used to carryout beer from breweries — were illegal up until 2015. When a small brewery sued, the state responded with a straight face that without the law, a person might consume an entire growler, drive drunk, and tell an unsuspecting police officer he’d “only had one drink.” In fact, the real reason Florida banned growlers and not six-packs was that established beer companies feared competition from craft breweries.

Read more of this The Hill op-ed by Anastasia Boden and Thomas Berry by clicking here.

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