Atlantic City Council introduced an ordinance last month to restrict the sale of single-serve bottles of alcohol, including wine or liquor less than 25 ounces and beer and malt liquor less than 41 ounces.
Council was supposed to consider enacting the limits at its next meeting this month, but almost immediately decided otherwise. Council President Marty Small Sr. said there won’t be a June 19 vote as previously planned.
Councilmen, including Kaleem Shabazz who introduced the ordinance, apparently hoped the measure would help reduce drinking on the street or at other inappropriate locations. It soon became clear that while it might not help much, the ordinance surely would have hurt business for many liquor stores in town.
Several liquor store owners came forward to criticize the proposal. They said single-serve bottles were a significant part of their business, as much as half to three-quarters — with the vast majority from people who intended to drink it in their hotel rooms or other private location, not in public where they then might discard the bottle as litter.
Others buy small bottles because they’re not available in their state or community. Some ban the sale of miniatures, also called airplane bottles, for reasons similar to the Atlantic City proposal. Municipalities in Iowa and New Mexico are considering such bans now. A push by Maine’s governor, who wanted them banned to reduce drunken driving and litter, was rejected in 2017 on a split vote by the Maine Liquor and Lottery Commission.
Chicago proposed but didn’t enact halting sales at midnight for the same size single-serve bottles targeted by Atlantic City. There the limit was intended to deter late-night panhandling outside package liquor stores and to stem public drunkenness and fights.
One buyer in Atlantic City interviewed by The Press said small bottles help him drink moderately. Even though he could buy one bottle with more vodka for less than he paid for four miniatures, he said would drink the larger bottle faster. He could make the four 50 ml bottles last four hours.
Another city liquor store owner pointed out that a single-serve ban wouldn’t make sense while the Legislature is considering a bill to allow the carrying of open containers of alcohol in parts of Atlantic City’s Tourism District as a convenience to visitors.
If reducing the various harms associated with alcohol were as simple as controlling the size of bottles that may be purchased, that would have been the rule of the land long ago.
Alas, these harms have many contributing factors and causes, and addressing them requires well-thought-out blends of enforcement, social services, preventive measures and more.
Don’t blame the council for looking for a way to reduce such problems, and give them some credit for quickly realizing a bottle-size ban is too simple and ineffective. That’s how democracy works.