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Logic behind laws hard to swallow

THE INSANITY OF Pennsylvania laws pertaining to the sale of alcohol were on full display in June.

A Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision impacting beer sales at a Sheetz store in Altoona will presumably have statewide consequences. The high court decided Pennsylvania law requires establishments that sell small amounts of beer also must allow customers to drink it on site.

Yes, you read that correctly. According to a majority of the court’s justices, state law prohibits consumers from walking into a Sheetz or similar establishment and picking up a six pack of beer solely to take home. It insists that the business also allow consumption.

This means the law is encouraging people to stop at a bottle shop, drink alcohol, get in their cars and drive home.

Brilliant.

While this ruling immediately impacts just one Sheetz store (the chain has been experimenting with carryout beer sales at a few of its sites in Pennsylvania), it presumably will impact other facilities around the commonwealth. But the issue is clouded by the fact Pennsylvania has different types of permits for the sale of alcohol.

The system is largely a relic of the post-Prohibition era and special interest protections. The laws and restrictions pertaining to alcohol sales in the commonwealth are geared to serve the interests of the state, beer distributors and taverns, not consumers.

The special interests have carved out their alcohol territories, and a move such as the one pursued by Sheetz steps on valuable turf. In fact, the challenge to Sheetz did not come from the state. (The Liquor Control Board sided with the chain.) Rather, it was an organization representing beer distributors that filed a complaint.

The commonwealth’s interests in beer sales ought to be limited mainly to making sure alcohol doesn’t fall into the hands of minors, and preventing drunken driving. Why should the state care if someone wants to purchase just a six pack at a beer distributor or prefers to buy a couple of cases at a neighborhood bar as a matter of convenience?

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