Opinion: Daily Journal

New craft beer law could be first of many needed alcohol reforms

Lawmakers have offered several proposals to repair the broken, outdated way the state governs alcohol through the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control system.

About a dozen bills, in fact, are moving through the General Assembly, and one, House Bill 363, the Craft Beer Distribution and Modernization Act, is now law.

H.B. 363 allows breweries that sell fewer than 100,00 barrels — up from 25,000 — to self-distribute and market their products without being required to use a wholesaler.

It’s past time North Carolina gets out of the liquor business, opens the market to competition, and encourages opportunities for entrepreneurs.

About a dozen additional proposals are being considered this session that would support a free and open market by increasing competition, expanding consumer choice, and encouraging entrepreneurs to start and grow businesses.

In the end, this isn’t really about alcohol. Rather, it’s about government’s role in encouraging North Carolina businesses to grow.

Alcohol bills lawmakers are considering this session would move the state’s system toward more competition, open up markets, expand consumer choice, and encourage entrepreneurs to start and grow businesses.

House Bill 91: The Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Division makes several recommendations for changes to the ABC laws, including requiring the merger of local boards when two or more are in the same county, allowing the option of ABC stores to open Sundays, and allowing spirits tastings at ABC stores. Consumers could buy one bottle rather than a case when placing a special order.

H.B. 536, ABC Omnibus Regulatory Reform, would allow tasting of spirits in ABC stores, flexibility with store hours and the option of Sunday sales. Consumers could buy products directly from distilleries and remove limits on the number of bottles a consumer could purchase (it’s currently a five-bottle per year limit). Breweries would be allowed to sell product-featured merchandise and conduct tastings at farmers markets.

Further reforms for distilleries are proposed in Senate Bill 290, which would allow, among other things, consumers to purchase a mixed beverage while visiting a distillery, allow distillers to sell to out-of-state customers, and allow distillers to provide tastings of their products in ABC stores.

H.B. 389 would allow public colleges and universities to sell alcohol during on-campus sporting events.

S.B. 290 and H.B. 389 are scheduled for votes Wednesday in the Senate Commerce and Insurance Committee.

With all the reforms being considered, there’s no suggestion of loosening enforcement of ABC laws, but there is an effort to strengthen enforcement of alcoholic beverage laws. The Alcohol Law Enforcement Division would move under the SBI to a separate division under the Department of Public Safety, and its duties and jurisdiction would be clarified, under H.B 99.

An ABC Regulation and Reform proposal, S.B. 11, would strengthen the commission’s oversight of bars by increasing fines for violations, increasing the minimum age for bar managers from 18 to 21, and change definitions of “private club” and “private bar.” It has passed the Senate and is on Thursday’s House calendar.

As the craft beer and craft distillery business continues to grow, lawmakers should encourage their growth by removing barriers and encouraging further investments. As consumers expect business to respond to their needs, lawmakers should encourage competition and open markets.

In the end, it’s not really about alcohol. It’s about government’s role in allowing the N.C. economy to grow.

Becki Gray is senior vice president of the John Locke Foundation.