Saturday, February 22, 2014
Why Can't Indiana Convenience Stores Sell Cold Beer?
One residue of Prohibition, which ended 80 years ago, is the hodgepodge of state laws regulating the sale of alcoholic beverages. To say they are idiosyncratic is an understatement. A great illustration is Indiana, where only liquor stores, taverns and restaurants can sell cold beer for carryout. Other kinds of stores may sell beer, they just can't sell it cold. This rule applies only to beer. Everyone can sell chilled wine. No other state has this particular regulation.
The rationale, as usual, is that it is in the state's interest to limit alcohol consumption and one way to do that is by limiting access to alcoholic beverages. Regulators argue that anyone entering a liquor store must be 21-years-old and employees must go through permitting and training. Liquor stores are regulated on when they can be open. That's all true, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with the temperature of the beer. The rule assumes that a person, desperate for beer, won't drink a warm one.
State liquor laws are rarely updated and most haven't changed in 80+ years. They don't change because whoever benefits most from the status quo will resist change and there's rarely enough political will to overcome that resistance. Politicians don't like to go on record as having made alcohol easier to buy. When, however, there are strong financial incentives on the other side too, changes might be made, if not legislatively then in the courts.
This is happening right now in Indiana, where the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association is suing the state to force it to allow cold beer sales in convenience stores. The case is just underway in Federal court. Plaintiffs say current law violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution. Defendants say the 21st Amendment lets them do whatever they want.