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Derek Petersen, KSL TV

Utah is not an outlier, speakers say at alcohol policy summit

By Lauren Bennett, | Posted - Oct. 18, 2019 at 9:11 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Beehive State, while known to many for its strict and unique alcohol policies, isn’t actually an outlier, according to Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton.

“If you want to drink in the state of Utah, it’s available,” he told media Friday at the Utah Legislative Alcohol Policy Summit. “It is regulated and we regulate the process by which you can get that drink but no more so than most other states.”

The policy summit was held in part as an effort to educate people on Utah’s alcohol policies, as well as to have a discussion on them, Stevenson said.

Also, he said he hoped the summit hopefully helped eliminate some of the stigma people have that Utah is an outlier and that it's a very difficult state to do business in if you want to consume alcohol.

“That’s not true," he said.

Utah became the first state in the nation to lower its DUI law from .08% blood alcohol concentration to 0.05 in 2017. The law went into effect in January.

Other states have since proposed bills to lower the DUI threshold to 0.05% as well, and studies have suggested the limit could save more than 1,700 lives per year.

Utah is among 17 states that control wholesale or retail sales of alcoholic beverages, the Deseret News reported.

According to the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, controlling liquor sales is intended to “make liquor available to those adults who choose to drink responsibly — but not to promote the sale of liquor.”

“By keeping liquor out of the private marketplace, no economic incentives are created to maximize sales, open more liquor stores or sell to underage persons,” according to the DABC website.

While many do view Utah as restrictive, Stevenson said he disagrees.

“How we handle alcohol policy doesn’t seem to be negative right now,” he said. “It’s talked about but it’s not negative.”

That perspective of the state largely comes in part from the dominant religion in the area, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Stevenson said.

“I think as long as we have the prevalent religion in this area as being dominant like it is, that thought will be there,” he said. “But there’s a difference between the thought and what reality is.”

Creating alcohol legislation is something that will likely be “one of those things that will always be there,” Stevenson said. He predicted there will be alcohol legislation for the next 50 years, although he noted no major legislation is planned for the state’s upcoming 2020 session.

Lawmakers try to reach the balance of protecting children from alcohol and being reasonable to those who do drink, he said.

Stevenson said he thinks Utah achieves that balance and ranks “in the middle of the road,” compared to the rest of the nation — not too rigid, or lax.

Starting Nov. 1, beer up to 4% alcohol content can be sold in Utah grocery and convenience stores. Although, Rep. Tim Hawkes, R-Centerville, said Friday at the summit, that number will likely not go up, due to increased drunk driving concerns.

“I think for at least two, three years now, we’re just going to wait, watch, and see how that plays out,” he said. “And then hopefully we can make a more informed decision on whether we’ve moved to the right place.”

Utah has the lowest binge drinking rate in the country, according to Stevenson. Additionally, there’s a low rate of DUIs, he said, something he said Utahns should be proud of.

“Those are things we’d like to see stick and yet we need to make sure that people when they come here they’re allowed to make their choices that they would like to make,” he said.

Contributing: Kelli Pierce, KSL Newsradio; Ladd Egan, KSL TV

Lauren Bennett

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