Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Forget Pot; Why Hasn't Big Liquor Fixed Antiquated State Laws?

This past election cycle, I was onboard our "Legalize It" effort here in Ohio, both for personal and logical reasons. Marijuana should be regulated, taxed and legal in my estimation. It is demonstrably safer than alcohol, which is legal. Moreover, there is a wave of acceptance sweeping the nation for legal pot, rivaled only by the same-sex marriage wave that successfully swept through over the last several years. So, why not?

Ah, dare to dream.
But when you think about it, it's rather amazing that pot is making such headway, when liquor has such a confusing and often times stupid set of restrictions in place against it, from state to state. I'm not talking about age restrictions, here either. I really don't have much problem with 21-and-over being the place we draw the line. Though, honestly, it does make you wonder why "adulthood" is legally scattered from 18-to-21 depending upon what area of law we're talking about. But that's another issue for another day.

If you wants it, you points to it, you
sick, degenerate drinker you!
But NOT on Sunday!!! Heathen!!!
The reason for my interest in this issue has to do with having moved back to Ohio after 20 years in Las Vegas. Liquor laws in Las Vegas are quite liberal, and I was used to being able to run down to Lee's Discount Liquor and buying whatever I wanted, just about whenever I wanted. Prices were reasonable, and there was a lot of competition. You could by most kinds of alcohol just about anywhere in Vegas, from a liquor store to a Walmart, to a grocery, corner quickie mart or even Sam's Club or Costco. Obviously, a dedicated store would have more varieties in both brands and higher proofs, but if you wanted honest-to-god vodka, you could find it just about anywhere.

Not in Ohio. Ohio restricts where you buy it, and when you can buy it. Beyond that, they further slice it by what kind of alcohol, and what proof. I can walk into most grocery or warehouse stores and pick up wine, beer and a bewildering variety of beer- and wine-based pseudo liquors. Sometimes, if you're diluted by half. No joke. Watered down. Most times, if you want a full variety of choices, you have to go to a dedicated state-run liquor store, or be lucky enough to have a grocer that has a full-fledged liquor store within their store. Most don't. Even stores that say they do often don't. Those that do charge far more than I used to pay back in my desert home. And there are restricted hours. Want to pick up something for a party before 1pm on a Sunday? Tough.
lucky, they also have spirits. But virtually always, those spirits are
Paradise in Las Vegas!

Dedicated stores are often dingy, sorrowful looking affairs that make you feel dirty when you walk in the door. If they have any browseable liquor, it's the cheap stuff, with top-shelf brands behind the counter. You literally have to point to what you want, and have them hand it to you. It feels like you're buying porn or something. But there is a world outside of Ohio, and even Las Vegas for that matter. When we've ventured out of our newly re-adopted state, we've made stops in other states, checking out how they do things. West Virginia has more liberal laws, though I can't say the stores I've visited have been particularly inviting. Pennsylvania may have arcane laws, but I must've hit one store at the right time in Pittsburgh, because it had a decent selection, and decent prices. Still nothing like Sin City. Iowa offers a decent grocer-based option, with separate-but-attached liquor stores by the main grocery. Prices are better than Ohio, if not great. And time restrictions are also better.

Binny's! Now that's what I'm talking about!
That was a reasonable option on our recent visit, and we were set to pick up a carload for our home bar. But we ran out of time, and just didn't get around to it. Undeterred, we decided to find something on the way home. At a gas fill-up in Illinois, we noticed our truck stop had a dedicated liquor store. Cool! We grabbed a couple of bottles of whiskey (priced above Nevada, but below Ohio), but were told, in broken English, that we were too early. No sales on Sunday before 10 am! It was 9:15. Okay, then, back on the road. I plugged my request into my phone, and huzzah!!! A liquor discount store in Champaign called "Binny's." And it was right off the freeway!

This is not an ad, but let me tell you, it was a real discovery. It was like Vegas, only better actually. Illinois may very well have perplexing liquor laws that I'm not privy to. But this store was big, it had huge variety. It had low, low prices. And the people were super-friendly. Even Lee's Discount Liquor didn't manage that, most days. Suffice it to say, we stocked up. And just for example, a handle-bottle of JD was at least $20 cheaper there, no joke.

But all of this got me to wondering: why is it this way? Why does each state have a hodge-podge of antiquated, religiously tinged, ridiculous liquor laws in almost 2016? I realize, even Ohioans don't have it as bad as some other--particularly Southern--states, whose laws can be downright bizarre. But why do brewers, distillers and other liquor companies put up with it? Why would they make special, diluted spirits just for Ohio? These are huge companies in some cases. Isn't there a liquor lobby? Wouldn't Lee's or Binny's like to have big box stores in Columbus or Cincinnati? Wouldn't Costco, Sam's or even Kroger? I really don't get it. But I'd like to see a ballot initiative! Maybe if the liquor lobby scratched the marijuana lobby's back. . .

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