What You Can DoAgencies Restrict the Commercial Availability

Does your state, county, or city have regulations to restrict the commercial availability of alcohol to underage youth? Are they effectively enforced?

"It's important to understand and compare state policies around alcohol because the impact of alcohol use is profound.”
--Alexander Wagenaar, Ph.D., director of the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health Alcohol Epidemiology Program

Understand the regulation of the sale and service of alcohol at the authoritative level in your state. The 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, enacted at the repeal of Prohibition, gives the state the primary authority for regulating alcoholic beverages. States vary widely in the degree to which they have handed this authority to local jurisdictions.

In California, license regulation is handled by a state agency, the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) http://www.abc.ca.gov/. State ABC systems can be divided into two basic groups: control and license. In control systems, the state actually owns and operates alcohol retail outlets themselves. In license states (like California), all alcohol businesses must obtain a liquor license from the state as a condition of doing business.

Each state has also shaped its own relationship around local (city and county) power and authority over liquor licensing. States vary widely in defining local powers. Some states place most licensing power with local government; others give all of the power to the state agency. California’s liquor licensing system relies primarily on state authority. There is, however, a major exception to the strong state ABC powers in California--one that has resulted in a great deal of regulatory and community activity at the municipal level. Under California State law, the ABC Department may not issue a liquor license if the request it is from a vendor that would violate an existing, valid, local zoning ordinance (CA Business & Professions Code 23790). In locales that have enacted such zoning laws, known as conditional use permits or CUP’s, state liquor licenses may only be issued after all zoning permits are in order.

Implement and enforce local land use zoning ordinances
. While many states place ceilings on the number of liquor licenses in a given community, California is still a state where on-sale beer and wine licenses (meaning the sale of beer and wine for consumption on the premises where sold) enjoy no restrictions. In order for California communities to curtail the steady increase in liquor license approvals (and subsequent increase in alcohol outlets) in their communities, many have enforced local land use zoning ordinances.

Zoning ordinances can require that for any given land use, including use as a retail alcohol outlet, a conditional use permit (CUP) must be obtained in order for the outlet to operate as a business. The CUP provides communities and local governments control over where alcohol outlets may be located, how late they may operate, how they train their sellers/servers, and how citizens may participate in determining if new outlets should open in their neighborhoods. Through the CUP, operating conditions may be placed on new outlets that minimize potential risks to health and safety. The ordinance also provides a simple mechanism for localities to revoke the use permits of outlets operating out of compliance with the conditions set forth in the CUP.

Localities with robust CUP’s enjoy real and sustained ben­efits -- zoning applicants are thoroughly screened, public input is heightened, and the potentially risky element of retail alcohol sales in a community is explicitly debated. Such local processes allow communities to better shape their retail alcohol availability through active use of existing zoning powers-- both in intervening with problem outlets today, and preventing undue concentration problems in the future.

The city of Salinas, California, enacted a CUP ordinance that mandates public review and comment of most proposals to open new alcohol retail outlets. As a result, the city has limited the number of new outlets and imposed strict conditions on those that have been approved. In one case, neighborhood protests prompted the city council to reject a proposal to open a liquor store in a new development. The neighborhood already had an over-concentration of alcohol outlets and wanted a day care center on the proposed site. The residents subsequently convinced the developer of the feasibility of the day care center and assisted him and the city in financing the center.

Become involved in the state liquor licensing process.
In California, current state law limits the issuance of new licenses in geographical regions defined as high crime areas or in areas of “undue concentra­tion” of retail alcohol outlets. However, the law also states these restrictions can be sidestepped in specified circumstances when the state ABC or the local jurisdiction makes a determination that the applicant license proves that the proposed outlet would serve “public convenience or necessity” (PC or N). In other words, “public convenience and necessity” is demonstrated when the liquor license applicant proves that the business operation will provide some kind of benefit to the surrounding community. Localities now have formal say in the state liquor license process when they actively utilize their authority to make PC or N determinations.

For more information on what “public convenience or necessity” is and how to utilize it in your local community, see the following link: http://www.ca-cpi.org/Publications/CARS_PCorN.pdf

Public Convenience or Necessity: A Guide for Local Government and Interested Citizens.
This guide is written for those who work in local government and for those community members seeking to engage in licensing and land use regulation of retail alcohol outlets in California. (Community Prevention Initiative [CPI])

Enact price regulations to deter discounting and increase the cost of alcohol to minors.
According to research from the University of Minnesota, numerous changes have occurred in state alcohol policies over the past few decades; in particular, considerable progress has been made in lowering blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limits for both youth and adult drivers and in enacting laws requiring training of servers and sellers of alcoholic beverages. Several states also have enacted laws requiring the registration of beer kegs sold to private citizens. However researchers have found that little change has occurred in state and federal taxes levied on alcohol across the United States, despite current research that shows the effectiveness of higher alcohol taxes in reducing alcohol-related problems. Below are several suggested policies at the state and local level that can be implemented to deter youth from drinking alcohol:

  • Impose fees on all commercial alcohol outlets to cover local code and law enforcement costs.
  • Impose/increase alcohol taxes (if local option available), and encourage increased taxes at state and federal levels.
  • Prohibit discounted alcohol prices that are lower than standard prices in the community.
  • Prohibit price promotions, such as flat fee “drink and drown” night.

[Mark, link “Impose/increase alcohol taxes” to Strategies and Approaches: Change policies: Raise alcohol taxes]

[Mark, link “Prohibit price promotions” to Strategies and Approaches: Change social norms: Educate and work with retailers throughout the county to eliminate reduced-price alcohol promotions or happy hours]

Implement alcohol advertising restrictions in your community.
Restrictions on alcohol advertising include any policies that limit advertising of alcoholic beverages, particularly advertising that exposes young people to alcohol messages. Restrictions can be in the form of a local ordinance or state law, or can be implemented voluntarily by a business, event or organization and can include the following:

[Mark, link “Restriction on alcohol advertising” to Strategies and Approaches: Change social norms: Pressure television and radio broadcasters to stop carrying alcohol ads that target youth, and to carry counter-ads that accurately portray the effects of alcohol]

  • Banning ads on buses, trains, kiosks, billboards and supermarket carts, and in bus shelters, schools, and theme parks.
  • Banning or limiting advertising and sponsorship at community events such as festivals, parties, rodeos, concerts, and sporting events.
  • Banning advertising in areas surrounding schools, residential areas, faith organizations, etc.
  • Restricting or banning TV and/or radio alcohol commercials.
  • Restricting alcohol advertising in newspapers and/or on the Internet.
  • Countering alcohol ads with public service announcements.
  • Restricting the size and placement of window advertisements in liquor and convenience stores.
  • Requiring all alcohol ads in the local media to include warnings about the health risks of alcohol consumption.
  • Setting a maximum for the percentage of total advertising space that alcohol ads can cover.
  • Reducing the disproportionately high number of alcohol billboards in low-income neighborhoods.
  • Prohibiting images and statements that portray or encourage intoxication.
  • Enforcing existing restrictions on alcohol advertising.

Communities that restrict alcohol advertisers send a message to young people that underage alcohol use is not tolerated by the community. Restricting alcohol advertising in public places may help change community norms regarding alcohol use.

In 1998, Oakland, California adopted a strict ordinance prohibiting alcohol ads on billboards in residential areas and near schools. The ordinance also banned alcohol advertising within three blocks of recreation centers, churches, and licensed day care facilities. According to an attorney for one of the billboard firms that challenged the ordinance, the measure left only 70 of the city's 1,450 billboards available for such ads. On December 7, 2000, a federal district court determined that the ordinance was a reasonable fit with the goal of decreasing youth demand for alcoholic beverages and that the ordinance was therefore constitutional.

Consider passing administrative penalties ordinances in your community.

An administrative penalty is a legal mechanism that allows a local governing body to penalize alcohol license holders for failing to comply with state laws or local ordinances relating to sales of alcoholic beverages. Characteristics of an administrative penalty of this type include the following:

  • It usually entails a monetary fine, or the suspension or revocation of an alcohol license.
  • It is administered by a local governing body (city council, county board), rather than the court system.
  • It is imposed upon the license holder (in contrast to state laws that target the behavior of individual sellers and servers of alcohol).
  • It is intended to provide an alternative enforcement mechanism that is more cost-effective, timely and practical than prosecuting servers and sellers through the court system.
  • Finally, it provides an alternative to criminal prosecution, but does not necessarily replace criminal prosecution (some communities pursue both prosecution and administrative penalties), and it can be written and passed as a local ordinance or state law.

Administrative penalties can be important for your community for several reasons. Below are just a few to consider:

  • The time and expense associated with prosecuting alcohol-related laws through the court system may discourage some communities from enforcing them.Because prosecuting servers and sellers may be a long and expensive process for district attorneys, judges may not want to spend time on these cases. Hence, some violators may never be penalized. Administrative penalties are less cumbersome to impose than are criminal violations and therefore may be more likely to be enforced by local officials. In addition, enforcement of an administrative penalty may seem less harsh than court proceedings, so communities may find it a more acceptable solution to pursue.

  • An administrative penalty ordinance allows a local government to establish and enforce standards of behavior among alcohol licensees within its jurisdiction. A license to sell alcohol is a privilege--rather than a right--granted by state or local governments. Local governments can use an administrative penalty to revoke this privilege, thereby setting and upholding standards of health and safety related to alcohol.

  • Administrative penalties may encourage alcohol licensees to create establishment policies and practices that discourage the sale of alcohol to underage youth.If alcohol licensees are held accountable for the actions of their employees, they may be more likely to adequately train and supervise their employees through server training programs and other policies and practices that encourage employees to comply with age-of-sale laws.

In Mississippi, an ordinance was passed that imposes administrative penalties on permit holders whose establishments are found selling alcohol to minors. Fines range from up to $500 for a first offense to up to $5000 for a third offense. License suspension periods range from three months for a first offense to one year for a third offense.

Mosher, J. & Reynolds, B. How To Use Local Regulatory and Land Use Powers to Prevent Underage Drinking. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Coleman, V. & Sparks, M. (2006) Public Convenience or Necessity: A Guide for Local Government and Interested Citizens. Center for Applied Research Solutions: Community Prevention Initiative.

Mosher, J. & Reynolds, B. How To Use Local Regulatory and Land Use Powers to Prevent Underage Drinking. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Mosher, J. & Reynolds, B. How To Use Local Regulatory and Land Use Powers to Prevent Underage Drinking. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Coleman, V. & Sparks, M. (2006) Public Convenience or Necessity: A Guide for Local Government and Interested Citizens. Center for Applied Research Solutions: Community Prevention Initiative.

Youngerman, S. (2000). University of Minnesota Report Compares Alcohol Policies Across Nation. University of Minnesota, Academic Health Center. Available at: http://www.epi.umn.edu/alcohol/uspolicy/pressrel.pdf. Accessed on [10/27/06]

Alcohol Advertising Restrictions. Alcohol Epidemiology Program: University of Minnesota. Available at:  http://www.epi.umn.edu/alcohol/policy/adrstrct.shtm. Accessed on [10/27/06]

Administrative Penalties. Alcohol Epidemiology Program: University of Minnesota. Available at:  http://www.epi.umn.edu/alcohol/policy/admnpenl.shtm. Accessed on [10/27/06]

Sample Model Policies: Community Festivals. Alcohol Epidemiology Program: University of Minnesota. Available at:  http://www.epi.umn.edu/alcohol/sample/pdfs/policies_short.pdf. Accessed on [10/27/06]

Social Host Liability. Alcohol Epidemiology Program: University of Minnesota. Available at: http://www.epi.umn.edu/alcohol/policy/hostliab.shtm. Accessed on [10/27/06]

Mosher, J. & Reynolds, B. How To Use Local Regulatory and Land Use Powers to Prevent Underage Drinking. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.