Waiting For God and Wine In Utah

Something notable has happened in the world of wine and alcohol regulation:

In Utah, for the first time in 70 years, the number of non-drinkers on the board that governs alcohol regulations in that state does not consist of a majority of Teetotalers. The Utah Department of Alcohol Beverage Control today is split between 3 drinkers and 3 non-drinkers. And, remarkably, there is potential for this board to actually have a majority of drinkers on the when a new member is confirmed next year.

Utah has the most restrictive and most anti-consumer wine laws in America. Utahans may not have wine shipped to them from wineries. They may not have wine shipped to them from retailers. They may not buy wine in grocery stores. They may not buy wine on Sunday. They may not buy wine from anyone but the state.

It’s a reflection of the state political and social culture being dominated by members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, which recommends a non-drinking life based on their scripture.

From 1935 to 1992, there had never been a drinker on the board that governs the Department of Alcohol Beverage Control. And until 1997, no more than on drinker occupied the position. This shouldn’t be a surprise, given that even today, as the percentage of Utahans that are Mormon continues in a slow decline to somewhere in the neighborhood of 60-65%, still more than 80% of state lawmakers are Mormon.

This all begs the question: Does having a governing board split between drinkers and non drinkers lead to better alcohol control policy than a board made up entirely of non-drinkers?

This is a difficult question to answer because it requires one to discern whether one gains valuable governing insight as a result of consuming and purchasing alcohol. It’s entirely possible, I think, to properly assess the needs of a state and people where alcohol control policy is concerned without having taken a drink in your life or ever having purchased a drink or a bottle. But is it likely?

Clearly, given the extraordinarily restrictive and anti-consumer alcohol laws of Utah, we can determine that folks who don’t drink are much more likely to impose a set of laws that discourage access to alcohol and make access to alcohol more difficult. It’s clearly a case of translating one’s theological views into government policy. But it’s also likely a case of the people agreeing with that policy rather than being a victim of that imposition.

For the record, I personally believe that it is nearly impossible for a set of non-drinkers to fully appreciate the needs of drinkers, even the most basic needs, particularly in an era when the diversity of high quality, artisan alcohol products are proliferating and when the issue of access to these products is important to drinkers. The non-drinker simply can’t appreciate the burden of being at the mercy of the state when it comes to determining to which products  one has access. It’s highly likely in my view that a non-drinker will take the position that alcohol is alcohol and the primary difference is the strength of that alcohol.

It will be interesting to watch what happens in Utah as the composition of the DABC Board is diversified. Any improvement in the wildly anti-consumer alcohol laws now on the books will be appreciated by drinkers in Utah. However, I fear that to see real positive change we may be in need of a new set of revelations from on high that correct or alter the Mormon view of alcohol.

Unfortunately, waiting for God to act before taking action has usually proved to be an extraordinarily slow process.


8 Responses

  1. David Fox - October 18, 2012

    It’s the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and for Christians they seem to be leaving Jesus Christ out of the picture too. How many times in the Gospels is wine, grapes or the vine mentioned in connection with the actions and teachings of Jesus? He drank wine, most likely in moderation as it should be consumed. It was the most healthy beverage in Judea, as it is considered today.

  2. Bob - October 18, 2012

    “Does having a governing board split between drinkers and non drinkers lead to better alcohol control policy than a board made up entirely of non-drinkers?”

    You must be kidding? It’s really a matter of how much the politicians are willing to be bribed by liquor interests. Look at how many bad laws there in states with less restricitve laws.

  3. Steven Greenberg - October 19, 2012

    Restaurants DO permit BYOB. They often charge corkage but sometimes will waive the charge.

    Also, bringing wine into the state is a crime.

  4. Martha Williams - October 19, 2012

    You need to check out Iron Gate Winery in Cedar City, UT (www.irongatewinery.com). Granted, the way they have to carry out their retail sales is crazy, reminiscent of old laws in Tennessee. But they are making it work.

  5. Kurt Buris - October 19, 2012

    We just need for the Mormon church to buy a chunk of Constellation stock. Caffeine was verboten until the Church bought a piece of Pepsico.

  6. Virginia Rainey - October 19, 2012

    You’re right, compared to most places, liquor laws are ridiculous here. The worst is the Zion Curtain… BUT better do some fact checking, even for a blog — it’s also true that all over Utah, you can take wine into any restaurant that has a wine license. Some charge corkage, some don’t. It’s a small bit of progress now, but progress nonetheless that “package agencies” such as the one at Park City’s High West Distillery and in almost every Utah ski resort DO sell wine/spirits on Sundays. Speaking of High West, it’s one of the finest and most lauded boutique distillers in the country today – http://www.highwest.com.

    Trust me, wine and spirits and craft brew drinkers here — as well as PBR fans get plenty to drink in Utah. You can’t swing a cat without running into a stellar wine dinner with winemakers from the world on any given week and yest, we’ve got some some truly kick-ass wine cellars, including those at St. Regis and Stein Eriksen Lodge.

  7. Tom Wark - October 19, 2012

    Steven and Virginia are correct. In fact BYOB/Corkage is legal in UTAH…..And, God Bless, I say.

  8. Marilyn - October 19, 2012

    The Mormon Church has not changed it’s position on caffeine Kurt, regardless of what investments they hold.

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