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Wednesday, Nov 26, 2014
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Dockery: Do not fear beer growlers


Published:   |   Updated: April 10, 2014 at 11:01 AM

Call me crazy, but I feel perfectly safe without the government protecting me from what size containers I can buy beer in. That's right, I do not fear the growler.

Believe it or not, Florida law specifically states which size containers beer can be sold in. And while it is legal in Florida to sell beer in a quart or a gallon, it is illegal to sell it in a 64-ounce growler. I'm guessing most people couldn't tell you how many pints are in a quart or how many quarts are in a gallon, yet many want to defend the size delineations as necessary to protect public health and safety.

(By the way, a pint is 16 ounces, a quart is 32 ounces, and a gallon is 128 ounces.)

Surely this would be easy to fix, as the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature would be able to rid the weighty Florida statutes of one more nonsensical example of regulation gone amok.

Just a simple little tweak should take care of it, and small businesses would be free to conduct their business in a way that suits them, consumers would be able to have choices to fit their needs, the chamber of commerce could boast about helping entrepreneurs and mom and pop startups, and Republicans could tout keeping promises of less regulation, more individual freedom and getting government out of your business.

And Florida would join the ranks of 47 other states where buying beer in 64-ounce growlers isn't breaking the law.

The latest legislation would allow craft breweries to fill the growlers with draft beer but not allow their prepackaged bottles and cans to be sold without being sold first to a distributor — even if it never leaves the brewery! What does that do to the final price for the consumer?

Where is the Florida Chamber of Commerce on this issue? Why isn't it beating the drums for the small entrepreneurial start-ups? What about all the jobs that would be created with the proliferation of these craft breweries? Doesn't the chamber care about the middle class, consumer choice and free markets? Isn't competition a good thing?

Funny, but I'm not hearing much from its legislative team. Could it be the chamber doesn't really care about less regulation when the big businesses fear a change in law would cut into their market share?

And what about legislators who campaigned on too much government and cutting regulation? Could it be it's hard to go against the grain of Big Beer?

Recently in my Lakeland Kiwanis club, Paul Farnsworth regaled us with the history of beer and excited us with the promising future of craft beer. An experienced beer crafter, he plans to open Brew Hub, a $15 million plant on Interstate 4 that would create jobs, promote tourism and provide local economic development.

As he told us about some changes needed in legislation to allow the brew hubs to operate, I remembered my efforts in the Legislature to do two simple things: remove the mandate that beer could only be sold in four sizes and allow Floridians visiting wineries in other states to ship home wine purchased for their personal use.

Maybe it's the Libertarian in me, but I thought it fell solidly within my Republican Party's mantra of free markets and less regulation. Instead of being a hero or even a fair-minded legislator, I was a heel for starting this nonsense. Clearly, consumers don't know what's good for them and need this government protection.

When I suggested that this was protectionism, not of consumers but of beer and wine distributors, I was quickly corrected.

The regulation specifying the four beer sizes was necessary to prevent overdrinking. Which makes no sense since sizes smaller than a gallon were prohibited while a gallon was okey-dokey.

Also, it was necessary for retailers who had limited shelf space. Hmm … interesting. But I trust retailers could decide for themselves which of the many choices they'd like to make room for to cater to their customers.

And, of course, if we don't maintain this regulation, all hell would break loose and hasten us back to the days following Prohibition when cheap booze flooded the market. Whew, we don't want that!

To explain why I shouldn't be able to ship home two bottles of red wine while I'm wine tasting in Napa Valley, I was told that it could open the door to underage drinking. After all, if teens want to get drunk, they don't get an older friend to buy them beer or raid their parents' liquor cabinet. No, they would order a fine cabernet sauvignon, put it on their credit card, pay for shipping and wait a week or so for it to arrive so they could enjoy it with their Doritos. For goodness sake, that's just commonsense. It is certainly not about protectionism.

Let's stop the nonsense and remove the arbitrary restrictions. Let the budding craft brewers compete for consumers without government picking the winners and losers.

It's time to free the hops, the wheat or whatever grain you prefer. And the grapes too, while you're at it.

 

Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland. She can be reached at PBDockery@gmail.com.

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