Sunday, November 27, 2005

Ours is not to question why.

The state of Indiana has its own peculiar regulatory regime when it comes to the sale of alcoholic beverages.

But as is the case in all states, the imperatives of voluminous statutory fulfillment fall into two broad categories, the first aiming to ensure that all appropriate taxes are paid, and the second seeking to enforce the drinking age and the myriad associated regulations.

There is nothing unusual in any of this, at least nothing beyond the intrinsically odd (and quite possibly Freudian) American habit of lumping alcohol, tobacco and often firearms together in one steaming cauldron of red tape.

Owing to the strictly enumerated significance attached to the state’s decision to extend to licensees the privilege of serving alcoholic beverages, business owners surrender sovereignty over their own buildings by submitting a floor plan to the state. ATC officers may enter licensed premises any time they wish, irrespective of probable cause or search warrants, and use these site maps to look at anything and everything they wish – file cabinets, records, cash registers, the safe.

Again, such a state of affairs certainly isn’t unexpected. Owners know the score before going in, and generations of Hoosiers have expressed their implied agreement with the prevailing regulatory regime by repeatedly failing to agitate for any changes. Que sera sera.

Of all the many laws on the Indiana books that govern the sale of alcoholic beverages, there are a few minor definitions and prohibitions that make little sense to me, but insofar as major sources of annoyance are concerned, only three are worth mentioning – not because compliance with them poses a hardship, but pertaining to the contradictions of each.

These are the three (sometimes four) yearly exceptions to the customary daily restrictions on hours of operation, i.e., when we may begin selling alcoholic beverages and when we must clear the bar and stop.

The first is Election Day, which in some years occurs twice, and of course is the day when alcohol can’t be sold until the polls close. Rules like this are widespread, and in some ways archaic given that in Indiana, one might choose to drink continuously until 3:30 a.m. and then nurse a six-pack or a bottle of whisky during the time it takes to watch a DVD before crawling off to vote when the polls open at six.

Next is New Year’s Day, when it is perfectly legal to drink one’s fill in a restaurant or bar, after which there’s the small matter of driving, but package/carryout sales are completely prohibited, meaning that the state prefers us not to drink safely at home.

The single most annoying alcoholic beverage restriction on the Indiana books is that no alcohol can be sold on Christmas Day, period – not inside the bar, not as package sales, but altogether.

If this prohibition is meant to protect workers, then why do we allow any businesses to be open – and why can’t I, as the owner, go in and run the bar if it’s my time and my choice?

If it’s because of the religious holiday, as I suspect it is, then run and call the ACLU on my dime, because it is time to have this particular wall between church and state strengthened.

There’s no desire on my part to be open on Christmas. I prefer drinking at home. But if someone wishes to fill that market niche, there’s no reason why Christianity should stand in the way.

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