Utah is famous for many things — the majestic mountains, the red rock of Moab and the embarrassingly out-of-date alcohol policy. The greatest snow on earth is being hindered by the mini-Prohibition in Utah, brought to you courtesy of the state legislature.
This year is looking to be a busy one for our representatives on the hill, ranging from House Bill 100 to a new push from Republican Becky Lockhart to amend the state liquor laws.
Lockhart is no political fledgling. She’s the speaker of the House. This shows promise in what has heretofore been an atrophied response for calls to change from local business owners, the tourist industry and imbibers statewide.
Lockhart is not a drinker, but she does feel the state laws are an oddity that need clarification for a new age.
As she stated, “I have no interest in changing the fact that we’re a control state. I have no interest in privatizing. I have no interest in putting alcohol other than beer in a grocery store. I have no interest in issues around heavy beer. I have no interest in making restaurants bars. All I really want to talk about and learn about and come to terms with is this weird thing that we have that somewhere off in the distance in a restaurant there might be someone who is mixing a drink for a customer.”
This “weird thing” that surrounds the state is a concern for drinkers and non-drinkers alike. While the liquor laws are unpopular, they are surrounded by some impressive statistics. Utah boasts the least alcohol-related auto accidents and the smallest amount of underage drinking in the country. This leads us to the other side of our legislative standoff. Republican John Valentine, president of the Utah Senate, has a simple philosophy regarding the laws: “We really don’t want to have increased sales of alcohol. We don’t want to have promotion of alcohol.”
If anyone was unclear as to whether or not Utahns like alcohol, that summed it up. The issue lies not in the sentiment, but in the application. As it stands, liquor licenses are difficult to acquire. If a business finds itself unable to make more than 60 percent of its revenue from food, they have the misfortune of needing a social club license, which can cost 40-300 percent more than an establishment that relies on other sources of revenue, according to Utah’s licensing fees.
This provision seems contrary to the conservative business mind of our Republican friend Valentine. Certainly there must be a way to maintain the safety of our children without bleeding our industry dry. Speaking of children, many point to the soberness of the youth as an indicator of the success of the status quo. The last time we checked, teenagers weren’t allowed to purchase alcohol anywhere, regardless of the percentage of their profits that came from food. As such, those pointing to that statistic to uphold the law are clearly confused or, worse, fraudulently bolstering their own self-importance and piety.
“Zion’s curtain” is slang for the wall that separates the making of drinks from those consuming the drinks, but it could well be applied to alcohol culture in Utah as a whole. As one editor put it, “I feel like I’m in ‘Footloose,’ and I just want to dance, only I don’t want to dance, I want to drink.” Zion’s curtain shouldn’t stand in anyone’s way of dancing or drinking, the latter helping the former, and as a state, we really need that help.