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Our Opinion: Not easy as ABC to abolish state’s liquor monopoly

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Before you swallow restrictionists’ claim that North Carolina’s state monopoly on liquor sales is a good-government success story, ask yourself where all the bottle rockets come from.

Aerial fireworks can’t be sold in North Carolina, yet we see them streak through the sky each Independence Day. It’s common knowledge that Fourth of July revelers import stashes of out-of-state pyrotechnics. South of the Border, an Interstate 95 tourist attraction on the South Carolina side of the state line, boasts “the largest stock of fireworks on the East Coast.” That’s thanks in no small part to Tar Heels’ insatiable demand for the products, which are so ubiquitous here that police rarely bother to bust violators.

If people will flout an outright ban on fireworks, what makes state officials believe heavy-handed liquor laws will outweigh the fundamental law of supply and demand?

In a 59-page legislative report on the Alcoholic Beverage Control system released this month, the General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division uses incomplete data to draw naive conclusions seeming to support continued state control of retail liquor sales.

“Among Southeastern states, North Carolina collects the most public revenue per gallon of liquor sold, has the lowest liquor outlet density and has the second-lowest adult per capita liquor consumption,” the report states.

Sales figures don’t reflect true consumption, as 42 of North Carolina’s 100 counties border states that offer merchants and consumers more freedom. That also explains the low density of ABC stores — outlets in those border counties have to compete with lower taxes and expanded operating hours a mere hop, skip and jump over the state line.

Seventeen counties border Virginia, which has an ABC system but allows Sunday sales. Sixteen border South Carolina, where liquor sales are privatized.

Slightly more than half of North Carolina residents want the ABC system abolished, according to recent Mason-Dixon Polling and Strategy and Elon University polls. The chances of that happening anytime soon are slim to none, as even incremental reform faces an uphill climb in the General Assembly.

Sen. Joyce Waddell, D-Mecklenburg, filed a Tuesday bill to “modernize” the ABC system by merging alcoholic beverage control boards in counties with multiple booze bureaucracies. (We have 100 counties and 170 ABC boards — wasteful duplication is common.) The legislation would also allow local boards to offer Sunday hours and in-store liquor tastings.

Rep. Chuck Edwards, R-Henderson, came out against “forced mergers,” according to the News & Observer. Lawmakers would face stiff opposition from ABC boards in their home counties because no petty potentates want to forfeit their fiefdoms.

Yes, local ABC boards contribute a portion of proceeds to youth substance abuse education and alcoholism treatment initiatives. Give us one good reason a tax on private liquor sales couldn’t be earmarked for the same noble purpose.

As for Sunday sales, the Raleigh newspaper quotes Rep. Pat Hurley, R-Randolph, as saying, “I think we need Sunday free for the Lord’s day.”

The harrumphing busybody set never acknowledges that blue laws stem from social custom rather than religious faith. The Sabbath Jesus observed is from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. The Old Testament doesn’t forbid seventh-day drinking. It does ban working on the Sabbath, but if buying liquor counts as work, so does paying for that big Sunday buffet spread after church. Those cooks, cashiers and servers, by the way, are all on the clock.

North Carolina’s liquor monopoly is nearly 84 years old and reflects Prohibition-era sensibilities. The state’s first ABC store opened in downtown Wilson on July 2, 1935. It’s high past time to close the chapter on government liquor stores and allow private sales.

“North Carolina residents have been saying it for years — they just want to purchase a bottle of liquor at the nearest grocery store like it’s done in most every other state,” an N.C. Merchants Association news release says. We agree.

Until lawmakers change their tune, our state will continue to lose much-needed sales tax revenue as Tar Heels flock to oases of personal freedom on our northern, southern and eastern borders in an end-run around big-government booze restrictions.

When will our power-drunk General Assembly sober up? From bottle rockets to liquor bottles, prohibition simply doesn’t work.

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