Utah Lawmaker Considers Liquor Privatization Ballot Campaign

Published August 17, 2016

State Sen. Jim Dabakis (D-Salt Lake City) is considering launching a ballot initiative to privatize the 125 liquor stores controlled by the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC).

In July, Dabakis told Salt Lake City media he was considering launching a ballot initiative campaign to ask voters to approve returning liquor sales to the private sector, if lawmakers fail to approve re-privatization measures in the coming legislative session. The Utah government has enjoyed a monopoly on all packaged alcohol and liquor sales since 1935.

‘No Need’ to Own Liquor Sales

Josh Daniels, director of policy at the Libertas Institute, says the government should get out of the booze business.

“Government should not own, let alone monopolize, enterprises that can reasonably be provided in the market by private actors,” Daniels said. “Utah taxpayers have no need to own a share of the liquor distribution business.” 

Daniels says liquor privatization and liquor regulations are separate issues.

“Regulations on the sale of alcohol can be implemented without the state having to be in the business of alcohol sales,” Daniels said. “Privatizing alcohol sales would not change state and local laws regulating alcohol sales.”

Daniels says privatization would be a more moral choice than government-run monopolies.

“Many Utahans choose to abstain from consuming alcohol for religious reasons, which makes it awkward to think that they, through their state government, participate in liquor distribution,” Daniels said.

‘Downward Trend’ in Crime

Leonard Gilroy, director of government reform at the Reason Foundation, says liquor re-privatization is correlated with improved public health.

“After Washington State fully privatized a few years ago, the state saw a continued downward trend in areas like alcohol-related driver fatalities, DUI collisions, DUI arrests, and minor-in-possession charges.”

Not a Free-for-All

Gilroy says re-privatization does not mean throwing out the rulebook.

“In the states with fully privatized alcohol markets, regulations limit the number of alcohol outlets that are allowed, there are prohibitions against sales to minors, and there are influences over pricing through state excise taxes,” Gilroy said. “Hence, privatization does not imply a loss in state control, just an exit from the alcohol industry, which government should not be [involved with] in the first place.”

Gilroy says liquor re-privatization benefits everyone, including the government.

“The greatest benefits of privatization would be increased consumer choice and convenience, as well as getting government to shed an alcohol monopoly more appropriate for the failed Soviet Union than twenty-first-century America,” Gilroy said.