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Crazy drinks laws.

AT LEAST no one in today's America has to contend with Carry Nation. She was the late-19th century Kansas reformer who crusaded against the sale and consumption of alcohol. Known as the original saloon smasher, she would burst into bars and cause as much damage as she could to drinking establishments.

Curiously, US anti-alcohol campaigns have their roots amongst the political fighters who helped free the slaves. Once slavery was prohibited, many abolitionists chose to fight alcohol over the way they felt it enslaved people.

"It still a very moral issue," says David J. Hanson, a sociologist who specialises in alcohol and says the long fight of the former abolitionist movement helped bring about 1920's prohibition and still finds a place in the national psyche. This is reflected by a string of often strange anti-alcohol laws found across the USA.

"Most laws are designed to discourage its consumption," says Hanson. One example of authorities trying to take the enjoyment out of drinking is a US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms' ban of the word 'refreshing' to describe any alcohol beverage. The professor emeritus at the State University of New York at Potsdam tracks strange alcohol laws in the United States. While some laws today in the US have a religious connection, such the Mormon-influenced law in Utah that says a waiter can not tell a patron that the establishment sells alcohol, increasingly there has been a separation of church and state in matters alcoholic.

For instance, 27 states now allow Sunday shopping, thanks to groups like the Distilled Spirits Council of America (DISCUS). Spokesperson Lisa Hawkins has also been trying to push legislators to change laws that put spirits in a more stringent category. She finds it strange that stores can offer promotional wine tasting but many are barred from doing the same for spirits. Other laws cited in US research studies are just plain odd, such as the Ohio state law, which prohibits getting a fish drunk. Or the rule that makes it illegal to sit on any street curb in St. Louis, Missouri, and drink beer from a bucket. Who drinks beer from a bucket? And while every state has laws that prohibit driving and excessive drinking, in Texas, the state law reminds citizens to not do that imbibing while playing bingo. MINORS

In New Jersey, kids are legally prohibited from taking even a sip of alcohol from their parents until they're 18. Not only a sip, but it seems a whiff isn't allowed in Missouri, where anyone under the age of 21 who takes out household trash containing even a single empty alcohol beverage container can be charged with illegal possession of alcohol. For those youths who are feeling generous to their alcoholic uncle, it's illegal in Michigan for a person under the age of 21 to give a gift of an alcoholic beverage to anyone. And don't even try escaping to a more relaxed country like Italy. According to the federal Drug Free Schools and Campuses Act, students under the age of 21 are officially prohibited from conforming to the more liberal drinking laws of the countries in which they are studying. (Whether many American exchange students pay much attention is another matter). DRINKING ESTABLISHMENTS

It's in America's bars where you really see the contradictory laws. Some states require the interior of public drinking establishments be visible from the street. Others specifically prohibit that. Some insist that food be available wherever drinks are served. Others make that illegal. And some require that anyone drinking must stand at a bar. Others mandate that patrons be seated while drinking.

For moralists, who see debt as a vice, they'll be happy to know that it's illegal in Iowa to run a tab and for those who like to subcontract their moral authority to bar owners, in Texas, a person commits an offence if he knowingly sells an alcoholic beverage to an habitual drunkard.

It seems the authorities make some of their decisions to avoid unnecessary bar brawls. How else can you explain Texas and Ohio banning the sale of the French wine, Fat Bastard? One of the lawmakers must have imagined some poor mug ordering a glass of it by name. And some short-tempered heavy-set guy in a bar turns around and says "What did you just call me?"


It's illegal in Indiana for liquor stores to sell milk or cold soft drinks. They can, however, sell room-temperature soft drinks. As for drinks that might be confused with alcohol, California shops that sell motor fuel must display any alcoholic beverages within five feet of a cash register.

And while drinking is never tolerated on the job, off-the-job time is also covered in Iowa, where an employee of an establishment that sells alcohol cannot legally consume a drink there after closing.

If bottle sizes offers the consumer variety, it gives the bureaucrat more choice in how to annoy everyone. Colorado law requires that wine be sold in containers of at least 24 ounces and spirits in containers at least a fifth of a gallon. But, at the same time, it also decrees that no alcohol beverage can be stored in hotel minibars in anything larger than miniature containers. Meanwhile, like the don't-tell-let-them-ask Utah law, it is a violation of the California Alcoholic Beverage Control Act for producers of alcohol beverages to list the names of retailers or restaurants that sell their products in advertising or even in newsletters. And if you're going to be using alcohol beverage writers for your newsletter, Maryland now requires they be certified as experts by an agency of the state before they can receive product samples, which it limits to three bottles per brand.

Lest they begin setting up drinks at the prescription counter, chemists in Connecticut must pay US$400 each year for a licence in order to use alcohol in compounding prescriptions.


Aside from not being able to get a sample lady to have you taste that premium vodka or facing a locked Sunday gate at the supermarket, spirits come under some other confusing and restrictive laws in the US.

In a conservative state like Indiana, you better get a local to set you straight. Let's see, beer and wine can be sold in grocery stores, pharmacies and package stores (equivalent to the off-licence). Easy enough. And package stores may also carry spirits. But hold on. Pharmacies can sell it, too? And grocery stores are allowed to sell it if the grocery has a pharmacy which sells distilled spirits.

And don't try to order spirits from another state. In Georgia, direct shipments of distilled spirits to an in-state consumer from an out-of-state seller are prohibited. And in Kentucky, a person can be sent to jail for five years for merely sending a bottle of spirits (or beer or wine) as a gift to a friend.

Licensing is where illogic runs rampant. A California retail store need only pay US$100 for a license to sell beer and wine. That fee goes up to US$12,000 if it also wants to sell distilled spirits.

Perhaps, for fear that these expensive licenses will turn up on every corner, in Florida for example, the total number of retail licenses for distilled spirits is limited by demographics, with no such limitation on selling beer or wine. And in Maine, baseball fans cannot be seen drinking anything resembling distilled spirits, as no spirits licences can be issued to an outdoor stadium.
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Author:Fine, Philip
Publication:International News
Date:Mar 1, 2004
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