The Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC) didn’t want you wasting away in Margaritaville, so they banned pitchers of the frozen concoction outright. Then I called them out on it, Alabamians pressured the agency and the ABC reversed the pitcher ban…I think.

The ABC relied on a statutory interpretation by General Counsel Bob Hill regarding Alabama code section 28-3A-25(a)(9) which says it is unlawful:

For any person to fortify, adulterate, contaminate, or in any manner change the character or purity of alcoholic beverages from that as originally marketed by the manufacturer, except that a retail licensee on order from a customer may mix a chaser or other ingredients necessary to prepare a cocktail or mixed drink for on-premises consumption.

This code section clearly aims to prevent people from watering down booze or selling knock-off versions. It doesn’t ban cocktails served by the pitcher, but the ABC simply decided that it did.

In reversing the ban, ABC spokesman Dean Argo announced, “The Code speaks to beverages that are ‘customarily’ served in pitchers.” That’s a true statement even if it’s found in a different section from the one the ban relied upon.

He continued to note, “The menus of many restaurants and bars in Alabama already offer several beverages by pitcher.” That’s a fuzzier claim, because Argo told me unequivocally “that only beer may be served in a pitcher.” According to his statement, pitchers of other alcoholic beverages might have appeared on menus, but the ABC considered them unlawful.

Argo concludes the ABC’s announcement by saying the “updated interpretation should give licensees the flexibility they need to meet the needs of their customers, while maintaining the integrity of the original rule.”

Well that’s clear as mud.

Rather than defend the pitcher ban against a flood of public pressure, the ABC quickly capitulated with this extremely unclear pronouncement. The reversal itself is evidence of the capricious nature of the ABC. The ABC apparently does what it wants and—when pressured—arbitrarily changes in the opposite direction.

Yes, I’m glad that pointless pitcher ban was reversed, if indeed that’s the case.

But it raises the bigger issue of whether the ABC should be able to impose and withdraw law on a whim. That’s the Legislature’s job. It was the Legislature’s job when the ABC facilitated a 5 percent liquor markup used to fund district attorneys.

The ABC is hoping all of this will just go away, and scrutiny of the agency will subside. We shouldn’t let that happen.

Alabama must enforce our liquor laws. We ought to punish the sale of alcohol to minors. We should prosecute people who drive drunk. The Department of Revenue can even collect as much tax on liquor as the Legislature sees fit. None of that requires the ABC. The majority of our fellow states do quite well without this unnecessary layer of bureaucracy.

People and markets should be free unless there’s a compelling public reason to impose a government restraint. We shouldn’t have to ask the ABC or any other bureaucracy for piecemeal permission to behave like responsible adults. Pushing back on a silly pitcher ban might not sound like a big deal, but it’s a step toward a freer Alabama. Hopefully it’s the first of many.

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