Will social districts bring an end to NC’s stifling ABC laws? I sure hope so. | Opinion

Khadejeh Nikouyeh/Knikouyeh@charlotteobserver.com

When Gov. Roy Cooper signed a bill in law last July, he did so hoping to help N.C. businesses and people return to normalcy post-Covid. He admirably envisioned each city would have the opportunity to determine social districts, allowing people to carry open containers of beer, wine or liquor within the districts.

These social districts create a relaxed environment for people to walk, dine and enjoy live entertainment while sipping their favorite beverages without threat of harassment, ticketing or arrest. Today, at least 20 N.C. cities, big and small, have social districts, including Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham, Cornelius, Greenville, Newton, Monroe and Selma.

Although our state is making real progress toward ending the antiquated policies of the ABC system, these new districts are still pushed into a corner of submitting to ABC authority for approval. North Carolina has a history of controlling what people buy and consume when it comes to alcohol. It was the first state to prohibit the sale of alcohol in 1908, and remains one of 17 states with strict state controls over alcohol manufacturing, distribution and sales. (Forgive my slight, but so much for “First in Freedom.”)

Resisting such deeply held convictions of a relatively few political elites and those who profit from such controlling state policies, is an uphill battle. But it’s one that is much closer to fracturing than many give credence.

If a survey were conducted across the state, I believe the overwhelming consensus would be that ABC laws are outdated, overreaching and unreasonably restrictive for citizens and businesses alike. This is no longer a one-sided political view, rather almost all political affiliations and demographics have come to the conclusion that ABC laws hurt the state far more than they help.

North Carolina’s ABC laws not only drive up costs, but they hinder business development in the name of paternalistic protectionism while the ABC system takes tax dollars to purchase and profit from alcohol sales. With the amount of added driving for ordinary citizens to obtain liquor, and with alcohol shipping in North Carolina, there is increased use of fuel and output of emissions — not to mention the time wasted going to these privileged few stores.

It would save costs, fuel and time — and help state and local businesses — to have liquor sold in grocery stores, Costco and other locations, as it is in 33 other states.

As social districts thrive and people publicly display they can handle the change from no outside liquor to permissible locations, the realization that ABC laws are no longer needed will dawn on the populous. This is not to say there will be no laws, but rather the limitation of where to purchase liquor and by whose permission will shift.

Business opportunities will include the representation of North Carolinians in alcohol manufacturing and sales, along with more vibrant cities and improved tourist destinations, which vacationers worldwide consider when planning getaways.

As economic strife around the U.S. continues, people will do more to vote with their feet, and in North Carolina we need to ensure that we’re maximizing our opportunities to attract investors, entrepreneurs, the brightest minds, and those who want a vacation without strenuous limitations.

Alcohol is only a part of that, but it certainly plays a significant role. As social districts succeed and grow, hopefully there can be an increase in petitions and polls that actively work against North Carolina’s stifling ABC laws.

Joshua D. Glawson lives in Indian Trail, N.C. and writes about politics and economics. Contact him at joshuadglawson.com .