The Good, the Bad, and the Party Zones: 2023 CA Alcohol Legislation Tracker Goes Live

On a cloudy day, a pool of brown water standing in front of four rows of barren grapevines with green grass growing between themThe state of California has been through a lot in the past few years. Fires, floods--a veritable James Taylor song, if Taylor had also thrown in a lethal respiratory virus.  But California survived.


The California legislature passed an unprecedented series of bills intended to deregulate the alcohol industry, and alcohol-related deaths skyrocketed in response. This year marked a turning of the calendar, with a new 2-year legislative session beginning.  With this session come a raft of new bills, new promises, and new threats to public health and public safety.

Alcohol Justice has compiled the complete list of alcohol-related legislation in California for 2023. But within that set, three bills in particular bear exceptional scrutiny--and possibly action. 

SB 76, the Party Zone bill. This bill is intended to help cities set up areas where alcoholic beverages can be carried out of the bar and consumed on the street. The bills comes with shocking few guardrails. The bill includes no requirements for enforcement or oversight. No mandates that the streets be closed or otherwise made safer for the intoxicated people walking around in them. The actual borders of these "party zones" are not required to be delimited or watched in any way, making it fucntionally impossible to remove individuals who are a danger to themselves or others from the area. And while the bill requires some method of indentifying underage individuals within the Party Zone, it is not clear how this wristbanding or hand-marking has any teeth considering the lack of enforcement. More broadly, we can see worst-case scenarios elsewhere in the United States, where policies like this incentivize bars to reduce staff and simply churn cheap, strong drinks directly out the door en masse. The results are marked increases in violence and accidental injury.

SB 277, the Mom and Alcopop Shop bill. In light of rising harms, California briefly turned its attention in the late 2000s to alcopops--sweetened, heavily flavored, often very high ABV cans of alcoholic drink that were low cost and sold everywhere. Through advocacy, including Youth for Justice's Alcopop-Free Zone campaign, the tide of these drinks was stemmed a little. This bill would bring it back full force. By allowing distilled spirit-based drinks of up to 10% ABV to be sold in beer-and-wine licensed shops, SB 277 would open the floodgates for the most blatantly youth-targeted products we've seen in the past 20 years. Aside from the general concerns around creating a means for the worst producer to churn out large quantities of strong, ready-to-drink cans, the market has already become captured by ersatz soft drinks. By using the branding around Coca-Cola, Mountain Dew, and TopoChico, among many others, the alcoholic drinks explicitly mimic products that kids are already seeking out. And these beer-and-wine licensed stores are the same corner- and convenience- stores that draw the majority of youth traffic. This is an alcohol youth-marketing bonanza, a fallback to a time of even more dangerous product lines, and a gift to the worst and most cynical megaproducers in the state.

AB 840, the Cal State Brought to You By Hornitos bill. Every year, we see a bill intended to suspend the three-tiers rules and allow some stadium or concert venue to receive money for alcohol advertising even though they also have a bar on the premises. It is reckless and stupid, especially considering the role alcohol marketing in sports plays in giving Big Alcohol early access to young eyeballs, but at least proponents can argue that youth aren't the central audience for sporting events or major concerts. That excuse is gone with this bill, which strips away three-tier protections for dozens of Cal State University facilities up and down the state. When it comes to colleges, a majority of attendees of a 4-year school should be under 21. Whatever tension there may be between young adulthood and legal drinking age, the fact remains that it is not legal for college students under 21 years of age to be buying alcohol, and therefore allowing Big Alcohol to market to them is capitalizing on their captive audiencehood. Similarly, that tension also does not excuse college campuses of an obligation to use all reasonable means to keep its student body alive and healthy; since alcohol is a factor in the top four preventable causes of death in young adults, splashing alcohol advertising all over campus facilities is a clear violation of that obligation.

These are only a few of the bills we are monitoring. There are many others worth opposing. And, before we're occused to endless negativity, there are a handful worth support, including: AB 697 which would make it easier for individuals in drug and alcohol diversion programs to finish the course; AB 1013, which would make testing kits available in every bar for patrons to tell if their drink has been laced with sedatives and other drugs that may facilitate sexual assault; and SB 498, which brings penalty amounts for licensees engaged in dangerous sales and other violations of ABC regulations into the 21st century.

We will continue following and fighting for or against these bills over the coming months.  If you have any questions, please reach out to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., otherwise keep abreast of our Twitter and email, and join us in advocating, once again, for a healthy and compassionate California.

CA's Decaying Alcohol Tax Meets Its Budgetary Hole

an AI generated image of two green bottles laying atop a pile of what is probably currency - we are not swearing by this strategy to avoid copyright infringement but it will do for nowWhat do we do when the money runs dry, and nothing else does?

California currently faces this question, torn between two stark realities: on the one hand, a crushing 22.5 billion dollar debt; on the other hand, a dizzying 75% increase in alcohol-related deaths since 2015. The answer is simple (though putting it into practice less so): raise the alcohol excise taxes in the state.

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Calling for a Last Call: MLB Pitcher Warns of Reckless Beer Sales

a poster branded with the logo of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team advertising a 2 bottle of Budweiser for 2 dollars specialThere are times when we might look at our situation and despair.  For instance, despite a pennant run and an investment in continuing to develop an elite baseball team, you begin the season ravaged by injuries, particularly to your starting pitching.  Or, to use a completely different example, you have long advocated against the corrosive effects of alcohol money in public events, including organized sports, only to find a public reluctant to listen.

Oddly enough, in both instances, the answer seems to be Matt Strahm.

Strahm is a 31 year-old journeyman starter for the Philadelphia Phillies. He is a month into what may be a breakout season, converting from the bullpen to emergency starter with staggering success and posting a 2.31 ERA (so far) with over 12 strikeouts per 9 innings. And in a rare moment of ballplayer candor, he blasted the emerging consenus among Major League Baseball (MLB) owners that alcohol sales must be extended beyond the 7th inning.

Most MLB teams stop alcohol sales after the seventh inning stretch. The given rationale is that this gives patrons a few innings to sober up before driving home, a major concern based on data showing that a significant number of fans given an alcohol test at an MLB game were over the legal limit yet intended to drive home, including 1 in 5 men between 20 and 35. Further research, conducted conicdentally at Citizen's Bank ballpark in Philadelphia, suggests that giving fans longer to sober up also has significant effects on incidents of violence and assault.

Yet baseball has also been working to shorten the games. With shorter games come fewer opportunities to purchase concessions, including alcohol. Not only is alcohol a high-margin product for team ownership, but alcohol companies have considerable leverage themselves, spending hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising at stadiums and during broadcasts. Under sway of this leverage, several teams in the league have already buckled under and decided to extend beer sales past the traditional cutoff.

Speaking to the "Baseball Isn't Boring" podcast, Strahm was quick to identify the recklessness in the idea.  "So now with a faster-pace game--and me just being a man of common sense--if the game is going to finish quicker, would we not move the beer sales back to the sixth inning to give our fans time to sober up and drive home? Instead, we're going to the eighth, and now you're putting our fans and our family at risk driving home with people who have just drank beers 22 minutes ago."

Strahm lay the blame firmly on the intertwining of shortsightedness and greed. "When you mess with billionaires' dollars, [they] find a way to make their dollars back," he said. "My thing is, when you're looking at the safety of your fans, that's probably not the smartest decision."

Strahm did not make it clear whether he knew of or supported the campaign to Free Our Sports, the campaign intended to remove Big Alcohol's stranglehold on athletics in the United States. But he did follow up his comments by throwing 5 and a third shutout innings against Seattle. And now that he has the public's attention, perhaps it's time to make that demand again, and louder: do not let Big Alcohol kill or fans, friends, and family. Do not trust voluntary alcohol sales restrictions that lift at the first whiff of a thinner wallet. Listen to Matt Strahm and Free Our Sports.

READ MORE about the campaign to Free Our Sports.