more on BL2009-369

So, the momentum behind BL2009-369 (the proposed ban on single-serve alcohol sales) is building. I am not particularly worked up about this, because it has a sunset clause, so hopefully after it’s proven ineffective, we can dispose of it (though I think that may be somewhat optimistic). It does have some potential for harm, though. I wanted to address some of the propaganda I got in a recent URA e-mail citing the reasons that the ban is a good idea:

In Washington, D.C., moratoriums on the sale of singles were adopted ward by ward. After adoption in the first ward, total calls for police service decreased 41% over a four year period (2000-2004), and calls reporting disorderly conduct dropped 51%. Six months after a similar moratorium went into effect in 2007, police reported a 31% decrease in robberies, a 54% decrease in disorderly conduct offenses, and a 37% decrease in narcotic drug offenses.

Sounds pretty incredible, right? Unless, of course, you read these statistics with any modicum of common sense. Correlation does not equal causation. This is sociology/stat 101 stuff, here. Can you possibly imagine the factors that go into analyzing crime patterns in the wards of the murder capital of the country? Further, it’s not even clear how the crime statistics cited as dropping are in any way related to single-serve alcohol purchases. Robberies? Narcotic drug offenses? “Sir, why did you rob that appliance store and then top off in the alley and pass out?” “Well, officer, I guess it was that ice-cold tallboy of Bud Ice – it just set me off!”

Another study is mentioned – this one with somewhat more credibility and sound methods than the, uh, “armchair” methods above:

In Takoma, Washington, a similar ban was adopted and a study of its effect on crime was conducted by Washington State University. The study can be found online at It indicated a 36% reduction in emergency medical services in the areas adopting the ban, while outside the area there was a 15% increase in such calls. As the report indicates, “These results are fairly dramatic.”

I can’t find this study on the website mentioned, but I am curious about it. There is this one, but it’s a pre-eval study from 2007, and it doesn’t say anything about “fairly dramatic”. Anyone know where this study is?

Several other cities including St. Louis, Missouri, Seattle, Washington, Rock Island, Illinois, Indianapolis, Indiana, Los Angeles, California and others have adopted various versions of bans on single serve beer sales.

[Insert vague hand-waving here.] Yes, they adopted them. No mention on their success, or what the measure of that success would be. What ARE the measures of success? Well, let’s look at the reasons the URA is citing as the need for the ordinance. According to the e-mail I got, The bill is intended to reduce

public intoxication
People are just as capable of buying six-packs as they are of single-serve cans. Next.
I fail to see the link between single-serve beer sales and loitering.. can someone explain it to me?
We’ll now see six-pack rings and 12-ounce cans instead of paper-bag covered tallboys and 40s. Bonus: we’ll also see piles of mouthwash-colored vomit and mouthwash bottles from alcoholics that can no longer afford consumable ethanol. Next.
disorderly conduct
Expect to see just as much of this, since people can just buy six-packs. Except now maybe we can expect fights over the 6-pack splits, who knows!
public urination
If only there were some solution to public urination downtown. Most people downtown use private bathrooms, if they have access to them. If only we had some sort of public solution to urination.. A room open to the public where one could rest and relieve one’s self. I don’t know, some sort of … stay with me here.. “public rest room”. I know, crazy, right? But, maybe it’s just so crazy it might work! Alternatively, I suppose we can just keep banning things that people drink and paying yellow-shirted errandboys on segways to chase off people peeing. You know, whatever.
open container violations
Frankly I am in favor of repealing these archaic open container ordinances, so I’m okay with this.
emergency service costs to the city.
This is hard to refute without specifics.. Emergency costs for what? If we’re talking about alcohol poisoning or something – trips by serious alcoholics to the hospital – then, well, that one’s easy. An ounce of prevention, etc. Not to mention that eliminating a source of alcohol for serious alcoholics can injure and kill them. If we’re talking about violence, or something, then I need to see some data linking single-serve beer sales, because that seems like a real shot in the dark to me.

I am willing to engage these points on their accuracy because I believe that while enacting public policy it’s important to be honest and straightforward about the likelihood of its success. And I don’t see much. It’s worth pointing out, however, that there are larger issues here. I oppose the issue primarily because it involves the government enacting legislation that restricts freedom in the name of fairly myopic self-interest without proper regard to the consequences. Nashville has a habit of doing this sort of thing. And what happens when this single serving ban fails to succeed? I’ll quote S-Town Mike, who is a pretty big proponent, in his comments here:

After attending almost every police briefing at Salemtown neighborhood association meetings for 4 years now, I firmly believe that the problems at Salemtown’s single-serve market go beyond littering. If six-packs become a problem then I fully intend to advocate for regulating those, too. I don’t know anyone who is naive enough to suggest that one bill will entirely solve that problem. That’s not the way policy works anyway.

Really? Regulating six-packs? How, exactly? Are you telling me you’re going to ban selling six-packs in metro? No? Maybe just in “trouble” neighborhoods, or target certain stores? What if maybe we only sell six-packs to people that meet a certain profile? Madness.

Lastly, I live downtown. Sometimes I feel like an ice-cold forty of OE.*** So, fuck you!

** Note: not actually true, technically.*

ALSO: Check out Mike Hammock’s take on this, which is much what I would write, if I were capable of writing without sarcasm and mockery.

UPDATE: Cliff Lippard mailed me the link to the study referenced above (PDF) – I haven’t read it yet, but there’s the link if anyone wants to check it out.