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Opinion

Opinion

Liquor laws

The state is making some practical changes in its liquor laws, but public safety still should be a priority.

June 14, 2012

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Kansas has an interesting history when it comes to liquor laws. Kansas always has taken the sale and consumption of alcohol very seriously and has added tough new laws in recent years on drinking and driving. At the same time, however, the state has loosened a few alcohol laws in a way that may benefit the state’s wine and beer producers and provide some new entertainment options for Kansas residents and visitors.

In 1880, Kansas became the first state to adopt a constitutional amendment prohibiting the manufacture and sale of alcohol. In 1917, the state extended the prohibition to include alcohol possession. That ban was in effect until 1948, far outlasting national prohibition. The state had an odd system of “private clubs” where liquor could be served and, later, purchased, but it didn’t approve sale of liquor by the drink until 1986. Even then it was up to each county to decide whether to accept the change. According to the Kansas Department of Revenue, 19 Kansas counties still don’t allow the sale of liquor by the drink within their borders.

Nonetheless, state lawmakers decided this year to lighten up on a few laws regulating the liquor business. One of those changes is expected to be a significant boon to a wine festival scheduled for Saturday in De Soto. Thanks to a law that went into effect May 31, people who attend the festival and taste a wine they like will be able to purchase a bottle on the spot. Previously, the wineries were prohibited from selling bottles at such events; buyers had to visit the individual wineries to make a purchase. An organizer of Saturday’s Winesong event said that a visit to the 14 wineries represented at the festival would require a 335-mile round trip — a significant deterrent to would-be buyers. The law probably won’t increase anyone’s overall wine consumption, but it may entice them to buy more Kansas wines.

Other laws that go into effect July 1 will allow drinking establishments to once again offer drink specials during certain hours of the day and allow micro-distilleries to sell and serve their products on their premises. Liquor stores will be allowed to offer free samples of their products to customers, and dinner rail cars will be allowed to obtain a liquor license so they can serve alcoholic beverages.

The new laws will allow drinkers some new latitude in Kansas, but those who imbibe still should have a designated driver or plan on walking home. Another law that takes effect July 1 will require that anyone who has been previously convicted for drunken driving serve time in jail if they are stopped by police and refuse breath and blood tests. The goal is to punish repeat offenders who may continue to drive even if their licenses have been suspended.

In a city like Lawrence, with so many bars and so many young people, the changes in state alcohol laws also may suggest a need to redouble law enforcement efforts to curb underage drinking.

In its early days, Kansas reacted strongly to the adverse impact that alcohol consumption could have on individual lives and public safety. Even as the state loosens some of its alcohol restrictions, it’s worth re-emphasizing the need to drink responsibly and not drink and drive.

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