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Our View: Drinks to go, or no?

The Union Editorial Board

Usually, you’d only see to-go margaritas in New Orleans or Las Vegas.

Now you can have someone place an adult beverage in your car’s trunk without ever leaving your vehicle.

This relaxation of rules by the state’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is linked to the coronavirus, which has shuttered business and struck the economy a low blow. A statement from the department says that it considered the public’s health and safety when making its decision, and opted for the relaxed rules because — on a temporary basis — it wouldn’t have a negative effect.

You might wonder, while sipping your Mai Tai, why this should remain temporary, if adults act responsibly. We did, after all, recently legalize cannabis and the state has yet to fall into perdition.

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But is that reason enough to change our alcohol laws?

We’ve seen a lot of upheaval recently because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. Gavin Newsom drastically changed the Brown Act — the state’s open meetings law. Elected officials now meet via teleconference. The days of standing before your government and making eye contact are history, at least for now.

We want those days gone, don’t we? Wouldn’t we want all aspects of our government to return to normal?

A lengthy discussion about changing the alcohol rules might seem premature, but you better believe it’s already in the minds of those whose bottom dollar depend on it. Likewise, it’s never too early to compose arguments against a change, if you oppose it.

And there are plenty of reasons to be against it. Just ask a parent who’s lost a child to a drunk driver.

Permanently allowing to-go cocktails might become the latest shift for a society that has long had issues, and rightly so, with alcohol. Then again, there’s no reason to strike every alcohol law from the books just because some folks act properly for a handful of months.

If they acted properly, that is.

That’s why, if there’s any permanent change, it needs to be deliberative and thoughtful. This process should be a drink that takes a long time to finish.

The temporary lax rules hopefully allow some businesses to earn money they otherwise wouldn’t get. It’s not for every business. Each one must make hard decisions concerning their bottom line. It works for some and not for others.

That’s why it’s essential we hear from business owners about what worked, and what didn’t, when it comes time.

Alcoholic beverages must be transported in the trunk, yet some businesses hand the drinks to the driver or passenger. That’s a signal to drive with the booze in the vehicle with you, and that’s illegal.

Rules must be followed. Food must be sold with the to-go drinks, the latter of which must be secured by a lid or cap with no openings for straws.

One Sacramento bar already got popped on an accusation of selling the booze, but without the food. It’s a sign the state takes this seriously, and also maybe an indication that businesses aren’t.

But that doesn’t mean we should throw out the gin with the bath water, and only emphasizes why our local and state governments must consider business owners when crafting any new rules.

This shouldn’t be a process that’s limited only to businesses that buy alcohol from wholesalers and sell to consumers. We, the everyday citizen, have the most important voice — both to our elected officials during public comment and to the businesses from which we buy our groceries, alcohol or otherwise.

We’re the ones who purchase the to-go drinks and food that comes with it. We’re the ones affected by laws restricting us from what we purchase and where.

And we’re the ones who should thoughtfully consider why this prohibition has been in effect for years, and what problems we could create if it’s lifted.

The great thing about this is that there’s no rush. Let’s take all the time we need. Local governments can form a committee, if they want. Bring in stakeholders and regular consumers. The state Legislature can hold hearings over months, listening to people from across the state and poring over studies and data to better inform its decision.

Can you imagine — our government making a policy decision after months of research, listening to constituents and basing it off sound reasoning and the will of the people?

We’ll drink to that.

The weekly Our View editorial represents the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.


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