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Column: Time overdue to rewrite Indiana’s outdated alcohol laws, regulations


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Recently, Indiana lawmakers did something that was long overdue. They sat down and, for the first time in 40 years, did a major rewrite of the criminal code. It was high time.

Like most things that have been around for 40 years, it’s wasn’t a bad idea to look at them and see if they needed a little adjusting. I think lawmakers did a good job with the criminal code rewrite.

Now, it would be nice if they did the same thing with the state’s alcohol laws.

OK, I know what you’re thinking. “Good grief, Abdul! This isn’t about reform; this is about you wanting Sunday alcohol sales. Give it a rest!”

Yes, it’s true. I do think it’s silly you can’t buy alcohol on Sunday in Indiana. However, I also think it’s silly that under state law alcohol can’t be sold on Christmas Day either. Why should Christmas be different from any other day of the year? The last time I helped a buddy celebrate his birthday, we had drinks, so what’s the big deal?

The other rule that really had me scratching my head was the Bloomington retirement community that got in trouble with the excise police for serving alcohol. Apparently under state law, retirement homes can’t serve unless they have a permit. But if you’re a resident of the retirement home, you can bring your own booze.

One of the arguments that excise police use is that to serve alcohol you have to go through training, and part of that training includes being able to spot a fake ID. Call me crazy, but how many people are going to be spotting fake IDs in a retirement community? You’re more likely to find people born in 1921 than under 21.

And don’t even get me started on cold beer and where you can and can’t buy it.

Now, this isn’t to say all of Indiana’s alcohol laws are bad. Some make quite a bit of sense. I have no problem with asking for someone to show ID if they look under 40. And I definitely don’t want someone being served if they already are intoxicated.

But isn’t there something fundamentally wrong when you can get ice in a liquor store, but it is illegal to sell cold water?

Seriously?

Would it be too much to ask for lawmakers and members of Indiana’s alcohol industry to sit down and take a good look at the state code and come up with some common-sense regulations that allow for the sale and consumption of alcohol but, at the same time, also are mindful of public safety and promote the responsible use of the product. It’s not like this hasn’t happened before.

I did some checking of old Indiana alcohol laws, and you would be amazed at what I found. The first “Indiana alcohol law” dates back to when the state was still part of the Northwest Territory. It was illegal to “furnish liquor to Indians and soldiers.” That changed in 1805 to make it illegal to sell within 30 miles of an Indian tribe. Now that’s progress.

Up until 1969, it was illegal for a woman to stand at a bar. She could sit but couldn’t stand. Of course, that shouldn’t surprise anyone because up until 1941, it was illegal for a woman to be a bartender. That was repealed in 1967. And it wasn’t until 2004 that grocery stores could sell liquor on the floor as opposed to behind the counter. And it was 2010 when we finally got to see Election Day alcohol sales.

It seems to me a code rewrite is long overdue. And by the way, if a code rewrite was good enough for criminals, shouldn’t one be good enough for those of us who want to consume alcohol responsibly?

Abdul Hakim-Shabazz is an attorney and the editor and publisher of IndyPoltics.Org. He is also a frequent contributor to numerous Indiana media outlets. He can be reached at abdul@indypolitics.org.

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