Someday, perhaps not too many years from now, Indiana will have liquor laws that are well-reasoned and rationale.
Certainly, that’s not the case today. If we apply the free-market mind-set that applies to most commerce, why should retailers be barred from selling carry-out alcohol on Sunday? Or why should beer wholesalers be barred from also hawking hard liquor?
These aren’t the most pressing issues facing the state, to be sure. Liquor regulation pales in comparison to such issues as whether Indiana’s poorest children should have access to early-childhood education, or whether the state should expand the Medicaid rolls.
But the state’s regulatory framework for alcohol, which dates to the end of Prohibition in 1933, is coming under increasing attack—with justification. And some of the loudest calls for change are coming from industry participants themselves.
Of course, the positions carved out by those industry players are driven by self-interest. For instance, as IBJ reported late last year, Indiana’s largest beer distributor, Indianapolis-based Monarch Beverage, is challenging the constitutionality of the law that prevents it from distributing hard liquor because it wants to get into that business.
Likewise, those pushing to allow groceries and convenience stores to sell cold beer stand to scoop up additional revenue. In May, the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association sued the state, seeking to overturn the prohibition. On the other side of the issue are the liquor stores that stand to lose sales.
The legal challenges follow years of lobbying to get the General Assembly to loosen up current law. In recent sessions, those fizzled in the face of opposition from Rep. Bill Davis, a Portland Republican who chaired the committee that handles alcohol matters.
But he resigned and took a state job last year, and many advocates for change expect the new chairman, Republican Rep. Tom Dermody of La Porte, to be more receptive.
None of the industry players are calling for revolutionary changes, such as ditching the three-tier distribution system (producers, distributors and retailers) that states set up following Prohibition.
And they aren’t expecting satisfaction overnight. Observers say reforming alcohol regulation is unlikely to become a center-stage issue during this year’s short session. They’re already looking ahead to 2015.
We’re hoping they ultimately prevail. Relaxing the regulations ultimately will bolster competition. That may be good for certain players in the industry and bad for others. But the biggest beneficiaries might be consumers, who would enjoy greater convenience and, perhaps, lower prices.•
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