Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Ruth: Berlin Wall between beer and booze makes no sense

Years ago on a golf outing to South Carolina with my much, much older brother, we arrived on a Sunday and quickly repaired to a nearby restaurant for cocktails and dinner.

"I'm sorry, sir, but we don't serve alcohol in South Carolina on Sunday," the waiter informed us. "Would you care for a cup of coffee?"

What kind of coffee?

"Oh we have scotch coffee, bourbon coffee, gin coffee, vodka coffee," he explained before bringing us our cocktails in coffee mugs.

Later, on a trip to Oklahoma City, I discovered that the town was technically legally dry, although the landscape was populated by numerous "private clubs," the only qualifying factor for membership being that one was not a member of law enforcement.

And oh, by the way, at that time, it was illegal to buy a beer after midnight, but you could still order a martini if you wanted to.

Forgive the long preamble, but what this goes to show is that we are a nation of bizarre liquor laws, including in Florida, which in so many ways still considers booze the handiwork of Satan to be regulated to ridiculous extremes.

At the moment there is an effort in the Florida Legislature that would take a small step toward rationalizing the sale of hootch across the state.

One proposed bill would do away with the silly law requiring grocery stores and drugstores that sell adult beverages to have a completely separate entrance to the liquor store. The restriction is even more absurd when you realize that those operations can sell beer and wine in the main store area alongside the lettuce, toilet paper, potato chips and condoms.

Many mom-and-pop liquor stores, as well as the big booze chains like ABC Liquors, oppose doing away with the separate-entrance requirement, which is understandable since these businesses are only trying to protect their own interests.

The reasons, though, for their opposition are a bit far-fetched, based on the notion that if Publix, for example, is permitted to sell liquor next to the beer and wine, this will lead to an epidemic of underage drinking.

This reasoning suggests that a 17-year-old might well snatch some Boodles gin from the highball aisle, only to race to the paper towel section to start sucking down the bottle.

And before you know it, shopping at Publix truly will be a distinct pleasure.

Florida is one of only 16 states that impose a Berlin Wall between the beer and the bourbon. There is no indication the other 34 states are experiencing an epidemic of drunken 16-year-olds passed out in the arugula bin.

If cashiers in drug and grocery stores are obligated to check the IDs of customers buying beer and wine, they will still conduct their age due diligence toward youngish patrons presenting a fifth of Jack Daniels for purchase.

A few teetotalers notwithstanding, we live in a drinking society. Prohibition proved that denying people something they want and enjoy doesn't prevent them from eventually obtaining the forbidden item.

The subtext of most alcohol laws is to make it more difficult to gain access to liquor, either by restricting when it can be bought or by creating an irrational law restricting the physical boundaries of the sauce emporium.

But those impediments have done nothing to curb the sale and consumption of alcohol. It is now closing time to get rid of one of the last vestiges of a South Carolina view of booze.

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