Michigan Liquor Law Thoughts

Michigan: The Great Beer State?

Michigan: The Great Beer State?

I’ve already posted on Michigan Liquor Laws once, but I think it’s also important to say not only what those laws are, but what I think they should be. I’ve traveled to many states, and though Michigan is often known as one of the most beer-friendly, that doesn’t mean there are some things I’d like to see changed. Shockingly, considering the nature of this site, most of my suggestions involved loosening restrictions.

Pennsylvania

The Keystone State was founded by Quakers, and it is notorious for its ridiculously restrictive liquor laws. Beer can only be purchased in state-run stores (for now) or to-go restaurants, and anyone who’s visited Pennsylvania has been frustrated by the archaic legal restrictions.

That said, there is one thing that I’ve experienced in Pennsylvania that I’d like to see the State of Michigan adopt: free samples. When I visited Philadelphia in the fall, I went into a beer store (state-run, of course) and was able to try samples of several different beers. In Michigan, you can only give out free samples that are brewed on-premises, or in an establishment owned by the brewer.  The restrictions have eased up slightly since the recent legislation went through, but samples still have to be purchased (though they’re now allowed to sell them at pacage liquor outlets).

Illinois/New York

This is certainly the case in many other states as well, but statutes limiting the closing of bar establishments to 2AM at the latest are an annoyance in Ann Arbor. In Paul’s new hometown of Chicago, 4AM is the time du jour, and Nevada (particularly Las Vegas) famously has 24-hour service.  I understand some of the reasons behind this, as it’s possible to be a public nuisance, and there’s risk of leading to overserving patrons, but aren’t there other statutes that already take care of this?

In Ann Arbor, a law passed a couple years back allowing establishments (i.e. nightclubs) to stay open until 4 if they stop serving at 2, but what purpose does that really serve?

Others?

Beer distributors are a big lobby in every state that has robust alcohol trade, and though there are some positive aspects to this (anybody who’s taken Econ 101 knows about natural monopolies), but there are also problems with state-mandated exclusive distributorship.

The biggest problem comes from restricting the availability of certain products in a location. If Distributor X controls Bells distribution in your area, and they don’t carry Oberon, for example (oh hai Chicago, until recently), you’re out of luck. The lack of Yeungling availability that your friends who are Pennsylvania ex-pats keep bitching about is another example of this – showing that it’s not a Michigan-specific problem.

I understand that the strong distributor lobby is going to make this tough to change, but there has to be some way to allow for exemptions that will increase the availability (and therefore sales) of craft beer across the country.

What else would you like to see changed?

Michigan Liquor Laws a-Changin’?

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm

J-Grans Hates Beer

Election season has been past us for over a week now (and this news item is slightly older than that), but as a Michigander and beer lover, it’s relevant nonetheless. Jennifer Granholm, the outgoing Governor of the State of Michigan recently vetoed a change to the state’s liquor control laws that would have allowed Sunday morning liquor sales. She didn’t agree with a trio of provisions also included in the bill:

  • Allowing package liquor stores to give free samples of beer and wine, up to 9oz. in size.
  • Allow restaurants to provide their own alcohol to off-site catering events (presumably purchased at wholesale). They previously had to buy from retailers.
  • Allowing culinary arts programs at universities and community colleges to apply for a limited liquor license. Granholm said this provision may have been unconstitutional.

All three provisions seem reasonable to me – though I’m no law-talker, and if the reason for prohibiting the third provision listed is unconstitutional, then so be it. I also understand if retail liquor outlets pushed back against the second provision, unfair though the current state of affairs may seem.

My biggest issue is with the first taboo provision, about in-store sampling. As regular readers may be aware, I recently returned from a trip to Pennsylvania – a state notorious for its unfairly puritanical liquor laws (you literally cannot buy alcohol in a grocery store. What the hell?). Even in the Quaker State, sampling in stores and bars is allowed, and for it to be prohibited in a state that is supposedly beer-friendly is ridiculous. Granholm stated that 9 ounces was too large a sample size, but this is political posturing. The sampling itself, and not the size, was her issue – and that ain’t right.

Michigan: The Great Beer State?

Michigan: The Great Beer State?

Fortunately for denizens of (and visitors to) The Great Beer State, a new version of the Sunday Sales bill is close to passing. The 52-page bill includes some of the original provisions – though definitely NOT the culinary school exception – and has Granholm’s support. For a mere $160 a year, outlets can now get an extra 5 hours of sale every Sunday morning.

Merchants without liquor licenses or on-premises consumption can also hold tastings (3oz. samples, and no more than three per customer in a given 24-hour period, a specific “tasting license” must be granted by the state), a step in the right direction.

To read the full text, head to House Bill 6224.