Seattle’s Mini-Prohibition

About two years ago, Seattle looked to implement some laws on the books that would ban the sale of Malt Liquor and other similarly proofed beverages from areas of the city that are primarily populated by the lower class. As with nearly every similar law ever written, the goal was to reduce public drunkenness. Charges of classism were tossed about by a few and they were mostly ignored by the city law-makers. Those with a firm grasp of history alerted the law-makers that prohibition laws have not worked in reducing public drunkenness. They too were ignored.

The result? I’ll let the Seattle PI take over from here:

“Effectively, it’s a meaningless restriction at this point,” said Bob Scales, a policy adviser to Mayor Greg Nickels. “Right now, it doesn’t do anything because the distributors in the stores have renamed the products that have been banned.”


As for whether the state should base such bans on alcohol content and price — rather than an explicit product list — that idea was considered and rejected several years ago, Lee said. Lee headed a working group including representatives of businesses, Seattle and Tacoma that found that such a move was “infeasible,” Lee said.

“There are thousands and thousands of beer and wine products out there, and to use a formula base, that’s a very broad brush that could impact thousands of products,” Lee said. “There’s no one formula that’s going to capture exactly what the (chronic public inebriates) are drinking.”

The core issue here is that the city was looking to marketplace regulation in order to take care of what is essentially a police issue (public drunkenness), albeit only one that is a misdemeanor in most instances. But I want to leave the legal aspect for others to figure out.

Anyone with a passing knowledge of the history of alcohol knows that prohibition laws do not work. People who want to get drunk will do so. Even in modern day Iran, where the consumption of alcohol in Iran has been strictly forbidden since the 1979 Islamic revolution and the death penalty is an option for those who are repeatedly found drunk in public, the underground alcohol trade thrives. Seattle’s foray into curtailing public drunkenness was doomed as soon as they looked to prevent certain types of alcohol from being sold.