Anything worth doing is worth taking your time to do, according to an old proverb. While there’s a kernel of truth to this platitude, the state of Georgia apparently took this advice to the extreme. Consider this: The United States ratified the 21st Amendment to repeal Prohibition in 1933. Georgia, on the other hand, still hasn’t ratified it. But that may change soon, because Rep. Scot Turner, R-Holly Springs, recently pre-filed HR 4 to formally approve the 21st Amendment.
Thankfully, this isn’t the only long-overdue alcohol regulation that is finally getting attention in Georgia. Indeed, the Peach State has been gradually liberalizing its puritanical alcohol statutes. Lawmakers have relaxed regulations on Sunday alcohol sales and on breweries and distilleries, and have enacted ordinances permitting open container districts in Alpharetta, Acworth, Canton, Duluth, Smyrna, Stockbridge, Savannah, etc. These efforts coincide with the ongoing national movement to allow open-air drinking in entertainment districts across the country. Now, it appears that Kennesaw might be the next city to modernize its alcohol laws by creating an open container district. There are many reasons why it should consider such a move.
While drinking in public spaces seems relatively novel, it was the default for much of American history. It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that laws restricting open-air drinking started becoming commonplace. There were a host of justifications for these proposals at the time, but the most frequently parroted defense of alcohol regulations today usually has to do with promoting improved public health and safety. These are laudable goals. Yet, contrary to these objectives, maintaining certain alcohol-free zones within entertainment areas may do little to discourage unhealthy and even criminal behavior.
Alcohol consumption is part of American culture. We like to drink, and we like to do so at concerts and festivals. While a host of these events occur in city centers where open container districts can be found, some localities do not permit them. The problem with ordinances prohibiting open-air drinking is that they may actually lead to adverse public health effects. The rationale behind this claim, as The Sport Journal — a peer-reviewed academic periodical — points out, is that some people tend to binge drink prior to alcohol-free events in order to maintain their buzz for the duration of the event. If these individuals were permitted to drink at the event, then they may not feel the need to adopt such behavior. Instead, they may more responsibly sip their beverages and nurse their buzz over a longer length of time.
The general public may benefit, too, because there is reason to believe that open container districts may reduce the prevalence of drunken driving. After all, it’s less enticing to drive from bar to bar when you can bar hop on foot with a drink in your hand. Not only does this spare individuals from receiving DUIs, it may also save lives in the end.
Another positive corollary of open container districts is that they could potentially be an economic boon. Many newer entertainment precincts, like the one near the Braves’ stadium, have sprouted in areas that are permissive of such liberal alcohol policies. This isn’t a coincidence; in fact, it appears that open container districts are good for business. And if they are, then loosening alcohol rules will attract more development — which could revitalize blighted areas and benefit the community. Beyond this payoff, open-air drinking ordinances may attract tourists as well as different conventions, festivals and other events — helping local businesses thrive and boosting tax revenue.
In the end, much of this discussion also has to do with consumer choice and individual liberty. After all, why should consenting adults be prohibited from consuming alcohol in open-air locations when there may be fewer adverse effects? Evidently, they shouldn’t. I can drink to that, but for now, I will do so from the confines of a Kennesaw bar.
Marc Hyden is the R Street Institute’s Director of State Government Affairs, and he is a longtime Georgia resident. You can follow him on Twitter at @marc_hyden.