The Four Corners are full of weird alcohol laws

by DGO Web Administrator

Last Monday, I was at a Mexican restaurant and and ordered a two-for-one frozen margarita. I drank the first one there and the second was poured into a styrofoam cup, and I walked out sipping my ice-cold alcoholic beverage. No, this Mexican restaurant was not in heaven and no I was not breaking the law. I was in Louisiana, where it is perfectly legal to get your booze to go (as long as the dispenser of the booze does not put the straw in the cup for me). It’s called a go-cup, and it’s awesome. There are all kinds of weird differences in laws from state to state about alcohol because, since prohibition has ended, it’s been entirely left up to states to control the sale, production and distribution of alcohol inside their borders; all the feds do is regulate that alcohol if it crosses a state’s border (and a tiny and free little permit to export alcohol if your booze is leaving the country).

In Colorado there is the funny little grocery store thing, but most states allow it. Of the states in the Southwest, Colorado is certainly the weird one, but like the go-cup, this is an awesome law that makes Colorado even more awesome. However, most weirdnesses involving alcohol laws make a state horrible. Take Utah for instance: In most restaurants that serve alcohol, there must be barrier between the person preparing or pouring an alcoholic beverage and the rest of the restaurant. This is to prevent people who don’t want to drink from seeing the alcohol. They’re called Zion Curtains, and they’re an effing joke. It’s almost like they believe in secondhand alcohol consumption or something. (Pregnant women and Mormons are apparently allergic to alcohol.) This is just one of the many many ridiculous reasons you shouldn’t live in Utah.

In New Mexico, there were epic levels of DWI fatalities in the ’80s and ’90s (Up to 68 percent of traffic fatalities were alcohol-related.), and there were sweeping changes to the way alcohol was sold, and thus, consumed. In addition to doing really smart things like extended jail time for repeat offenders and requiring interlock ignitions on DUI offenders, the state of New Mexico also did some really dumb things. They locked in the number of liquor licences for on-site consumption and pegged that number to the population. The logic kinda makes sense: Fewer places to drink means fewer people drink. But the result? The fewer places to drink, the farther people have to drive to drink. (In a very rural state like New Mexico, you have to drive.) The worst part though, because it is a finite resource, is the liquor license becomes a piece of property, a very, very valuable piece of property. Liquor licenses go for six or seven figures in New Mexico. That’s just the license and that’s just when someone wants to sell theirs. So if you wanted to open a bar in New Mexico, you need a million dollars, just to get permission to put the booze in the glass. One of the other many, many dumb things about this law is that it pegs economic growth to population growth, not the actual growth of the economy, or anything that makes sense. The dumbest part though, is probably that it hasn’t proved to be a factor in the reduction in the incidents of DWIs.

So New Mexico has a terrible relationship with alcohol consumption, Utah is terrified of the substance and Colorado has that wonky little grocery store thing (which is slowly phasing out over the next 20 years, so we’ll be normal eventually). But what about Arizona? Arizona is probably the most progressive state of the Four Corners as far as alcohol goes. There are no restrictions of time or day of sales, no strange laws about where or who can sell it or make it. It’s genuinely a normal state as far as alcohol goes. Which is crazy because I dislike Arizona more than any other state in the entire country (mostly because I hate Sheriff Arpaio, and I think Phoenix is just a really big, really hot suburb of Los Angeles). So maybe I’ve got to give some of Arizona’s beer a try?

Robert Alan Wendeborn is a former cellar operator at Ska Brewing and current lead cellar operator at Tin Roof Brewing in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.


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