Ban on 29 cheap, potent beverages falls flat, report says
The liquor industry wins this round. A ban on the sale of 29 cheap fortified wines and strong beers in several Seattle neighborhoods has...
Seattle Times staff reporter
The liquor industry wins this round.
A ban on the sale of 29 cheap fortified wines and strong beers in several Seattle neighborhoods has been ineffective, according to a report presented to the City Council on Monday.
The liquor industry has skirted the ban by introducing different, but similar wines and beers to those barred in target neighborhoods, the report said.
"The ban has been absolutely meaningless," said Bob Scales, an author of the report and a city policy adviser. "Right now it doesn't do anything because the products have been renamed."
Instead of selling banned products such as Night Train Express and Colt 45 Malt Liquor, stores are now stocking Evil Eye, Johnny Bootlegger and Camo Black Ice, the report said.
In a strategy to fight littering, panhandling and public drunkenness, the city sought to restrict the sales of some potent, inexpensive beverages — considered popular with chronic inebriates — in several neighborhoods near downtown.
The Washington State Liquor Control Board resisted banning wine and beer solely on the basis of high alcohol content, said Councilmember Sally Clark, chairwoman of the council's neighborhoods committee. So the city came up with a list of specific brands to prohibit.
Since November 2006, merchants have been barred from selling those brands in a six-square-mile area that includes downtown, Belltown, Capitol Hill, the Central Area, the Chinatown International District and the University District.
As a short-term solution, the report recommends the city now try to get the state liquor board to prohibit the new high-alcohol products. In the longer term, the report said the city should consider a "formula-based" approach, defining banned beverages as those that are cheap and have a certain high level of alcohol.
Clark ascribed the ban's failure to capitalism beating the city's system. "I'd call it greed," said Councilmember Tom Rasmussen.
The city tried to study the ban's impact by looking at 2007 data on alcohol-related calls to the police and fire departments. The research was inconclusive, showing no statistical evidence the ban reduced the number of calls. Calls to the fire department increased in targeted areas, but calls to police were down, as they were citywide.
Community groups, though, perceived that the ban has curbed public intoxication, the report said. That may be because of other factors, Clark said, such as improved treatment programs, including subsidized housing that allows residents to drink.
The city is not ready to give up its fight, Clark said. "If we tried to take away the ban, I think the community groups would come unglued."
Bob Young: 206-464-2174
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