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Published: Mon, 20 Feb 2017 00:00:00 -0500

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Your Government at Work: Trying to Prosecute Restaurateur for Tweeting Photo of Underage Kids Who Tried to Buy Beer [UPDATE: Acquittal!]

Tue, 07 Feb 2017 22:10:00 -0500

John Horvatinovich is on trial this week because he tweeted out a photo of a couple of 17 -year-old kids who tried to buy alcohol at his Omaha, Nebraska, restaurant, Salt 88.


He's facing a misdemeanor charge of interfering with a government operation. [UPDATE: And today, February 8, he was fortunately acquitted by a jury.]

Why? Because the kids were sent there by the Nebraska State Patrol as part of an attempted sting to entice him to illegally sell them alcohol.

His resistance to selling Bud Lights to the kids, who presented their real underage I.Ds and were turned away, indicates his intent to sternly obey the law. Yet that act turned into what the state considers lawbreaking when he thought he'd do a solid for the community by exposing the would-be lawbreakers.

He tweeted out a photo showing the face of the two teens from his restaurant surveillance camera on August 13 of last year, according to a report from the Omaha News-Herald, with these words: "Omaha restaurant peeps: These two are trying to ruin your night w/sting operations in town." (The tweet has since been deleted.)

Despite using the word "sting" in his tweet, Horvatinovich told local TV station WOWT News 6 that "We were presented with two minors trying to buy alcohol at our restaurant. Had I known they were minors working with authorities in a compliance check, I would have deleted it immediately. But we didn't find that until 12-days after the tweet."

According to the News-Herald, "Assistant City Prosecutor Makayla Maclin said in her opening statement [in his trial] Monday that...'(The teens) couldn't perform any more compliance checks as a result of the tweet.'"

Their police handlers feared with them being identifiable on the internet that future use of those same teens in bars could result in possible violence against them.

Horvatinovich's maximum possible sentence for posting a picture of people who tried to break the law in his restaurant is a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. The trial was ongoing as of today. [UPDATE: As noted above, today February 8 he was acquitted.]

Super Bowl Revival of Bud Light Pitchdog Spuds MacKenzie Prompts Death Threat

Tue, 07 Feb 2017 10:30:00 -0500

Long before Melissa McCarthy caused a stir by putting on a loose suit and a bad temper to impersonate White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, a female English bull terrier named Honey Tree Evil Eye drew cheers and catcalls by putting on a beach shirt and and a laid-back attitude to play Spuds MacKenzie, "the original party animal." On Sunday, three decades after the character's debut at the 1987 Super Bowl, AB InBev revived the Bud Light pitchdog for a Super Bowl spot in which he appears as an apparition, voiced by Carl Weathers, to teach an indolent young man the value of beer-enhanced conviviality. Alcohol Justice, formerly known as the Marin Institute, was not amused: 30 years after being deeply buried in the well-deserved grave of youth-attractive booze-pitching animal characters, the universally condemned Spuds McKenzie has returned. Like a Zombie in search of new and younger victims, the dog will be pitching beer to a global audience estimated to include 30 million impressionable children. "The specter of a three-decade old, cuddly Spuds McKenzie—the sunglass-wearing, Joe Camel of Big Alcohol—pushing beer again is unacceptable," said Michael Scippa, Director of Public Affairs for Alcohol Justice. "Resurrecting this despicable icon of irresponsible alcohol marketing proves that breaking the toxic social norm that binds alcohol to sports must begin with creating a divide between sports and alcohol ads."... "We call upon world leaders to recognize the public health and safety costs and eliminate alcohol advertising, sponsorships, branding and promotions from all sports," added Scippa. "And let's begin by driving a wooden stake through the heart of a zombie, beer-pushing, cartoonish character." You might think a group that sees Spuds MacKenzie as the caninification of all that is evil about the alcohol industry would take the trouble to spell his name right. And since Joe Camel came after Spuds MacKenzie, wouldn't it be more accurate to say that Joe Camel was the Spuds MacKenzie of Big Tobacco? Be that as it may, Scippa is fostering a potentially life-threatening misconception by encouraging people to believe that a wooden stake through the heart will kill a zombie. It may be a bit of an exaggeration to say Spuds was "universally condemned." I know that Strom Thurmond did not like him, and neither did the Center for Science in the Public Interest. But ancient teetotalers and busybody killjoys aside, there must have been some people who liked the TV spots featuring Spuds, which were breathlessly narrated by Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous host Robin Leach. The campaign was credited with helping boost sales of Bud Light by 20 percent between 1987 and 1988. I myself do not recall being offended by the ads, notwithstanding their allusions to bestiality, so much as annoyed by their ubiquity and their implication that there was anything enjoyable about drinking Bud Light, a blatant lie that may very well have led impressionable youth astray. src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">[...]

A Food Fight Over Virginia Liquor Laws

Mon, 23 Jan 2017 12:00:00 -0500

For decades, Virginia has forced bars and restaurants in the commonwealth to jump through a costly and pointless hoop. It's time to give them a break. The antiquated rule requires establishments to make up at least 45 percent of their revenue from food and nonalcoholic beverages. On top of that, they have to bring in at least $4,000 a month in food sales, and half of that must be from "substantial entrées." Restaurateurs (along with caterers and private clubs) have not been happy with these requirements—and shouldn't be. The rules impose a huge paperwork burden. Every year the establishments have to submit a Mixed Beverage Annual Review to the state proving they're in compliance. They also have to submit an inventory list of all the booze they have on hand at the end of the year. This is irksome enough. But now restaurants are feeling squeezed and discriminated against. The rise of microbreweries and brew pubs has introduced another competitor class to the marketplace. Recently Virginia Beach exempted craft breweries from the food-ratio rule. You might think the food-beverage ratio rule helps curb drunken driving, public inebriation, and other social ills. In fact it might do just the opposite: Because the ratio is based on gross receipts, it creates an incentive to sell cheap booze. As state Sen. Bill DeSteph points out, a restaurant that sells a $30 martini has to sell $25 worth of food to offset it. Cheap drinks, on the other hand, make it easier to meet the state's ratio. Cheap drinks also make it easier to get drunk fast. And what a restaurant loses in profit margin on each individual drink, it can always make up on volume. (If you think the food-beverage ratio requirement is questionable, you should take a look at the state's rules governing happy hours. For a long time, a joint could not announce drink discounts anywhere except inside its own doors. In 2010 the state deigned to let restaurants advertise happy hours on a sign attached to the exterior, so long as the sign was 17 inches by 22 inches. Two years ago the state finally let restaurants advertise happy hours on their websites and in social and traditional media outlets. But it still limits what they can say: "Happy Hour 4-7" is acceptable, but "discounted margaritas," "beer and wine specials daily" and "Thirsty Thursday" are not, because you can't use the word discount or name specific types of beverages or use alcohol-related promotional phrases. Other than that, you can say whatever you want!) In addition to the misguided public-safety rationale, there is another, less lofty, theory to explain the food-beverage ratio: It might have started out as a way to protect restaurants from competition. Forcing sellers of mixed drinks to sell a large amount of food closes the market to saloons where people go just to drink. That's just a guess—but it would be well in keeping with other market-entry barriers in the commonwealth, from the Certificate of Public Need for medical facilities to the various occupational licensing rules that make it harder to start a skilled-trade business. DeSteph has introduced legislation to give restaurants some relief. It would lift the rule for any establishment that sells more than $10,000 worth of food. Those selling less than that would face a ratio of only 35 percent. That's progress. Ideally, the food-ratio rule would disappear altogether. There's little evidence that it serves an important public purpose—or that the same public purpose is not served equally well by other policies, such as tough drunken-driving laws. All the food-ratio requirement does is make a lot of work for restaurants. Well, and for ABC bureaucrats too. Virginia's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has a friendly message for proprietors: "Your special agent is ready to help you avoid the costly consequences of not meeting the food-beverage ratio... Agents should be able to order a menu item anytime during your operating hours to ensure food sales are being conducted in the proper way... Whe[...]

Here's Why It's Dumb to Tell a Restaurant How Much Booze it Can Sell

Sat, 21 Jan 2017 08:00:00 -0500

In Virginia, where Founding Father George Washington famously distilled whiskey, momentum is growing to change a decades-old Virginia law that hurts restaurateurs who opt to sell liquor in the state. Under the law, the state requires food and nonalcoholic beverage sales at restaurants to equal at least 45 percent of their gross sales of liquor and food. Today, the state touts this ratio as "paramount." Restaurateurs argue otherwise. As the Virginian-Pilot reported this week, the basis of the law, first established in the late 1960s and amended in 1980, is baldly prohibitionist. Lawmakers, the paper reports, "didn't want saloons propagating across the state." The law's also protectionist. "The ratio lives on because of a powerful group of established Richmond restaurateurs," writes attorney C. Jarrett Dieterle. "They are quick to invoke the absolute horrors of bars and nightclubs dotting every Virginia street corner, alleging that repeal of the ratio would lead to an abundance of seedy, alcohol-infused, crime-infested neighborhoods." Dieterle rightly calls that "hooey." Add, too, to the list of hooey that the law infringes on the rights of restaurant owners, and limits choice for consumers. And it's difficult to comply with, in that it's next to impossible for a restaurateur to predict how much food or alcohol customers might want consume. The law is also discriminatory. In part, that's because it's based on the price that a restaurant sells its food and drinks. Last year, a Virginia restaurant and craft-bourbon bar that had been penalized under the law sued the state. The suit, by McCormack's Whisky Grill and Smokehouse, argues the law discriminates against businesses that sell costly high-end liquors and favors those who sell cheap spirits—since the law is based on dollar value of sales, rather than quantity of sales. Unsurprisingly, the law has forced some restaurants to abstain from selling higher-end drinks. Restaurants like McCormack's that skirt the law face the suspension or loss of their license. Virginia is hardly alone in enforcing such laws. Other states, counties, and cities around the country have similar rules in place. North Carolina law requires at least 30 percent food sales. Nearly two-thirds of Kansas counties require the same. And Gainesville, Fla. requires restaurants to generate at least half of their sales from food. Last year, Rome, Ga. lawmakers proposed eliminating the city's 50/50 requirement—though only for the city-owned convention center, rather than for privately owned establishments. Nearby Alpharetta, Ga. rules effectively don't allow bars. The city's 50 percent requirement for food and alcohol sales—which had been 60 percent until being lowered in 2011—is intended "to ensure the city had no bars, where alcohol sales were primary." Alpharetta recently made a creative change to the 50 percent rule for restaurants, adopting a law that sales from food trucks parked in front of restaurants could contribute toward a restaurant's required food sales. That may sound nice, but the law requires restaurants "to maintain sales records from each truck and submit a monthly report." Such onerous recordkeeping and paperwork requirements like these are a necessary feature of the abysmal ratio laws. Maryland requires the submission of regular notarized reports to a county liquor board. And in Virginia, the law requires "restaurants that sell liquor must tally their receipts each year and prove 45 percent came from food sales." But these requirements often don't stop at paperwork. Virginia orders restaurants to provide food menu items "anytime during your operating hours" as proof of their commitment to serving food. Inspectors who visit may test this out, and will "want to see food in your freezer and other food storage facilities." And if a restaurant that sells liquor operates a buffet, "[i]t is incumbent upon the licensee, if using food from a buffet to meet the food beverage ratio, that the buffet fare is actuall[...]

Politicians Make Bootlegging Great Again

Tue, 17 Jan 2017 00:01:00 -0500

When Prohibition ended in 1933, my great-grandfather, Giuseppe Marano, thought his money-making glory days were over. Having made a good living selling alcoholic beverages to willing buyers at a time when that business was illegal across the country, he and his cohorts certainly viewed the passage of the 21st Amendment as the end of a very profitable era. Except that it really wasn't. Politicians may have formally dumped the national ban on booze, but in many places they've imposed enough foolish restrictions to keep bootlegging a going concern. On the first day of this year, it became a class 4 felony in Illinois—up from a business offense carrying a fine—to import 45 liters or more of liquor into the state without a license. The same minimum one-year prison sentence applies to bringing in more than 108 liters of wine or 118 liters of beer without government paperwork. The law passed as a nudge-and-wink scheme between politicians who resent the loss of tax revenue when beverages are brought in across the state line, and local liquor distributors who bristle when out of state competitors elbow in on their action. "Many out-of-state businesses are not compliant with Illinois tax laws, which undercuts Illinois businesses, depriving our state of money that could be going toward improving our schools, roads and social services," Karin Lijana Matura, executive director of Wine and Spirits Distributors of Illinois, an industry trade group, told WQAD. The legislation came in response to a thriving illegal cross-border trade as Illinois residents place orders with businesses—many in Indiana—for liquor, wine, and beer unavailable or just extremely pricey through their state's tightly regulated and protected cartel. "Alcohol is much more expensive in Illinois than it is in Indiana," reported a Chicago ABC affiliate in 2015. "And it is even pricier in Cook County, where the tax rate on liquor is more than five times higher than it is in the Hoosier state." The result is that "a six-bottle case of vodka that costs $167 in Indiana costs $226 in Illinois and is $18 more than that in Cook County." Indeed, Illinois taxed distilled spirits at $8.55 per gallon, compared to the $2.68 imposed by Indiana, according to the Tax Foundation. Taxes are also lower in neighboring Missouri and Wisconsin. The Illinois Policy Institute notes that Cook County adds another $2.50 per gallon to the price of a bottle of cheer, and Chicago tags on an extra $2.68 per gallon. Wine is taxed at $1.39 per gallon, a tad higher than the $0.25 rate in Wisconsin. Beer isn't leaned on quite so heavily by the tax man, but Illinois still imposes a higher rate than most of its neighbors at $0.23 per gallon, compared to $0.12 in Indiana, and $0.06 in Missouri and Wisconsin. And that's assuming you can even find the beverage of your choice to have an opportunity to balk at the price. Chicago "is one of the last contested territories for the nation's two beer giants…which wage a proxy war through licensed distributors" and squeeze out small competitors, Crain's Chicago Business pointed out a few years ago. Federal and state law makes it difficult for small players to bypass established distributors. So opposition to the new Illinois law found fertile ground among consumers with tastes that couldn't be satisfied locally, "particularly from residents who purchased hard-to-find wine from out-of-state retailers," according to the Chicago Tribune. "Other states allow out-of-state retailers to obtain a direct shipping license, providing both oversight and valuable tax revenue. We think this is the right approach for Illinois—creating competition, consumer choice, and revenue to help balance our state's budget," their petition said. All they wanted was a chance to legally place orders online with businesses that carry their drinks of choice and have the goods shipped to their homes. But they lost, and the tax man and distribution cartel got their pet bill sign[...]

Florida Could Repeal Nonsensical Rule Limiting Sales By Small Distilleries

Sat, 14 Jan 2017 10:30:00 -0500

(image) Small-scale manufacturers of gin, rum, whiskey, and other spirits could soon be freed from a nonsensical Florida law limiting how many sales they are allowed to make in a single year.

Craft distillers, liquor makers that produce less than 75,000 gallon of booze per year, in Florida currently are prohibited from selling more than four bottles of liquor to a single customer within the same calendar year—and no more than two bottles to the same customer at once. To comply with arbitrary and restrictive state law, distillers have to record their customers' names and driver's license numbers in a registry that can be reviewed by state officials.

The bill to repeal the sales limit would also remove several other roadblocks that keep Florida's small distillers from being able to grow their market share. The bill would allow distillers to sell their product off-site without going through a distributor (that's currently illegal, all sales must take place at same location where the liquor is made), and would raise the threshold when higher state tax rates apply to distillers to 250,000 gallons annually from the current level of 75,000 gallons.

"I just don't think the government should dictate to a small business how much product they can sell from their one location," state Rep. Greg Stuebe (R-Sarasota), who is sponsoring the bill, told the Orlando Sentinel. Stuebe is serving up legislative cocktails of common sense in the Sunshine State—last week, we reported on his proposed bill to stop local governments from banning Airbnb and other homesharing services.

The bill could be another, small, step in the right direction for Florida, which has been slowly liberalizing its alcohol laws in recent year. Until 2013, for example, it was illegal for craft distillers to sell alcohol directly to the public at all. Instead, they had go through a distributor. That year, state lawmakers changed the rules to let distillers sell their products directly to consumers, but implemented the artificial two-bottles-per-customer limit. The original bill had called for an annual limit of 24 bottles per customer—which, okay, it's still an artificial limit but at least one that's a little more reasonable—but that was too high for wholesalers and distributors that disliked the idea of more competition.

Likewise, it wasn't until 2015 that Florida allowed breweries to sell their own products on-location and legalized the sale of 64-ounce "growlers."

Craft distillers in Florida also have to pay more than $4,000 in annual licensing fees, some of the highest such fees in the country.

Despite the alcohol industry's best efforts to bottle up Florida's craft distillers, their numbers are on the rise. The Institute for Justice reports that there are now 32 small distillers in Florida, up from just nine in 2013.

Feds' Rules Tell Cider Makers to Shut Up About Vintage Years on Labels

Sat, 17 Dec 2016 08:00:00 -0500

In The Cider House Rules, John Irving's 1985 novel, the guidelines to which the book's title refers are a set of rules posted in the Maine cider house where much of the book's action takes place. "Please don't go up on the roof if you've been drinking—especially at night," reads one such rule. These rules, posted by management to govern the behavior of the workers in the cider house, are mostly ignored by those same workers, who live by their own set of rules. If workers in a fictional cider house are subject to an array of sometimes-sensible rules they often ignore, real-world cider-house management is stuck having to comply with oftentimes-idiotic rules for which compliance is not optional. I'm talking about government rules, of course. And these rules, you may be surprised to learn, can be complicated. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB), is housed within the Treasury Department and is charged with drafting and enforcing rules for hard cider. A 2016 TTB presentation, Cider Industry Federal Compliance Training, makes light of its complicated rules a handful of times, as here: "How Does TTB Regulate Cider... Products?'s VERY complicated!" It is! It is! Maddeningly so. Space (and frustration, and lack of interest) doesn't permit me to elaborate on the lengthy discussion of the rules. But I want to highlight something that somehow didn't make the cut in that 244-page TTB presentation: TTB's unconscionable ban on disclosing a cider's vintage. Nick Hines, a staff writer with VinePair, which covers alcohol beverages, wrote a great piece earlier this month on the frustration the TTB vintage ban causes for cider makers. It follows earlier calls, in publications like the Cider Journal, to lift the ban. That ban, which Hines notes dates back to Prohibition, results from a set of overlapping rules. "On the TTB and FAA websites, cider is still labeled as a fruit wine, meaning it must be 'produced by the normal alcoholic fermentation of the juice of sound, ripe apples,'" Hines writes. "But when it comes to the TTB's labeling laws, only grape wine can use the 'vintage' labels." In other words, cider is fruit wine, but only grape wine can list its vintage. Why might a cider's vintage—the year its apples were harvested—matter? For the same reasons a wine's vintage might. "The variety comes from the way the blend of apples used from the start and the way the cider is fermented, stored, and aged," explains a 2015 blog post from cider makers Ash & Elm. "Variety also comes from the vintage of the apples as well, just like wine—some years are great growing years, others aren't, and the soil and ecological conditions where apples and grapes are grown affect the flavor of the cider or wine from year to year." Consumers want to know. And producers want them to know. Shy not allow a company like Ash & Elm the freedom to display their cider's vintage? "Cider makers should be able to put a vintage on their cider bottles if they feel like it accurately describes their product," VinePair's Hines told me this week by email. "A vintage can help a consumer understand what's inside the bottle, and how it can vary from year to year. The regulation of alcohol and its marketing is important in terms of health and accuracy, but I couldn't figure out a real purpose for keeping vintages off cider bottles." It certainly sounds like a rule designed to do nothing more than to protect the grape wine industry. The freedom to display cider vintages exists in other countries. You can buy a 2015 vintage cider from your local ASDA grocer in England, for example. Such vintages have been around for a long time, too. "[C]ider of a good vintage year will fetch a high price," notes an 1889 U.S. government publication on English cider production. Are today's TTB rules simply outdated--a vintage holdover of Prohibition-era lawmaking? That's charitable. I think they were never a good id[...]

Colorado Regulators Ban Marijuana Use in Businesses That Serve Alcohol

Mon, 21 Nov 2016 11:50:00 -0500

Last Friday, a week and a half after Denver voters approved an initiative allowing cannabis consumption in local businesses, the Colorado Department of Revenue's Liquor Enforcement Division announced that businesses it regulates are prohibited from participating in the pilot program. That means bars and restaurants with liquor licenses can't legally let customers bring their own marijuana to enjoy on the premises, as envisioned by supporters of Initiative 300, which was favored by 54 percent of voters. The department said the new rule has been in the works since last year, prompted by the liquor industry's concerns. Although that sounds like special pleading from manufacturers and distributors worried about competition from another intoxicant, DOR Executive Director Barbara Brohl said the ban is all about safety. "After carefully considering all impacts to Coloradans and industry," she said, the department decided "this rule is in the best interests of public health and safety resulting from public and dual consumption." The Colorado Restaurant Association said it also "expressed concerns about the public dual consumption of marijuana and alcohol," which suggests that some restaurateurs worried that their competitors might attract customers by offering a BYOC option. Larry Wolk, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public of Public Health and Environment, supports the DOR's decision. "There is substantial evidence that combined use of marijuana and alcohol increases impairment more than use of either substance alone," he said. "If marijuana use is allowed in establishments that hold a liquor license, dual use certainly would occur regularly and present a danger to public health and safety." The rule eliminates one of the major arguments against Initiative 300, but at the cost of consumer choice and business flexibility. Daniel Landes, owner of the City O' City restaurant and bar in Denver, told the Associated Press he'd like to be able to hold special events where cannabis consumption is allowed. "I'm in the hospitality business, and there is no place like this to use marijuana," he said. "That is inhospitable." Since the rule applies statewide, even bars and restaurants in jurisdictions that have been more tolerant of cannabis consumption than Denver will be risking their liquor licenses if they let customers use marijuana. Denver businesses that don't sell alcohol, such as cigar bars, yoga studios, art galleries, newly created cannabis clubs, and restaurants without liquor licenses, can still seek permission from the city to create "designated consumption areas," providing a new option for residents and visitors who have struggled since legalization to find social settings outside the home where they are allowed to use the marijuana they are now allowed to buy. Permits are contingent on approval by an officially recognized neighborhood organization, which can demand restrictions in addition to the ones imposed by Initiative 300. The DOR rule "doesn't completely hinder the entire law," Mason Tvert, an organizer of the initiative campaign, told The Denver Post. "Remember that this whole thing kind of got started with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra fundraiser that was held in an art gallery." I cited that episode as an illustration of Colorado's cannabis consumption conundrum in a 2014 Reason feature story. Reason TV has covered the issue too: src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">[...]

Surgeon General's Report Mistakenly Treats All Drug Use As a Problem

Fri, 18 Nov 2016 08:35:00 -0500

You might think Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who acknowledges marijuana's medical utility, has relatively enlightened views on drug policy. But a report he released yesterday reveals that Murthy is utterly conventional in his attitude toward drinking and other kinds of recreational drug use, which he views as a problem to be minimized by the government. Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General's Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health claims "addiction is a chronic brain disease" caused by exposure to psychoactive substances, even while acknowledging that the vast majority of people who consume those substances do not become addicted to them. The report describes even low-risk, harmless, and beneficial drug use as "misuse," giving the government broad license to meddle with personal choices through policies aimed at making drugs more expensive and less accessible. Murthy argues that driving down total consumption, rather than focusing on problematic use, is the most effective way to reduce the harm caused by alcohol and other drugs. As he sees it, every drinker and drug user, no matter how careful, controlled, or responsible, is a legitimate target of government intervention. Murthy's report eschews the term substance abuse, explaining that the phrase "is increasingly avoided by professionals because it can be shaming." Instead the report talks about "substance misuse," which "is now the preferred term." But substance misuse is just as judgmental, vague, and arbitrary as substance abuse. In fact, Murthy cannot quite decide what it means. On page 5 of the introduction, he says misuse occurs when people use drugs "in a manner that causes harm to the user or those around them." But elsewhere (including the very next page), the report uses a much broader definition. "Although misuse is not a diagnostic term," Murthy says, "it generally suggests use in a manner that could cause harm to the user or those around them." Could cause harm? That definition is wide enough to cover all drug use. Murthy does seem to think drug use is problematic even when it causes no problems. As an example of drug misuse, Murthy repeatedly cites a 2015 survey in which 25 percent of the respondents, representing 66.7 million Americans, reported that they had engaged in "binge drinking" during the previous month. "By definition," Murthy says, "those episodes have the potential for producing harm to the user and/or to those around them, through increases in motor vehicle crashes, violence, and alcohol poisonings." But the government's definition of a binge—five or more drinks "on an occasion" for a man, four or more for a woman—encompasses patterns of consumption that do not harm anything except the sensibilities of public health officials. If a man at a dinner party drinks a cocktail before the meal, a few glasses of wine during it, and a little bourbon afterward, he is drinking too much, according to Murthy, even if he takes a cab home. By that standard, at least 44 percent of past-month drinkers are misusing alcohol. Murthy also counts all consumption of federally proscribed drugs as misuse, no matter the context or consequences. As far as he is concerned, all 36 million Americans who consumed cannabis last year misused it, even if they lived in states where the drug is legal for medical or recreational purposes (which is now most states). Unauthorized use of prescription drugs also counts as misuse, whether or not harm results. "In 2015," Murthy says, "12.5 million individuals misused a pain reliever in the past year—setting the stage for a potential overdose." That makes the risk sound much bigger than it is. According to the CDC, there were 18,893 deaths involving opioid analgesics in 2014, the most recent year for which data are available. That year, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 10.3 million[...]

Brickbat: A Big Furor

Wed, 14 Sep 2016 04:00:00 -0400

(image) The owner of a pub in Bavaria faces up to four years in prison after investigators found bottles of Führer Wine, with images of Adolf Hitler on the labels, in his pub. Officers say the man has no links to the far-right. He says he received the wine as gift and thought it was funny. The wine is part of a series of wines from an Italian winery with historical images on the label.

Alcohol Prohibition Was a Dress Rehearsal for the War on Drugs

Thu, 25 Aug 2016 14:10:00 -0400

"The war on alcohol and the war on drugs were symbiotic campaigns," says Harvard historian Lisa McGirr, author of The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State. "Those two campaigns emerged together, [and] they had the same shared...logic. Many of the same individuals were involved in both campaigns."


Did alcohol prohibition of the 1920s ever really come to an end, or did it just metastasize into something far more destructive and difficult to abolish—what we casually refer to as "the war on drugs?" McGirr argues that our national ban on booze routed around its own repeal via the 21st Amendment. Ultimately, Prohibition transformed into a worldwide campaign against the drug trade.

The ties between drug and alcohol prohibition run deep. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) was established in 1930, only three years prior to Prohibition's repeal. The FBN employed many of the same officials as the Federal Bureau of Prohibition. And both shared institutional spaces as independent entities within the U.S. Treasury Department. "In some ways," observes McGirr, "the war never ended."

Runs 12:42 minutes.

Edited by Todd Krainin. Cameras by Jim Epstein and Meredith Bragg.

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D.C. Gov Goes After a Piece of Pub-Crawl Profits

Thu, 18 Aug 2016 08:05:00 -0400

Under a new city regulation, promoters of organized bar-hopping in the District of Columbia must register with the city, pay a $500 licensing fee, submit detailed litter-management and security plans, and promote public transportation to revelers. Pub crawling—the practice of going between myriad bars in a small geographic area over the course of one day or evening—has long been a popular recreational pursuit for friend groups, but in recent years more organized, themed crawls have become popular in cities like D.C., giving rise to roving bands of drunk Santas, Shamrock-adorned ex-frat boys, the tastefully undead, white girls wearing sombreros, Miller Lite-wielding superheroes, etc. Sometimes these are organized by bars and restaurants themselves, sometimes by third-party promoters. But "although opposition to bar crawls because of noise, litter, crowd control, and public intoxication are nothing new...efforts to rein them have ramped up in the past year," according to the blog Barred in D.C., which covers "DC bar news and happenings." Until this year, the promoters of pub crawls merely had to register (for free) with the city's Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) if 200 or more people were expected and bars would be offering drink specials. But in January, the ABRA approved "emergency regulations" for D.C. pub crawls, which the City Council subsequently approved for good. Under the new regulations, which took effect August 3, people are banned from hosting pub crawls on popular drinking holidays such as July 4th, Halloween, and New Year's Eve. Any bars or businesses that wish to host a pub crawl must pay $500 annually for a "pub crawl license," as well as receive approval from the ABRA Board for each individual event if 200 or more participants are expected. In order to get approval, the pub-crawl organizer must submit an application at least 45 days in advance, submit a "litter management plan" for approval by the D.C. Department of Public Works, show ABRA proof of a signed contract with and payment to a litter removal company, provide ABRA with a "security plan" that details how organizers plan to curb underage drinking; and receive the blessing of area police. During the crawl itself, an organizer must be present at all times and must not consume alcohol. Organizers must also post operational and security plans for the event where they are visible to participants and provide participants with literature on responsible drinking. Participating bars, meanwhile, cannot play host to pub crawlers from more than one group in one night. And that's still not all: The city has also decided to regulate how pub crawls can be advertised. From now on, all D.C. pub-crawl marketing materials must come with the warning "you must be 21 or older to participate" and contain statements encouraging the use of public transportation. In one new regulation, the D.C. government has managed to compel speech, discourage economic activity, thwart the independent organizing of pub crawls, and extort money from private businesses. Oh, and (of course) provide a bigger roles for regulators and law enforcers. Businesses found to be serving rogue pub-crawlers or participating in an unlicensed pub crawl could be fined, permanently barred from participating in pub crawls, or even have their liquor licenses revoked.[...]

The System Really Is Rigged: City Officials Bend Booze, Ridesharing Rules During DNC, RNC

Tue, 26 Jul 2016 07:18:00 -0400

During the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Philadelphia this week, select watering holes are enjoying a reprieve from some of the state's strict liquor laws and Uber X drivers are out and proud.  For convention week, Philly bars, restaurants, hotels, and event spaces were allowed to apply for permits granting them the privilege to serve thirsty politicos until 4 a.m.—last call is usually 2 a.m. The DNC host committee negotiated this late-night privilege for local businesses, payed the one-time application fee, and helped the city's Liquor Control Board review applications. At least 20 Philly venues were granted permission to stay open late.  Contra the regular rules, venues will also be able to serve wine and spirits from non-state sources from July 25-28. Generally, they must purchases these from pricey state-run stores. The state said the rule change allows venues to serve alcohol that has been donated and for out-of-towners to host events featuring booze from their home states.  Cleveland saw similar rule-bending when the Republican National Convention (RNC) came to town last week. More than 200 venues applied for a temporary extension of drinking hours from 2 a.m. until 4 a.m. These waivers were made possible by a January 2016 state law saying cities hosting "major events" could ask the Ohio Division of Liquor Control for a temporary out from the usual alcohol rules. For the RNC, individual businesses in and around Cleveland had to apply for extensions by March 21; those that were picked were vetted by local police and sheriff departments before having their info submitted to Liquor Control, which issued waivers in June.   It's not just booze getting a special dispensation during convention time. Earlier this month, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf approved a bill allowing ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft to operate in Philadelphia throughout the summer. Until recently, Uber X drivers could be found in Philly, but they were operating only semi-legally—city transit authorities even allegedly conducted stings on Uber X drivers.  Pennsylvania lifted anti-ridesharing rules for Philadelphia just in time for the Democratic convention. Under the approval, companies must pay 1 percent of gross receipts from fares to the city Parking Authority, which will then turn over two-thirds of this money to Philadelphia schools.   Kudos to Cleveland and Philadelphia for being adaptable and allowing temporary modifications that help convention-goers get around and get drunk. But if these cities can handle ridesharing and 4 a.m. last-calls at a time when tens-of-thousands of out-of-towners have descended, mightn't they be able to handle them when the hubbub dies down, too? Of course, for the DNC and RNC, we have powerful interests pressuring officials to suspend their nanny-statism for the common good. At most other times, we see pressure going the other way, with taxi cartels, state liquor agencies, and others invested in the status quo. The situations in Cleveland and Philadelphia are a good reminder that when it comes to things like occupational licensing, zoning laws, liquor regulations, and the like, "protecting public health/safety/morals" is very often code for making sure the system is rigged in the right way. [...]

State Beer Laws Continue Slow Creep in Right Direction

Sat, 16 Jul 2016 07:36:00 -0400

Every year, typically during the summer months, many state laws that were passed during earlier state legislative sessions take effect. Some repeal bad old laws. Others add to the mix. I've written about the impact of these state laws on beer brewers, sellers, and consumers, most recently here and here, where in the latter piece I noted that a new crop of laws demonstrated progress but showed just "how far we have to go to make sure brewers, restaurants, other sellers, and consumers alike have all the choices they want." This summer, with many changes on the books, seems as good a time as any for an update. Ohio recently lifted its ban on many sales of beers containing more than 12 percent alcohol. In Colorado, a new law, which went into effect this month but won't take effect until next year, will eliminate many restrictions on grocery sales of beer (along with wine and liquor). Currently, Colorado grocers may sell so-called "near beer," or beer that contains up to 3.2 percent alcohol, at each of their locations in the state. But they can only sell actual beer that people want to drink, along with wine and liquor, at one location each in the state. Under the new law, grocers will be able to sell beer, wine, and liquor at each of their stores in the state. If that were the end of it, this would be a great law. But the compromise law contains significant catches. The gradual deregulation under the law won't take full effect until 2037, when many Coloradans who haven't yet been born are old enough to drink. Until then, grocers will have to be content with a law that abolishes the 3.2 percent requirement in 2019, and allows for an increase from one location selling liquor to five immediately and to twenty locations in 2032. That means many consumers who frequent grocers like Safeway will be left with fewer choices for decades. The law, which is too much change for some and too little for others, is likely to be challenged, amended, or both in the coming years. The push to end the 3.2 percent requirement in Colorado, and a similar effort in Oklahoma, may also resonate in Utah, one of a few "near-beer" states remaining. With fewer and fewer states clinging to arcane near-beer rules, there's some belief brewers may choose to eliminate production of 3.2% beers altogether. Some fear that would leave Utah, which generally prohibits sales of beer greater than 3.2 oercent alcohol in groceries and convenience stores, with empty store shelves and thousands of lost jobs.  Another state with changes underway is Missouri, which recently expanded retail options for beer sold in growlers.  That's a good thing for craft brewers, consumer, and stores alike. The state also passed a law that lets brewers lease coolers to grocers. The law was supported by large brewers and opposed by craft brewers, who fear they'll be squeezed out of the beer aisle by larger brewers that can afford to buy the coolers and place them (stocked with their own beers) in stores. If the law proves as bad as the state's craft beer industry fears, the upside is that it sunsets in 2020, while the growler law, which should benefit craft brewers, contains no such provision. Two good laws also failed to pass in Missouri. Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed bills that would have "allow[ed] alcohol sales on smaller boats and one permitting people attending events in stadiums to order drinks on mobile apps." Change is also coming to some farmers markets. A new law in New Hampshire will allow beer sampling at farmers markets in the state beginning next month. But a Delaware bill that would have done largely the same in that state was defeated this month. Innumerable bad laws remain on the books, including North Carolina's cap on craft brew[...]

The Hillbilly Epidemiologists

Tue, 05 Jul 2016 11:39:00 -0400

(image) Jamaica Ginger Paralysis was one of the nastier byproducts of Prohibition. Jamaica Ginger, a patent remedy, contained alcohol, and the feds eventually realized that people were using it to get drunk. So the government demanded that the drug's makers change their formula. The new recipe tasted terrible, so some manufacturers tried to circumvent the rules by adding an ingredient that turned out to be a neurotoxin. By 1930, the resulting set of symptoms was starting to show up, including a partial paralysis that prevented people from walking normally.

Doctors eventually identified the source of the problem. But before they figured out what was going on, the culprit had already been identified on several "hillbilly" and "race"—that is, country and blues—records. Clark Stooksbury, drawing on the work of the late pharmacologist John Morgan, tells the tale in The American Conservative. Here's an excerpt:

Morgan speculated to Dan Baum that "no other incident has inspired as much popular music as the jake-walk epidemic."...The most likely reason for the large number of songs is that the category of people who were recording roots music records around 1930 overlapped with that of people who were looking for ways to get drunk during Prohibition—mostly male, both black and white, and often economically marginal. Morgan didn't report on which songs were works of journalism carved in wax and which were the work of memoirists, though it is a good bet that Tommy Johnson's work falls into the latter category. But Morgan did note that most of the songs were "devoid of the sentimentality and moralizing that are an integral part of most narratives of tragedy in American ballads recorded commercially."

"Jake Walk Blues" by the Allen Brothers is indeed devoid of sentimentality, moralizing, or self pity on the part of the sufferer. The song features a changing point of view from that of the shiftless jake sufferer to that of his woman, who is lacking in sympathy: "Listen here, Papa, can't you see, you can't drink jake and get along with me. You're a jake walkin' papa with the jake walk blues; I'm a red hot mama that you can't afford to lose." Alas, her man won't change—shiftlessness runs in the family: "My daddy was a gambler and a drunkard too; if he was living today, he'd have the jake walk too. When I die, you can have my hand; I'm gonna take a bottle of jake to the Promised Land."

To read the rest of Stooksbury's story, go here. To hear the Allen Brothers' song, dig in:

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