Utah and the Case of Booze Swilling Moose
There exist, and have long existed, a number of alcohol-related laws and regulations around the various states that don’t seem to have any reasonable justification. However, in many cases, we just don’t care about this because the law itself is of so little consequence that spending much time considering its justification is just time wasted. For example, in Alaska it is or was against the law to feed moose alcohol. Don’t spend time contemplating the public policy justification for this law. It just doesn’t matter.
However, some odd and unjustifiable alcohol-related laws DO have consequences and we are correct in asking for the public policy justification. What is both fascinating and somewhat sad to me is that the Salt Lake Tribune spent considerable space detailing the consequences and politics of just such an unjustifiable alcohol-related law without ever attempting to explore the public policy justification for the law.
In Utah it’s illegal for diners to sip an alcoholic beverage without ordering from the menu. This odd law had for many years been interpreted by the Utah Department of Alcohol Beverage Control to mean, a person had to intend to eat at an establishment in order to be served a drink. Now, the DABC is interpreting the law to mean that the food has to be sitting in front of the patron before a drink can be sipped.
Furthermore, the DABC has undertaken a variety of “sting” operations to determine which restaurants are allowing the meal to be served “out-of-order”. A violation of the law results in a revocation of the establishments license for five to 30 days or fines from $500 to $3,000.
The very idea that one ought to have food in front of them before they order a drink brought to their table fails every test of reasonableness I can imagine. What important public policy concern could possible lead to this law, let alone justify the considerable expense of undertaking “sting” operations and closing down an establishment because I sipped on, let alone expressed my preference for, a Manhattan before I had a plate of food in front of me? The mind reels.
My guess would be this kind of law is broken on a regular basis for the very same reason none of us in our right mind give any thought to why a moose ought not be fed alcohol. However, one wonders what the state of Utah gains by shutting down establishments found to deliver the Martini in advance of the mashed potatoes.
Too often, the genesis and original justifications for our alcohol related laws are completely forgotten, yet they remain on the books. People, properly, forget about the laws because, usually, the state has the common sense to disregard them, doesn’t enforce them and doesn’t want to take the time to revoke the law. It ought to be a law that when a law once unenforced is now re-interpreted more strictly enforced, the regulating agency must offer a justification for the law itself.