Alabama Margarita Ban Goes Down, Consumers Say ‘Bottoms Up’

Published August 22, 2017

Alabama’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC), a government agency with the stated mission of maintaining “rigorous control” of the distribution and licensing of alcoholic beverages in the state, reversed a ban on restaurants’ margarita sales after a free-market think tank publicized the backdoor prohibition.

In July, ABC forced Taco Mama, a Birmingham, Alabama Mexican restaurant, to remove margarita pitchers from its menu, citing a 1975 law criminalizing the alteration of customers’ alcoholic drinks.

Cameron Smith, R Street Institute’s general counsel and vice-president of implementation, spoke with Dean Argo, ABC’s government relations manager, for a July 12 column about ABC’s actions against Taco Mama.

A margarita pitcher’s alcohol content changes over time as ingredients settle to the bottom, Argo said, thereby making the sale of margarita pitchers a criminal act.

“The person who is poured the first or second drink may receive only a quarter- to half-ounce of alcohol, where a person receiving the third, fourth, or even fifth pour may receive much more alcohol than mix,” Argo told Smith.

After Smith’s column was published, Argo announced ABC’s decision to stop interpreting the law that way.

Burdensome Inconsistency

Smith says inconsistent enforcement of regulations, such as the margarita ban, creates an uneven playing field for business owners.

“If not enforced consistently, there’s a competitive disadvantage with particular types of restaurants,” Smith said. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but then you layer these with other rules, like requiring menus to be submitted, which is a regulatory burden and a competitive disadvantage.”

Blocking Choices, Job Creation

Andrew Yerbey, a senior policy director and senior legal counsel with the Alabama Policy Institute, says intrusive government regulations impose unnecessary additional costs on consumers, workers, and businesses.

“Economic protectionism has powerful effects on economic growth,” Yerbey said. “Unnecessary regulations impose extra costs on consumers. They also impose an obstacle to opportunity. As in the case of the ABC board, that inhibits entrepreneurs or small business owners from entering the markets.”

‘A Small Liberty Thing’

Ending the margarita ban may seem like just a small victory, but Smith says every win for freedom is important.

“This is how liberty dies: a thousand small cuts, some of which may be well-intentioned,” Smith said. “Getting them to reverse on the margarita thing is a small liberty thing. In the bigger picture, if liberty is lost by 1,000 small cuts, it takes 1,000 reversals to regain it. We need to be willing to do lots of smaller things to move in the right direction.”