Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Indiana's Arcane and Archaic Alcohol Laws

Anybody who has ever purchased beer or wine in an Indiana grocery store should be well aware of some of the dumbest laws in the country. For those unfamiliar with Indiana's arcane and archaic alcohol laws, let me give a quick introduction. Rather than simply explain the laws, I'll use a scenario or two to illustrate.

So, it's late on Saturday afternoon and your wife tells you that some friends are going to come over and you're going to grill some burgers. Sounds great. She tells you to run up to the grocery to buy some burgers and beer. You hop in your car, run up to the corner grocery, and get ready to make your purchases. The burgers are easy. The beer? Well that's another story. Because your friends are coming over soon, it would be great to have some cold beer, wouldn't it? But this is Indiana and you're in a grocery store. Sure you can buy beer and wine and maybe other types of spirits, but guess what? You cannot purchase cold beer. Nope. Not in an Indiana grocery store. For that, you'll have to go to a package liquor store.

You decide that you'll just throw the beer in a cooler when you get home instead of running to a second store (and besides, you know that you'd probably pay more for the beer at a liquor store...). After all, your friends will be over soon. So you get in line to pay for your purchases. A young girl, probably in high school, is ringing up purchases for customers. When your turn comes, she smiles and starts to ring up your items. She runs the burgers and chips and paper plates over the bar code scanner until all that is left is the beer. But instead of taking the beer out of the cart and running it over the scanner, she presses the intercom button and asks for assistance in her aisle. What? She notices your perplexed look and explains that she isn't yet 19 so she isn't allowed to sell you the beer. After waiting a few minutes (much to the annoyance of the customers in line behind you), another, older, cashier comes over, picks up the beer, runs it over the bar code scanner, presses a button on the cash register, and then walks away. The original cashier finishes the transaction and collects your money. The bag boy -- who can't be more than 15 or 16 -- picks up the beer, puts in a grocery bag, and then offers to carry your bag to the car for you.

Of course, had it been Sunday afternoon, the grocery wouldn't have been able to sell you the beer at all...

Did you get all that? Let me summarize. Among Indiana's idiotic alcohol-related laws, is a prohibition on grocery stores selling cold beer (if I recall, package liquor stores are prohibited from selling milk; I'm not sure if the prohibition is only for cold milk or if they can sell condensed milk...) and a cashier has to be at least 19 to lift the alcohol out of your cart and run it over the scanner but can take your money for the alcohol. And there doesn't appear to be any age requirement for a bag boy to carry the alcohol out to a car.

I have not taken the time to go find the actual statutes or rules that are operative here; it didn't really seem worth the effort. After all, the question is really one of policy, not implementation.

I suspect that the "no cold beer" law is some sort of protection for the package liquor stores (who most likely are able to charge more for the cold drinks that they can sell). So, I guess that the pros and cons of that law really come down to purely economic issues. But I would query why the package liquor stores need that type of protection from the state. Either their business model is sound or it is not. After all, isn't that what people have been saying of late about all sorts of businesses and industries...?

But I really don't understand the need to have a 19-year old scan the alcohol. First, why are we treating a 19-year old differently than an 18-year old? They're both adults, yet neither is old enough to drink (whether the drinking age should be lowered to 18 may make an interesting discussion for another day). So why is 19 the "magic" age? Furthermore, why is it a problem for an 18-year old to pick up a case of beer and run it over a bar code scanner but acceptable for that same 18-year old (or an even younger employee) to put that case of beer in a bag and/or carry it to a customer's car? And don't forget that the 18-year old cashier can complete the purchase and accept the customer's money (thus, in effect, "selling" the alcohol to the customer). What is it about the act of scanning the price of the alcohol that is so troublesome?

I've only been able to come up with two explanations and one falls on its face almost immediately. The first explanation is that we don't want "underage" employees to sell alcohol (probably because it will "corrupt" them or lead to some other evil result). But, as I mentioned above, the underage cashier is able to complete the transaction and take the money. All the underage cashier is apparently prohibited from doing is scanning the bar code of the beer. This explanation also fails because the distinction between scanning the bar code, completing the transaction, and carrying the alcohol to a car is a perfect example of a distinction without meaning.

The only other explanation would be that we want older cashiers to handle the transactions so that they can properly check the age of the purchaser and do a better job of enforcing the applicable alcohol laws. Of course, the number of times that I've been carded when buying alcohol over the last, oh, 15 years, I can probably count on one hand. And again, I don't understand the distinction between 18-year olds and 19-year olds. They can both vote and can both die in Iraq, but we can trust one to check IDs and not the other?

Perhaps there is another explanation that I can't think of; I'd love to hear it. But absent some good explanation, these laws should be repealed.

Two other alcohol related laws are worth mentioning. First, of course, is the ban on alcohol sales on Sunday. Well, it isn't really a ban; after all, you can purchase alcohol at a bar or stadium or restaurant. Hoosiers for Beverage Choice is working on this issue (and on the cold beer in grocery store issue). I just want to add two thoughts on the subject. First, even before it was legal to sell alcohol in restaurants and bars on Sundays (I think that the law changed in the late '70s), it was legal to sell alcohol on Sundays at a facility with a paved race track of not less than 2 1/2 miles (of course, the only facility that fell into that exception was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indianapolis 500, which was run on Sunday). If always gotten a chuckle out of that one; apparently, even when Indiana was dry on Sundays, the legislature recognized the importance to the state of the Indianapolis 500 and did what was necessary to help.

More importantly, it seems obvious that Sunday was day chosen for a limited ban on alcohol sales for religious reasons. I guess that I our legislature felt that on Sunday Hoosiers should be in church (or at a sporting event or restaurant or bar) and not at a liquor store. But we are, in essence, limiting the rights of all Hoosiers to engage in a certain form of legal commerce and recreation, apparently in order not to offend the religious sensitivities of other Hoosiers. We don't prohibit the purchase of meat on Fridays during Lent and we don't prohibit the purchase of pork or other products prohibited by certain religious belief. So why do we elevate one particular sensitivity in order to appease a particular religious constituency? Blue laws like this one (or the ban on selling cars on Sundays) have no place in the 21st Century and should be repealed.

Finally, it has recently come to my attention that for some other arcane and idiotic reasons (having primarily to do with protections for alcohol wholesalers), some wineries and wine clubs are prohibited from shipping their wines to addresses in Indiana. One might ask the legislature -- elected to represent the people of Indiana -- to explain why they believe it appropriate to protect wholesalers at the expense of individual Hoosiers. Just curious.

As Indiana fights to attract jobs and economic investment, our legislature has to look carefully at laws that make Indiana a less attractive destination and/or which make us look like hicks still living in the 19th Century. Blue laws are at the top of that list.

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At Saturday, April 10, 2010 6:48:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

A fine article. Well written, and I agree with you.

At Tuesday, April 20, 2010 9:17:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree. I work in a grocery store with almost all kids younger than 18, and I don't understand this stupid law at all...

At Monday, May 03, 2010 8:28:00 PM , Anonymous J said...

I found it interesting that the first thought on cold beer sales restrictions was that it was a protectionist law for liquor stores, but the possible explanations for the underage worker sales restrictions doesn't include the possibility of the law being in place to protect older cashiers.

At Tuesday, May 04, 2010 9:22:00 AM , Blogger MSWallack said...

Indiana's laws include protectionism for liquor stores, protectionism for alcohol distributors, and protectionism for Indiana retailers, but almost no thought of protecting Indiana's consumers.

At Saturday, July 02, 2011 11:08:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a liquor store owner, I have to say your opinions are of great interest to me. If I can open my stores on Sunday, I obviously make more money...I'm for that! I can benefit from all those people staying home on Sundays, enjoying my products instead of spending all that money at restaurants and/or saloons drinking and eating...I'm for that!Ofcourse the State will lose quite a bit of tax revenue but I'll make more....I'm for that! You know, I've read that in states that have passed Sunday sales, car repair shops, hospital ERs, and motuaries have had a substantial increase in business. My nephew owns an auto repair facility...his father(my brother) is a surgeon(orthopedic specializing in neck injuries)...and we all know a good mortician, sooo...I guess I'm for that! OH, I forgot to thank you for informing me that I am charging my customers more for beer and liquor than grocery and drug stores...last time I checked across the street at CVS or at Walgreens or Kroger or Marsh, my price for COLD beer was the same as their price for warm beer....I'm not for that, so I'll raise my prices(they don't stock that much to be there early). DO I SOUND AS UNINFORMED AND DOWNRIGHT DUMB AS YOU DO YET??!! Oh, I almost forgot, my Dad, sister, and several other relatives were police.....ask a policeman that you know if they support Sunday sales....SPARE THE TIME...THEY WON'T!!!

At Monday, July 11, 2011 12:29:00 PM , Blogger MSWallack said...

Thanks for the comments, Anonymous. Let me offer the following comments and questions in response:

1) From all of the statistics that I've seen (though I admit it's been a while since I looked; this post was writtn two years ago), there is no change in alcohol-related accidents or deaths when Sunday sales are permitted (there may even be a slight decrease). If you have contrary data, I'd be intersted in reviewing it. Perhaps I will change my mind.

2) My own personal experience demonstrates that liquor stores do indeed charge slightly more for cold beer than groceries charge for the same beer (not cold). If you're charging the same, then that sounds like a good deal for consumers. Where is your store located? For what it's worth, I'm not really a beer guy, so I don't buy much beer (cold or otherwise). But I do prefer liquor stores becaues I'm a wine drinker and (obviously) liquor stores have a much better wine selection than do groceries. But why shouldn't I be able to buy a bottle of wine on Sunday, especially if I can go to a restaurant and buy that same bottle?

3) As to police, I also recall reading at least one article (though again, it's been a while) that claimed that police groups actually supported Sunday alcohol sales on the theory that if people purchase alcohol and take it home they will be less likely to drink and drive from a restaurant and bar.

4) You are obviously opposed to Sunday sales, and you've expressed a few reasons why. But can you explain to me why we have a Sunday ban in the first place? Why are liquor stores and groceries treated differently? Why is it acceptable to buy beer at a stadium or restaurant, but not a store? And why Sunday in particular? Why don't we just make stores pick 1 day a week during which they can't sell alcohol? Why do we allow some stores, but not others, to sell cold beer (or milk)? You also suggested that the state would lose tax revenue if people purchase from you instead of restaurants. Why would that be (other than the enormous markup that restaurants charge)? You charge sales tax and excise tax, don't you?

5) Finally, why the need to insult me? You have a different opinion and I'm happy to discuss the issue. Perhaps you are more informed than I am, being as you are in the industry. If that is the case, please cite statistics and facts or empirical evidence. An ad hominem attack is not the way to make your point. I'm always willing to revise my thinking and change my mind when presented with a good argument and supporting evidence. But an anonymous post that calls me uninformed and dumb is not the sort of sound argument and reasoning that will lead to a more informed understanding of the issues.

At Thursday, May 31, 2012 2:23:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I work at an Indiana grocery store being 18 years old, soon to be 19. I still don't understand at all why you must be just ONE MORE YEAR older than an ADULT to ring up alcohol? I just don't get it! I'm an adult; I can smoke (although I don't), vote, die in the military, watch porn, and do all other things restricted to 18 year olds. 19 year olds can do the same thing. And neither of us are allowed to drink! So why can't a fully grown ADULT ring up alcohol? What is the problem with an 18 year old scanning alcohol and checking people's IDs carefully, but that same 18 year old is allowed to ring up tobacco? The other neighboring states require you to be 18 to ring alcohol up. I don't quite understand? Oh, I know why, it's because Indiana's government is run by Republicans... I know I'm about to turn 19 soon, but I will still never understand this arcane law in a million years.

At Thursday, May 31, 2012 10:24:00 AM , Blogger MSWallack said...

Thanks for your comments Anonymous. You should know that there is a group (Hoosiers for Beverage Choice - see the link above) looking to change Indiana's alcohol laws. Besides looking into that group, the best thing that you can do is to talk to your state legislators. Trust me, on narrow issues, they really don't hear from that many voters. If they start hearing more and more people expressing interest in an issuee, they'll take notice. And I (partially) agree with your analysis of the fact that some of our laws are stuck in the 19th Century because of Republican leadership (and there are a lot of other reasons that I have a problem with Republican leadership...). Obviously, the best way to deal with that problem is at the polls in November. But remember, it takes more than just your vote; it takes your time, your effort, and your voice, speaking out to friends, family, and acquaintances to help make a difference.

At Tuesday, July 03, 2012 10:00:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a cashier at a supermarket in Indiana. By law, the cashier that rung up the alcohol must finish the transaction . So your supermarket has not been following proper policies for ringing up alcohol.

At Thursday, July 05, 2012 3:51:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree @MSWallack's comment. All Government in general listens to the people about only 1% of the time. 98% of the population could be against any law, but the government is nothing but a bunch of stubborn pricks. Remember the SOPA that was trying to pass? Almost EVERYONE in the entire nation was fighting to stop it from passing. But whadya know, government kept doing everything they could to pass it regardless of what WE THE PEOPLE were saying. And as of now, Indiana is the ONLY state out of the 50 states in the entire US to ban alcohol sales on Sunday. At this moment, determining when Indiana will lift this archaic ban on Sunday sales is sort of a dice roll. To be honest, I'm not even old enough to drink. But I can understand how much money it costs the state to ban alcohol sales on Sunday. That money could be used to fund critical things.

At Thursday, August 08, 2013 11:24:00 AM , Blogger Sandy said...

I found out another interesting, yet ridiculous alcohol law last night. You can only purchase 864 ounces of beer at a time. (the equivalent of 3 cases). Stupid!

At Monday, February 02, 2015 5:29:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tried to purchase 2 bottles and 2 - 5 liter boxes of wine (390 ounces) a couple of days ago from a Meijer in Indiana. The cashier told me that I was beyond my limit on how much wine I could purchase and had to put some back. He said it was the law in Indiana. I'm not sure what the limit is, so I put back 1 of the boxes. I was just stocking up. It wasn't like I was going to binge drink all of it that day. He said it only limited beer and wine and that I could buy all of the vodka and whiskey I wanted.


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