Drunk on power


Before Boulder City Council convenes again, its members should ask themselves this question: To what degree should government burden local businesses in order to manipulate the behavior of adults?


On Tuesday, Aug. 21, City Council was asked to consider making life more difficult for business owners whose establishments serve alcohol to achieve uncertain gains in preventing adults from “binge drinking.”

Among the ideas they considered are: creating new zoning for businesses that serve booze; making businesses renew their liquor licenses every three years; and allowing no additional liquor licenses within 500 feet of the University of Colorado campus.

Implied in these changes is an increased intensity of law enforcement wherein the city does everything it can to trick wait staff into serving alcohol to underage informants or to people who appear to be drunk. After all, there’s no point in forcing people to renew their liquor licenses more frequently unless you plan to use it as an opportunity to shut them down.

The end result would be fewer new restaurants and bars, and business owners facing the burden of more frequent liquor license renewals — not good for the local food and drink industry and the people who rely on it for jobs.

The push — which has council member Ken Wilson and City Attorney Tom Carr written all over it — ostensibly comes from worries about alcohol abuse among CU students, who apparently engage in excessive drinking at a rate higher than the national average. Even though it’s a minority of CU students who do this, the suits downtown are alarmed by these statistics and want to do something to curb students’ behavior.

Well, good luck with that. It’s hard to believe this slate of suggested regulations will accomplish what alcohol education, arrests and tough university discipline for underage drinkers have not. City staff have even admitted they’re not sure these changes will be effective in coercing young adults to drink less, but they seem willing to give it a try.

The most idiotic of the suggested changes is arguably the proposed ban on new liquor licenses within 500 feet of CU campus. Believe it or not, col lege students do know how to call cabs, take buses and get rides from friends. How could this possibly be effective?

It won’t be. But it might channel drinkers away from University Hill, which would please Wilson. The council member has been flogging an antialcohol agenda for the Hill ever since he moved there, apparently unaware that University Hill was a student neighborhood. But I digress.

So let’s stop for a moment and unpack this. City staff are considering burdening businesses that serve alcohol with additional regulations, rules that have the potential to hurt our local economy, in order to prevent adults from “binge drinking” — a behavior that is not in itself illegal.

“Binge drinking” — periodic bouts of heavy drinking, i.e., more than four drinks for a woman or five for a man — is a problem identified and defined by people who like to identify and define problems that were previously not necessarily considered problems. While it’s true that binge drinking can be harmful if done frequently, it’s also common at most wedding receptions, wakes and summer barbecues.

It’s not that I don’t take alcoholism and alcohol abuse seriously. I do. Alcohol is involved in a high percentage of sexual assaults, partner assaults, fights, auto fatalities, cancers, liver problems and other social and health problems. When an irresponsible person drinks heavily, it can lead to tragedy that bleeds into other lives. But is every bout of “binge drinking” cause for alarm and government intervention? Of course not!

I question both the fairness and effectiveness of going after restaurants and bars to prevent unhealthy drinking by individuals who are in charge of their own lives, their own choices. Statistics aren’t the issue. It’s the principle that matters.

We already have laws that prohibit someone who is intoxicated from being served alcohol. We already have laws that ban the sale of booze to people under age 21. We have laws against drunk driving.

The city should focus on enforcing those laws instead of getting drunk on its own power to regulate.

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This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.


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