Almost every town in Michigan now has a craft brewery, local winery or distillery. Some have all three. The artisan alcohol industry is booming across the country, but Michigan has emerged as a top state for the business. We have some of the best craft brewers anywhere. The regulations around those brewers, however, leave a lot to be desired.
At a recent Issues and Ideas Forum, we heard from Antony Davies, an associate professor of economics at Duquesne University; Jarrett Dieterle, director of commercial freedom policy at the R Street Institute; and Jim Storey, a former member of the Michigan Liquor Control Commission. All three gave valuable insights into the state of alcohol regulation in Michigan.
People generally think that alcohol regulations improve public safety, but all three panelists gave compelling reasons to reconsider that premise. Davies gave an overview of research that showed having a higher density of establishments selling alcohol corresponded to a decrease in fatal alcohol-related vehicle accidents —
if alcohol is close enough, there is no need to drive to get it. Studies also show that the degree to which states control access to alcohol does not correlate to the amount of alcohol their residents consume.
Dieterle traced the origin of some of the country’s more ridiculous liquor controls back to the era following Prohibition. Some examples include Indiana’s Warm Beer Law, Virginia’s law against advertising happy hour specials and Michigan’s recently repealed rule against liquor stores setting up within half a mile of each other. He noted that the alcohol industry is second only to plastics for manufacturing job growth, but it is “operating this new-age phenomenon of the craft spirits market in the context of a 70-to-80-year-old regulatory regime.”
Storey gave his insight as a former regulator of alcohol. Regulators, he said, should only be concerned with three things: not selling to minors, not overserving patrons and making sure that alcohol sellers and producers are not abusing the substance themselves or involved in criminal activity. While the current regulatory regime is meant to handle these tasks, it is often more concerned with processing licenses or determining whether advertisements on doormats violate its rules.
Michigan has more restrictive alcohol regulations than most neighboring states, but some commonsense reforms would help the industry continue to grow and improve here, without jeopardizing public safety. And that can only be a good thing.
A transcript and video recording of every Issues & Ideas forum can be found at mackinac.org/events.