North Carolina’s extensive alcohol regulations

Not long ago I wrote a report on the importance of sunset provisions with periodic review. In it I equated reviewing old state rules with cleaning out a toolshed.

If you’ve ever done that, you probably know how things can pile up, accumulate dust, and be forgotten. Perhaps you set something aside that you thought might be useful later. When later arrives, you don’t remember what you were saving it for. You might not even remember what it was supposed to do.

Sometimes we need to some spring cleaning in state rules as well:

Without review, old rules can clutter up the regulatory “toolshed.” Rules can be — or become — unclear, unnecessary, outdated, obsolete, unduly burdensome, ineffective, and inefficient. Agencies might not even remember why they adopted them in the first place.

I was reminded of that reading John Trump’s piece in Carolina Journal today on ignorance of complex ABC rules:

People just don’t know that each boards operates as an independent fiefdom, that distillers winning their approval sometimes have to circumvent and quell old feuds and prejudices. That getting into ABC means local products are relegated to “N.C. Products” shelves, oftentimes near the back of stores. That ABC rules make it increasingly more difficult for small distillers to prosper and grow.

That all spirits are sent to Raleigh and shipped from there, regardless of whether there’s an ABC store just blocks from the producers. That distillers can sell just five bottles per customer, per year, that they can’t make visitors mixed drinks, and that customers at ABC stores can’t possibly sample a product for which, considering taxes, the state has priced at $40 or more. Distillers can’t ship products directly to buyers. The list goes on; brewers and vintners, though on a separate legislative plane, are hampered by the ABC, too.

Every now and then you’ll encounter an anecdote about a particular rule governing the alcohol industry here and you’ll find yourself scratching your head. Such as when a list of the nations’ “Dumbest Drinking Laws” puts North Carolina at No. 2 for … banning happy hour? Why’d we do that?

But given how involved the state is in this area, there are bound to be lots of old regulatory tools piled up and gathering dust. In his report, my colleague Jon Guze pointed out just how extensive are all the rules and laws pertaining to alcohol in the state:

The chapter of the North Carolina General Statutes that deals specifically with the regulation of alcoholic beverages consists of 123 densely packed pages, and there are many other alcoholic beverage regulations buried in other parts of the statute book.

The chapters of the North Carolina Administrative Code that deal specifically with alcohol law enforcement and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission consist of 143 pages, and, again, there are other alcoholic beverage regulations buried in other chapters of the Code.

Friends, that’s a really, really big toolshed. It needs a lot of cleaning.

Jon Sanders / Director of Regulatory Studies

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jo...

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