Senate Bill 764, which has made its way through the Oregon Senate and has been referred to the House Business and Labor Committee, allows the OLCC to adopt a new rule: municipalities with over 50,000 residents can, through a petition from a representative, declare alcohol impact areas. As it stands currently, the only municipalities that can petition for an alcohol impact area are those with over 300,000 residents, of which there is only one: Portland.
In September 2010, Portland filed one such petition, which was approved in December. The alcohol impact area in that case included that licensees in portions of downtown and northwest Portland and had many stipulations regarding malt beverages and wine, including that OLCC licensees cannot sell malt beverages of over 5.75% alcohol by volume (ABV) and wine or cider over 14% ABV.
From what I understand, these impact areas are designed to cut down on public intoxication and general disorderly conduct in public places. Eugene has experimented with this before, over in the Whiteaker neighborhood: Commentator contributor Ben Maras has a great post about those over on his blog. On the Whiteaker experiment:
With the Whiteaker experiment last year, three stores were asked to participate by removing high content (8% alcohol by volume) hooch from their shelves, and one agreed to participate on its own.
After 90 days, advocates looked at crime statistics and decided that yes, correlation was as good as causation. They declared it a runaway success, comparing it to similar experiments in Washington that yielded a drop in alcohol related crime – shockingly – where people couldn’t buy their booze of choice.
The response from business owners who rely on these products for much of their revenue has been less than enthusiastic. Of the 43 businesses the OLCC spent months courting to voluntarily join the “alcohol impact zone” only nine were game. This was in part because of the amount of their reported sales that malt liquor and bum wine comprise (30%, according to some), and part in fear that if they complied and other businesses didn’t, they would lose business. The OLCC’s response: Force everyone to comply.
The forward movement of the bill likely has to do with the success of the experiment, which, if passed, would definitely impact Eugene and its 156,185 residents.
The question then comes to, as it often does on the Commentator blog, at what point are we sacrificing our personal choice for a “greater goal” (perceived safety, in this case)? One of the OLCC’s stated goals is to prevent over-saturation in the state by regulating the 143 liquor stores in Oregon (yes, all of them are state-run) and owning/distributing every drop of liquor in the state. But when do post-prohibition policies run their course? When do we trust Americans to make their own decisions?
Depending on the passage of this bill, only time will tell. For now, I’m going to buy a 40 of Mickey’s and enjoy it while I still can.
(P.S. Serious hat tip to the Oregonian for Your Government, which allows Oregonians to keep track of their representatives and the pieces of legislation they sponsor.)