By Dr. Vincent Giordano, Program Director, Criminal Justice at American Public University
I have written several articles about the potential legalization of marijuana for medical use in Florida. To many people, this is a surprise shift within a state that is considered to be very conservative. However, even the Florida Senate passed Senate Bill 1250, which allows for the use of low-THC cannabis. Couple that with the potential passage of an amendment that legalizes medical marijuana in November, and Florida could be the most progressive Southern state in the union!
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The state is looking to put greater restrictions on another, arguably more popular intoxicant: beer! Just last week the senate passed Senate Bill 1714 which places restrictions on the ever-increasing and popular craft beer industry.
Senate Bill 1714 was introduced by Senator Kelli Stargel (R- Lakeland). Stargel is looking to curtail craft brewers who can currently sell packaged beer directly from their facilities, as long as it promotes tourism. Florida also allows production breweries to sell their product at the brewery as long as it promotes tourism.
History and Origin of the “Three-Tier System”
The tourism rule was passed in the 1960s when Anheuser-Busch owned Busch Gardens in Tampa. Under the tourism exemption Anheuser-Busch was allowed to sell its own beer at the production facility, which was previously prevented under the state’s three-tier laws. After the repeal of prohibition, the federal government set the groundwork for what has been commonly known as the “three-tier system.”
Under Section 3 of the 21st Amendment, states were given the power to decide how the 18th Amendment would be repealed and how alcohol would be regulated. Most states created the three-tier system, which required producers of alcohol to sell their product to a distributor, who would then sell the product to a retail business. The idea behind this concept was to create a free and fair market amongst all alcohol producers and to essentially control the flow of alcohol within the state.
Senate Bill 1714 would essentially end the tourism exemption and force any brewery that produces over 30,000 gallons of beer a year to sell their beer to a distributor, who would then sell the beer back to the producer of the beer. Senator Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) has likened this to a Mafia-style shakedown.
At its heart, this seems to be an issue of big business influencing politicians like Senator Stargel to place greater restrictions on smaller businesses. I agree that this is the central issue at hand, however, I am equally concerned with the neo-prohibitionist rhetoric that has come from Senator Stargel. In a recent opinion piece, Senator Stargel stated:
“In states where beer is unregulated, the per capita production is significantly higher. Higher beer production and higher consumption go hand-in-hand. As a social conservative, this is why I believe we need to keep regulations on alcoholic beverages in place and not have unregulated beer widely available in the marketplace.”
She goes on to further state that her bill is what is best for craft brewers even if they do not realize it. Senator Stargel was quoted as saying:
“I have five kids and unfortunately I feel like I’m being a parent in this process” … “I’m sorry, I know my kids don’t believe it when I tell them they can’t do something, but sometimes I know it is what’s best.”
The fact that Senator Stargel is using the same paternal language that was so commonly used in the early 20th century by groups like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League is concerning. Such language was used by traditional prohibitionists during their crusade to abolish alcohol from America.
Senator Stargel appears to be using that same language to further justify the passage of her bill by insisting that if craft breweries are allowed to sell their beer directly to the public, society will crumble. Senator Stargel claims to have closely researched the history of national prohibition, and knows that there was “rampant alcoholism” in the 1920’s and that our only protection is the three-tier system, which stands between us and nation-wide alcoholism.
I challenge that assumption and further caution Senator Stargel against using neo-prohibitionist talking points to justify increased regulations against a growing business community. Such naïve and simplistic views often lead governments to make poor decisions, like the passage of the 18th Amendment which did nothing to curtail alcohol use, and instead lead to an underground economy lead by organized crime.
About the Author: Dr. Vinnie Giordano Ph.D, CAP, CCJAP obtained his bachelor’s in liberal arts from Long Island University/C.W. Post with a specialization in political science. He then went on to achieve his MS in criminal justice from Florida Metropolitan University, and another MS in criminal justice from the University of Cincinnati. Dr. Giordano obtained his Ph.D. in human services with a specialization in criminal justice from Capella University. Before coming to APUS as a full-time employee, Dr. Giordano worked in the field of substance abuse and behavioral health for 13 years as a substance abuse counselor in a Department of Corrections-funded youth offender program. There he maintained positions in counseling and supervising for a 28-day residential and aftercare program, and as the Administrator of Juvenile Services at the Pinellas Juvenile Assessment Center.
Ross, C. (2014, April 30). Florida Senator Says She’s Being ‘A Parent’ To Craft Beer Breweries. Retrieved from: http://dailycaller.com/2014/04/30/florida-senator-says-shes-being-a-parent-to-craft-beer-breweries/#ixzz30TdN6n00
Stargel, K. (n.d.) Kelli Stargel: Beer bill is all about keeping protections. Retrieved from: http://www.tallahassee.com/article/20140429/OPINION05/304290003/Kelli-Stargel-Beer-bill-all-about-keeping-protections?nclick_check=1