Let's talk some beer. In my other blogging endeavor, July--Craft Beer Month--is the time of great exhaustion, when ever day brings some new, fascinating event. It rarely brings news, though. Not actual news, front-page news, like this:
The freeze on statewide contests for homemade beer and wine follows a state Department of Justice interpretation of a law regulating where the drinks can be consumed....
Turns out, it's far more limited than anyone thought. In what Burrows, state fair officials and some legislators are calling a drastic step, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission is now prohibiting home brewers and winemakers from drinking or sharing their carefully crafted stouts and pinots outside their homes. Violation is a Class A misdemeanor.
Ah, the OLCC, bane of the craft beer fan, vestige of prohibition. The whole issue started because Deschutes Brewery called the OLCC to ask whether there was a problem with hosting a homebrew forum. They called because the OLCC is famously capricious (my interpretation) and wanted to make sure it was kosher. The whole thing might have ended there. The OLCC might have said, "yeah sure, knock yourself out--other breweries have been hosting homebrewers for years." Instead, they ran it up the flagpole to the Oregon DOJ which consulted the relevant law that cites these goals:
To eliminate the evils of unlicensed and unlawful manufacture, selling and disposing of such beverages and to promote temperance in the use and consumption of alcoholic beverages... and ...To protect the safety, welfare, health, peace and morals of the people of the state.
And thus did we go down this stupid rabbit hole. Now homebrewers are screwed until the legislature meets in January to fix the law. They can't hold homebrew contests or hold meetings with their own beer in breweries or even, if the law is read strictly, carry a beer down the street to a neighbor's house. Fortunately, the legislature appears ready to take quick action because, of course, this is an absurd situation for a place called Beervana.
A little editorial rant continues below the jump.
Good liberals like government. We think it provides valuable services effectively and economically. We do not want to drown government in a bathtub. That does not mean, however, that we are insensitive to bad government. The OLCC is bad government.
The OLCC is a vestige of the temperance movement. Some states were very much on-board with Prohibition, and when the 21st Amendment passed, tried to re-consolidate some authority over the sale and general availability of liquor. Like them, Oregon established the OLCC in 1933, convening a special session of the Legislature just nine days after Prohibition's repeal solely for this purpose. States like Oregon became known as "control" states, because they controlled the actual sale of liquor. Both Oregon and Washington are among the 18 remaining control states.
The upshot of all of this is that control agencies are far from critical in the regulation of alcohol. In a recent editorial, wine merchant William Hatcher successfully makes the case that liquor law enforcement, licensing, and contract liquor stores are all superfluous functions that could be better managed by local government--or done away with altogether.
If all of this fails to convince you that the OLCC is an agency past its expiration date, how about this article from Nick Budnick in last month in the Bend Bulletin:
Even as the agency has become a lightning rod for criticism in recent years, records show it has also been dogged by internal allegations of mismanagement, lackadaisical self-regulation and inadequate record-keeping.
Last year, an internal audit that was not released publicly found that OLCC’s licensing of alcoholic beverage retailers — one of the agency’s main functions — had been significantly mismanaged. Its title: “Oregon Liquor Control Commission’s licensing function lacks accountability and effective oversight.”
The best thing that can be said about the OLCC is that it's unnecessary; at its worst it actively works against the interests of the citizens of Oregon. My suggestions: dump the OLCC and join the rest of the country with modern regulations.