Change is Coming to Utah's Alcohol Laws... Maybe

Utah may finally raise the alcohol percentage in beer to 4.8% thanks to SB132 which has passed the Utah Senate and is now awaiting review in the House. 

Utah is one of only two states that utilizes the "weak beer" laws that trace back to the prohibition in the 1930s. In an effort to end the ban on alcohol, President Franklin Roosevelt and his administration passed the Cullen-Harrison Act which allowed the production of 3.2% or less beer. When the prohibition finally ended, the act was repealed, but many low percentage beer laws remained intact. Nearly 90 years later, most states have reformed their laws to allow high point beers and alcohol to be sold in grocery stores, licensed restaurants, and bars. Utah and Minnesota are the only two states that still use this Depression-era rule. 

Finally, Utah laws may begin to reflect public interest in a wider range of beer selections. In a poll from the Salt Lake Tribune, almost 50% of Utahans support the bill. One could assume the opposition is influenced by the LDS church who have taken a similar stance against the bill. It should be noted that the raise in alcohol percentage in beer would not be that much different from current regulations. Utah measures alcohol percentage by weight, which limits beer sold in grocery stores or "off-premise" locations to 3.2%. But if that percentage were to be measured by volume, which most other states do, then the number would rise to 4%. In addition, privately owned entities that gain either limited service, full service, or bar licenses can sell high point beer as long as it is not on draft. So legislation raising the ABV in beer would only make Utah liquor laws more consistent across the board. 

However, there are legitimate arguments against the bill, one being that local breweries would be pushed off the shelves as national beer brands take over stores. The 27 craft breweries in the state provide local culture to the beer scene, but their small scale production, advertising, and consumer base would be unable to compete with brands like Anheuser-Busch. One could also argue that the rate of DUI's would increase coupled with the recent change in blood alcohol limit, which lowered to the acceptable limit to .05 percent. 

No doubt legislators are considering these very details in their discussions of the bill and the future of Utah liquor laws. Stay tuned to find out if Utah beer regulations receive an overdue update, or solidification in their 3.2% status.