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Our Opinion: Alcohol freedom bills take aim at archaic blue laws

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State lawmakers are considering two measures to ease archaic and unnecessary restrictions on alcohol sales. One could face opposition from religious groups, while the other has drawn the ire of beer distributors.

Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, introduced a “brunch bill” that would allow restaurants to serve alcoholic beverages beginning at 10 a.m. on Sundays — a two-hour change from current law that allows sales to start at noon.

“The overwhelming majority of individuals and businesses with whom I’ve spoken have been very supportive of this legislation,” Gunn told his hometown newspaper, the Times-News of Burlington. “The focus of this bill as written will provide for restaurants to serve alcoholic beverages at brunch on Sunday. This bill strikes a good balance of growing our N.C. economy and continuing ABC Commission control.”

Senate Bill 155 would also allow distilled spirits to be sampled at consumer tastings held at ABC stores, trade shows, conventions, shopping malls, street festivals and other special events. The bill limits each adult 21 and up to one quarter-ounce sample of a given product and 1.5 ounces of total samples.

The bipartisan bill is co-sponsored by our own Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash, who represents a north-central swath of Wilson County.

We oppose blue laws that prevent adult citizens from making their own choices about alcohol consumption. Sunday sales restrictions stem from religious objections to drinking during church hours, but those objections are rooted in mere tradition rather than doctrine. Saturday, not Sunday, is technically the biblical Sabbath, and the Bible bans work, not drinking in moderation, on that day. Each North Carolinian should be free to heed his or her own conscience without the state’s interference.

A second much-needed reform is planned to increase the amount of beer craft brewers can sell on their own from 25,000 barrels a year to 200,000. Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, is planning to sponsor the legislation, but it faces an uncertain future.

The N.C. Beer & Wine Wholesalers group, which represents third-party distributors, wants to keep the 25,000-barrel cap in place. Craft breweries can whip up as many batches as they like, but exceeding the cap forces them to contract with a distribution company to sell their wares.

If you think that sounds like a Prohibition-era shakedown, you’d be right. Former bootleggers became wholesale distributors after the 21st Amendment was ratified, author Daniel Okrent told The Charlotte Observer. Okrent is the author of “Last Call — The Rise and Fall of Prohibition.”

Distributors say they promote competition by preventing international beer conglomerates from cornering the market, but the rise of craft beer and consumer demand for choice undercuts that argument.

The John Locke Foundation, which advocates for economic freedom, and other conservative groups say it’s a simple free-market issue. We’re inclined to agree. There is no justification for laws compelling brewers to give a cut of their business to middlemen.

Wholesalers are a potent lobbying force, and it remains unclear whether lawmakers will risk upsetting campaign donors to do the right thing by raising the cap.

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