A Cocktail Freedom Bill Is Being Considered in Bismarck

The alcohol industry is perhaps one of the most heavily regulated from our country. Partly because of the very real social impacts of alcohol use and partly as an anachronism from our nation’s complicated history with alcohol prohibition.

The result is a very tightly controlled market for booze. So much so that those who retail alcohol – bars and restaurants and the like – are at the mercy of the alcohol distributors which serve their areas. Currently, if a hospitality establishment wants to purchase a certain brand or type of alcohol their local distributor doesn’t offer, they’re flat out of luck.

Which is where HB1146 comes in. The bill would allow bars to order alcoholic beverages directly from the manufacturer without going through a distributor, as they normally have to do. They would be able to do this only if they made a formal request of the distributor for a product they wanted, and the distributor refused to supply it for them.

Here’s an excerpt from the bill, which you can read in full below:

As you can see, there would be a process through which alcohol retailers would have to establish that the alcohol they want is not available from a distributor. Per the bill, the retailer would still have to pay the wholesale excise tax on what they purchase.

There is a little bit of self interest present for the sponsor of the legislation. State Rep. Rick Becker is also the owner of Humpback Sally’s, Luft, and 510.2 (yeah, that’s the name I guess). His general manager is Kate Gerwin who is something of a celebrity in her industry. She’s appeared on Bar Rescue with Jon Taffer.

She’s spoken openly on social media of this legislation being a way to address her difficulties in securing certain types of alcohol for Becker’s establishment.

Whatever Becker’s personal interests in this legislation, though, it seems like good legislation.

If I had my way I’d burn down our current “three tier” model for selling alcohol which, at least in part, is a post-prohibition policy put in place to break up the bootlegging syndicates once their products became legal. But since that’s probably not happening any time soon, I’m all for creaking open the door to more market freedom in the alcohol industry.

There is no question that alcohol abuse has a deleterious impact on our society, but I’m not sure how stopping retailers from buying their products directly helps with that situation in any way.

The legislation got a committee hearing on January 10, and a 6-8 “do not pass” recommendation, but I hope the full House vote takes a more enlightened stance.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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