Utah needs to get out of the liquor business (OPINION)

utah liquor store
Photo courtesy Go Moab

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Dallas Hyland is a columnist for St. George News and blogs as The Amateur Broad Thinker. The opinions stated in this article are solely his own and not those of St. George News.

I have to tell you all I was disheartened to see the “for sale” sign in front of the Red Dog Cafe in Dammeron Valley this past weekend. I lived in Dammeron for my first few years as a Utah resident and was there the first week the restaurant opened. It was a favorite gathering place for myself and some friends. The food was good, reasonably priced, served up by local owners, and the overall feel was warm and local.

I cannot say how long they have been closed or what the circumstances were behind the closure, but it would not be a stretch for me to wonder if it was simply the sad byproduct of the economy.

I recall on occasion talking to the owners about serving alcohol and how it would help their business immensely. I cannot say with any certainty that they intended to pursue it, and this was of course their prerogative, but I can say they likely did not even have the option. This bothers me and should bother you.

Utah is currently out of bar liquor licenses and suffice it to say, restaurant liquor licenses are immensely difficult to attain.

For almost 25 years, the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has distributed alcohol permits to bar and restaurant owners based on a formulaic population quota system rooted in state law. This system thwarts the efforts of entrepreneurs in the food and alcohol sector to remain competitive and profitable in what is supposed to be a free trade market.

Rep. Gage Froerer (R-Huntsville) is advocating a common-sense approach to remedy what some perceive to be a problem by letting the free market determine who can serve a martini with dinner, not the state of Utah. He has written and is advocating House Bill 223. If it were to pass, the bill would eliminate the population requirement for liquor licenses issued to restaurants and open the liquor license process to the free market – allowing any restaurant to receive a license if they are willing to pay the fee.

My question really boils down to who would oppose this and why?

Utah champions itself on being a conservative state supportive of free market capitalism, yet allows for and supports some of the very things that contradict that stance.

Since when can you say the words “free market” and “State Liquor Store” in the same sentence without presenting a contradiction?

In the last election cycle, the state of Georgia did away with its ban on Sunday alcohol sales. Much like Utah, one of the contentions in that uphill fight was the need to stimulate economic viability in these hard times.

But, and don’t miss this here, the issue should not be just economic viability. It should be our rights as citizens not to have a state dictate policy of the sale and distribution of a legal commodity. And, if in fact it is purely economic, the pure hypocrisy of the arguably reddest, most conservative state in the nation having such a heavy hand in the private sector is almost laughable.

It begs the question, why was the state trying to shut down liquor stores last year, such as the one on Sunset, when it brings much needed revenue to the state; revenue that supplements state programs like education.

Something else is at play here and it has nothing to do with economics or civil liberties. It seems to have more to do with enforcing a moral or religious imperative upon citizens against their collective will.

I for one think this bill should never have been needed in the first place. If Utah were abiding its contention that a free trade market is the right of Americans, it would unanimously support this bill based on the principle of it alone.

There is no justification under the premise and principles of a free market for this state to regulate the sale of alcohol. It is simply the predominate culture’s imposition of its moral values and is an example of the reasoning behind the timeless notion of the need for a separation of church and state.

Walk the talk Utah. Get behind this bill.

See you out there.

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  • Bonnie Blank November 30, 2011 at 9:51 am

    Utah needs to get out of the liquor business (OPINION)

    Well written, Dallas. You did an excellent job of reviewing the situation honestly. Be sure to let us know the results of your efforts to get the vote out.

  • Firefly November 30, 2011 at 11:25 am

    Great article Dallas. The State of Utah should not be in the alcohol business. But as stated in the excellent article, it is more than regulating and/or restricting its sale. As Dallas states, it is the imposing of views of a select few who feel they know what is best for all. This goes against all the free trade and free market, and above all, the freedom to pursue individual goals for achieving success in a free market. It is hoped that this bill will pass and become law. It is time for the State of Utah to get out of the alcohol business and especially abandon the role of “morality police” for its citizens.

  • Colter Wilson November 30, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    Dallas, that was a very true article. The problem is that the legislators that back current system care nothing about true free market values. I work for a point of sale company. I do not sell liquor and am not in the liquor business. My industry in Utah has taken a beating because these laws limit the number of accounts I can sell equipment to. Here is an example of how in Utah you can not get a liquor license but you can scam people out of their money in a pyramid scheme.

    Thanks for such a well written article.

  • tyler December 1, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    Excellent article!! It is way overdue for the seperation of state and church!! This is arguably the most wishy washy, hypocritical state in the nation, of course who doesn’t already know that? The dominant religious culture isn’t so dominant as once was, and that trend is ever increasing, so it’s only right that the state gets the hell out of alcoholic control.

  • urbanboy December 1, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    Nice to see someone put it out there like it is in the local media! It is so contradicting of the state to say it supports free market while controlling alcoholic bev control. Utah is still America right? So it should be either up to me or the restaurant/bar if I want a drink, not an entire state lol! If you’re a ‘righteous’ religious nut, don’t go to the bar and have a drink, but by god, don’t try to poison the free world with your values and control how I live my life!

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