A reader writes:
Why is even an age restriction a compelling reason to regulate beer sales?
I grew up in Wisconsin, in the days when the legal drinking age was 18, a restriction seldom or never enforced. There was some drunkenness among my high school classmates, but mostly supervised by parents, and seldom dangerous. When I went to college out of state, we Wisconsin folks were the ones drinking responsibly, because we had learned to do it.
Now I live in a large Italian city, in a neighborhood with a lot of bars frequented by young people. The legal drinking age here is 14, but as weakly enforced as the 18 of my Midwest youth. Even on weekends, there is never (read NEVER) a drunk kid to be seen. The streets and bars are crowded with Italians drinking responsibly. I credit the lack of an enforced drinking age.
In the Wisconsin of my youth, I learned to drink responsibly with my parents at the tavern around the corner. In the Turin of my middle age, I continue to be surrounded by responsible people for whom drinking is a natural part of life. Ah, la vita è bella!
Colorado liquor laws are, indeed, a bit crazy, but it's ironic that the tavern owner is complaining about these rules being the product of a "nanny state" when a big part of the reason that the rules are as they are is because liquor stores and taverns and breweries (which have a lot of pull in the state) have successfully lobbied for the 3.2% delineation that restricts supermarkets and convenience stores from selling anything heavier (much to their chagrin), with the compromise being that only the markets can sell the weaker brews.
The tavern owners basically want to have their cake and to eat it, too - by restricting supermarkets to weak alcohol that lowers competition while constantly skirting those same rules so that they can cut into the supermarket's business. So it's a little hard for me to feel too much sympathy when they get hoisted by their own legislative petards.
There is a lot of background omitted in the DP article you linked to. Colorado has a long history of law around 3.2 beer, lots of it ultimately tied up around economics and business competition as around puritanical impulses toward blue laws. It was legal for 18 to 21 yo's to drink 3.2 beer for a period after the drinking age was raised. You could consume 3.2 beer in public places like parks (still can in a lot of places). Liquor stores were not allowed to be open on Sunday, groceries stores and gas stations could only sell 3.2 beer but they could do it on Sundays. (Incidentally of course, in the past 20 years Colorado has become a microbrew mecca.)
What upset the applecart was the change in law two years ago that allowed liquor to open on Sunday (a glorious day, the first Sunday of July 2009 was). An amendment to that legislation would have also allowed groceries and convenience stores to sell regular beer. That was struck down, and the 3.2 franchise, such as it is/was in the new world, was continued. So this is really just a turf protection move, the grocery stores and gas stations saying, hey, you wanted it this way...