MI: Group seeks to stay the course in Michigan alcohol regulation
MI: Group seeks to stay the course in Michigan alcohol regulation
The Oakland Press
March 4, 2013
Less stringent regulations on the alcohol industry could be coming, thanks to a state bill recently introduced in the Senate — and some aren’t happy.
With the 80th anniversary of Michigan’s prohibition overturn on the horizon, Gov. Rick Snyder could soon mull over an overhaul of the state alcohol industry.
As the bill aimed toward eliminating perceived outdated regulations on the alcohol industry moves through the Michigan Senate, a group of business leaders, law enforcement officials and activists have gathered to promote tighter alcohol regulation.
The group prepared a report — “Putting Public Health First!” — detailing what it called lax alcohol regulations and recommendations from a state Licensing and Regulatory Affairs subcommittee, the Office of Reinventing Regulations.
The report’s findings were simple: don’t fix what’s not broken.
“Overall, Senate Bill 216 is bad alcohol policy,” said Mike Tobias, executive director of Michigan Alcohol Policy Promoting Health and Safety.
“The system is working well as it is. The ORR’s recommendations would weaken regulations in Michigan. Underage drinking is down, alcohol-related-traffic fatalities are down … and the small wineries and breweries are doing well.”
Tobias, along with several other alcohol industry experts and business professionals, believes Michigan’s loosening of rules dealing with alcohol sales and distribution will, in turn, allow alcohol to get into the wrong hands — those of minors.
Further, said Margaret Farenger, executive director of the Alliance of Coalitions for Healthy Communities, most of the applications to be put on this committee from people who would really deal with the outcomes of the state policy changes — prevention, public safety, law enforcement — were excluded.
“It really showed a disregard for communities’ needs,” said Farenger. “It was surprising that Oakland County, a big epicenter for change in the state, was left out. We are people who deal with (alcohol abuse prevention) in our community.”
Among some of the ORR suggestions — addressed in a recent Senate Bill brought by Sen. Howard Walker — are less strict verification requirements for alcohol license applicants, the increased number of resort liquor licenses, a decreased gas station inventory, increased wine sampling and sales at farmers’ markets and allowing beer to be shipped directly to consumers.
Currently, wine distributors can obtain licenses to directly distribute up to 1,500 cases a year to Michigan consumers.
If the bill passes through the Senate, beer distribution could enjoy the same process.
“The direct shipping of beer poses an even greater risk in exposing minors to alcohol,” said Tobias.
Referencing a 2011 Michigan Department of Community Health study, Tobias referenced that 24 percent of high school aged boys — and 8 percent of high school aged girls — report drinking beer more than wine.
“Carriers that deliver don’t have to check IDs,” he said. “It’ll then be easier to get beer into young peoples’ hands.”
“If you look at all people who have abuse issues, the common denominator is beer because it’s readily available, and it’s cheaper compared to liquor,” said Waterford Police Chief Dan McCaw.
As a provision in the new bill, gas stations would have to decrease their inventory from $250,000 to $50,000 in order to get a beer and wine distribution license.
This would lead to negative consequences, according to Midwest Independent Retailers Association CEO Auday Arabo, who was instrumental in preparing the group’s report.
“First, there are no caps in how many gas stations are allowed to obtain an SDM license in a given area,” he said
Reducing that threshold is extremely alarming, said Arabo. McCaw said: “What you’re going to have is a lot more liquor stores — gas and liquor stores.”
While the MIRA is not opposed to licensing, Arabo said it is opposed to a shotgun approach.
“It would open up the box, with no cap,” he added. “If they lowered the minimum inventory, you’d have 3,000 to 3,500 gas stations that would be selling overnight.”
That wouldn’t be so terrible, said Waterford gas station owner Amir Yaldo. Yaldo’s Mobil gas station, on the corner of Sashabaw Road and Walton Boulevard, already has points of access to liquor, wine and beer nearby.
“There’s a party store right down the road from me, there’s a Walgreen’s not even a half-mile down the road … in my opinion, it helps business, competition,” said Yaldo.
His gas station obtained a beer and wine license sometime in 2008. When he brought the alcohol into the store, he said, business increased by at least 10 percent.
As far as access to potential underage drinkers, Yaldo said that his location checks identification even for people who might look 30 or 40 years old.
“That’s part of the business,” he continued. “You have to be disciplined … there is education that is needed in that (area) — especially in schools — but, to me, it’s not a problem keeping underage kids away from alcohol.”
In addition, there’s only one window to buy the beer — at least in his gas station, he said — as opposed to several ways other places. And many local stations are family owned and operated, so the owners are more careful about who they sell to, he said.
“You walk into big box store … I know they train their workers and everything … a lot of times, those places are busy,” said Yaldo
When he was applying for his license, gas stations were just starting to be allowed to sell wine and beer in their businesses in Michigan, said Yaldo.
“It was a little difficult, because it was the beginning,” he said. It took a year.
He went through financial, criminal and other background checks to obtain his license. In his opinion, alcohol application laws should remain the same.
“It’s a good idea to keep it like it is, because you want to make sure that person is legitimate, has a good reputation and is going to be good to the community,” said Yaldo.
The new additions to alcohol policy, said Walker, R-Traverse City, are “designed to increase access to the marketplace to local brewers.”
“Just because there’s more producers in our state doesn’t mean there’s going to be more alcohol consumption,” added Walker. “We’re trying to allow more access to industry for Michigan-produced products. A huge regulatory apparatus is still in place to protect public safety.”
The process simply needed to be streamlined, he said.
“Anybody in the industry — now or if my bill becomes law — will tell you that,” he said.