Schumacher on Tuesday will propose a city-wide ban on the sale of less than a six pack of beer or malt liquor (except imports or microbrews), fortified wine and less than a pint of liquor.I spoke with Mr. Schumacher yesterday about this proposal, which is only that right now, to clear up some of the issues. It was a summary call, so I won't detail it too much, but here's the gist:
- First, it would simply extend portions of the "Alcohol Beverage License Density Plan" (Mad. Ord. Sec. 38.05(9)(o)) city-wide
- "Import" means what you would expect it to; though whether "Guinness", or other 'foreign' beers that are licensed for production here in the states, would count is not immediately clear (sorry, I forgot to ask about this)
- "Microbrew" is a relatively novel definition - at this point it is defined as anything less than 150,000 barrels per year. This would mean that Leinie's is a "micro" but Sam Adams isn't - thus, retailers could sell singles of Leinie's, but not of Sam Adams. As a practical matter how is a retailer to know whether a brewery is 150K barrels or not. Quick a quiz - name all of the breweries that are under 150K barrels: Sam Adams, Leinies, New Glarus, Ale Asylum, Lakefront, Summit, Bells, Great Lakes, New Belgium, Stone, Goose Island, Avery.
- I'll save my ire for another day, because I don't think it's a good solution; but, admittedly, Aldr. Schumacher agrees that it doesn't address the root issues that it is trying to re-channel
So, what is the "issue" - what problem is this ordinance attempting to abrogate?
A good question. Alcohol-related crime primarily. Crime, generally defined, as "anything against the law" or even just "socially unacceptable" - which would include societal ills from theft, muggings, panhandling and fights to vagrancy and loitering. Last year, somewhat quietly, and to moderate skepticism a few downtown districts restricted the sale of single bottles of certain types of alcohol - we'll call it "brown bag" alcohol - ultra-cheap 40s, fortified wines, sampler-size liquors, etc. Not surprisingly, this was resounding success - people (the types who engage in crime after getting a little "liquored up" weren't buying these and the alcohol-related crime decreased in these districts.
Or rather, the alcohol-related crime moved to other areas where these could be purchased. So, the argument goes, if we restrict where people can buy this stuff then crime will go down all over the city - primarily in parks and other public areas where people congregate. It doesn't solve the problem; we still have fights (even alcohol-related) and thefts and loitering, but at least it isn't because someone spent their dinner money on a 40oz of Olde English on an empty stomach.
Other cities, like Seattle, have instituted similar measures to some success. In Seattle's case, rather than the import/micro distinction, the law simply names the specific brands. Obviously, this results in a situation where the brands are re-branded.
It's far from an ideal situation - and, to his credit, Aldr. Schumacher at least recognizes and acknowledges this. But, if you think, like he does, that something must be done it becomes a question of how: both in the short-term with stop-gaps like the current proposal and in the long-term to address the root causes.
I want to withhold my own "official" judgment until I see where this proposal is going. The libertarian in me recoils in horror, but I am sympathetic to the plight of city administrators who need to address issues and the sometimes-less-then-ideal world it results in.