Whiteclay Liquor Stores Shut For Good

Whiteclay closedIn a Victory for Pine Ridge, Oglala Lakota Have Chance to Reclaim the Town that Caused Much Pain

Sometimes sunlight shines through the smallest opening. Such was the case on September 30th, when an error in legal paperwork shut down four liquor stores in Whiteclay, Nebraska for good. The stores bootlegged 11,000 cans of beer per day, mostly to residents of the Pine Ridge Oglala Lakota Sioux reservation just over the border in South Dakota, perpetuating cycles of physical and social harm to the residents there. The Nebraska Supreme Court Decision ends the store owners’ appeals, allowing the reservation to start healing and the town to recast itself from a source of pain to a site of hope.

“[The] Nebraska Supreme Court decision means that the shame of Whiteclay is over,” said Dave Domina, the who fought to keep the shut-down order in place, to the Omaha World-Herald.

“When Alcohol Justice joined this fight five years ago, there were already Oglala Lakota activists engaged in direct non-violent actions who’d been at it for decades.” said Jorge Castillo, advocacy director at Alcohol Justice. “All of us knew that if we were persistent, we would see the stores shut.”

The stores first closed in early May as the result of a Nebraska Liquor Control Commission decision. That decision refused to automatically renew the stores’ licenses on the grounds that law enforcement in the area was insufficient to deal with the crime, sex trafficking, injury, and poverty in the area. The assumption was that the stores would have to re-apply, and would be denied in the face of the ongoing public health disaster in the town.

The decision did not sit happily with a few Nebraskans. Loren Paul, a Sheridan County Commissioner who had advocated for keeping the stores open, told the Guardian, “It’s market forces … [Whiteclay] is there because there’s a need and somebody is going to supply that need.” Unsurprisingly, the store owners launched a court challenge at the district court, arguing that the liquor stores did not have the authority to order the re-application.

“The arguments made by the liquor stores were unbelievable,” Castillo said. “How can you argue that a liquor commission only exists to rubber-stamp alcohol outlets? A liquor commission’s job is to make sure that alcohol is sold in a way that is both legal and it doesn’t hurt the community."

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson concurred, and appealed the decision to the Nebraska Supreme Court. Yet instead of ruling on the validity of the liquor commission's ruling denying the renewal of the licenses, the court found fault with the legal process of the beer store owners. Citing the owners’ legal team’s failure to notify citizen protestors of the appeal, the Supreme Court threw out their entire case--leaving the Liquor Control Commission’s ruling in place.

In an October 2 editorial, the Lincoln Journal Star editorial board hailed this “rare victory to the tribes residing on the Pine Ridge Reservation.” However, they caution, the economic and social forces that enabled the liquor stores to gain their foothold are still in place. The decision, they chastise, “by no means absolves [Nebraska] of responsibility in the community and family problems caused by Whiteclay.”

Indeed, Whiteclay faces a number of challenges as it climbs free from the torrent of alcohol sales. As the Guardian notes, the area is still wracked by unsolved murders. Neighboring Pine Ridge experiences an ongoing plague of suicides and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Meanwhile, federal grants and assistance have been drying up.

“I’ve lost cousins and other relatives on the streets of Whiteclay,” Seymour Young Dog, a retired engineer living in Pine Ridge, told the World-Herald. “We’ve got to make this a better place.”

Nebraska State Senators Patty Pansing Brooks and Tom Brewer, the most prominent critics of the Whiteclay beer stores in the State Legislature, co-hosted a summit on Saturday, September 30, in Whiteclay to look for new directions for the town. A Family Dollar is slated to open and the Oglala Lakota are building out social services and counseling resources, suggesting new directions for the town and the Pine Ridge residents.

"From the beginning we held to a simple premise, namely that anything that can be legally opened can be legally closed," Castillo said. "The end of the illegal activities associated with the Whiteclay liquor stores will now change the trajectory of the Oglala people for the rest of time. The people of Pine Ridge have a new future ahead of them."

UPDATE: Whiteclay Redevelopment has launched a crowdfunding campaign for Whiteclay Makerspace, a facility for Lakota artisans to practice their crafts and revitalize their community.

READ MORE about the history of the fight to close the Whiteclay stores.

Big Alcohol Lunges to Take Over Cannabis

a pint of pot, anyone?Public health advocates face a complicated question: how can marijuana’s growing acceptance as a recreational and medical product be reconciled with the potential for a powerful pot industry to engage in the kinds of reckless, corrupt, and manipulative practices Big Alcohol has mastered? Constellation Brands, the owner of Corona beer and Svedka vodka among other brands, offers an easy answer: with their purchase of a 10% stake in Canopy Growth, they declare Big Alcohol’s intention to be the marijuana industry.

With Monday’s (10/30/17) $191 billion dollar investment in the Canadian marijuana producer Canopy, Constellation has declared its intention to get out in front of the legalization of recreational marijuana in Canada and the U.S. “Our company’s success is the result of our focus on identifying early-stage consumer trends, and this is another step in that direction,” Constellation CEO Rob Sands told Bloomberg Businessweek.

What that means seems still up for debate, even among the business partners themselves. Bruce Linton, the CEO of Canopy—which makes medicinal marijuana products for the Canadian market—reassured Bloomberg that “[t]here’s no need to include alcohol, nor is there an intent to include alcohol” in their products. Yet Constellation told Beer Business Daily (subscription required), “There are going to be alcoholic beverages that also contain cannabis.”

This presents multiple problems both for public health advocates and independent marijuana producers. The resources of Big Alcohol, compared to those of marijuana companies, are vast, including access to lobbyists and the ability to distort public health research. While Canopy currently works in a regulated medical marijuana space, once full legalization passes, Big Alcohol’s expertise in tearing down safety regulations, promoting junk science, and marketing to youth will introduce a raft of health problems that negate the benefits of prescription weed.

“The alcohol companies are somewhat terrified of this industry,” a rival marijuana executive told Bloomberg. “They see cannabis as a substitute for alcohol.” Data on chronic marijuana use are scant, so it remains unclear whether long-term marijuana use is better for the public health, but this buyout makes that issue moot: if Big Alcohol holds the marijuana industry’s reins, cannabis has zero chance of mitigating alcohol-related harms.

This buyout could signal the start of a race to the bottom among marijuana companies. MolsonCoors and Diageo both told Bloomberg in a separate article they are anticipating entering the marijuana industry, and their entry will instantly create Big Marijuana and gut independent growers that don’t enjoy such partnerships.

“Big Alcohol is what happens when you fail at regulating a recreational drug company,” said Michael Scippa, Public Relations Director of Alcohol Justice. “We can’t allow Big Marijuana to become something similar—and we really can’t let them be the exact same companies.”

READ MORE about how California’s marijuana regulators must not make the same mistakes we made with alcohol.

NYC Subway Bans Alcohol Ads

Minions would drive any parent to drink, TBFOn Wednesday, October 25th, the board of the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) agreed to remove all alcohol advertising from subway cars, buses, and stations. This historic ban, affecting the largest public transportation system in the country, follows similar actions by San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, Baltimore, Seattle, and San Diego. The action was promoted by a grassroots coalition of community groups in the New York City area, working together as Building Alcohol Ad-Free Transit, and supported by councilmember Daniel Dromm of Jackson Heights, Queens.

Alcohol industry representatives condemned the move, telling Ad Age it was “misguided and unsupported by the scientific research.” Yet multiple studies show that alcohol ad exposure, especially among underage drinkers, directly contributes to acceptance of booze. Even Big Alcohol’s voluntarily adopted—if often not strictly obeyed—advertising policies forbid ads in close proximity to schools and other places youth gather. Yet anyone who has spent any time in New York City understands, everyone gathers on subway platforms. The train is universal, and almost every child who goes anywhere by themself will use it daily.

The effort follows on the heels of landmark anti-alcohol-ad legislation in Los Angeles and the Bay Area. The Los Angeles efforts—which removed ads not just from transit but all publicly owned property—were spearheaded by the LA Drug and Alcohol Policy Alliance. Alcohol Justice led the Bay Area campaigns, which began with the removal of alcohol ads from BART, and expanded that to the San Francisco MTA and bus shelters.

Bruce Lee Livingston, Executive Director/CEO of Alcohol Justice, knows firsthand both the difficulty and impact of passing these bans. “Congratulations to everyone in New York City who worked hard to put this into place,” he said. “Less alcohol in a kid’s day—even just a picture of alcohol—helps them lead a healthier and happier life.”

READ MORE Alcohol Justice's report on alcohol ads on public transit.

READ MORE about the LA Drug and Alcohol Policy Alliance.

2017 California Alcohol Legislation Wrapup

the final win-loss tallies for ca alcohol legislationAs the 2017 legislative session wraps up, prevention advocates celebrate a handful of key victories—most notably, the defeat of SB 384, Scott Weiner's reckless 4 a.m. last call bill. But alcohol legislation remains a pressing concern, both in terms of promoting public safety and preventing reckless giveaways to Big Alcohol.

The following bills were of particular import to Alcohol Justice and the California Alcohol Policy Alliance. "Win" means AJ/CAPA supported the bill and it passed, or opposed the bill and it failed. "Loss" means a supported bill failed, or an opposed one passed.

2017 final scores 
AJ: 6 wins, 13 losses
CAPA: 3 wins, 4 losses

In addition, the legislature sometimes reserves the right to revisit bills that stalled in committee in the following year. These two-year bills are listed at the end.


Assembly Bills

AB 63 vetoed

Extends the age range for provisional drivers' licenses from 16 to 21.

AJ and CAPA supported—provisional licenses as part of a Graduated Driver Licensing program are effective at reducing underage drunk driving.


AB 297 signed into law

Authorizes alcohol sales at a wine and cultural museum in Sonoma County.

AJ opposed—if a venue needs a special permit, by definition it is in an area that is overconcentrated with alcohol outlets. New licenses should be issued according to best practices, not on a haphazard, case-by-case basis.

AB 400 signed into law

Allows alcohol sales at pre-ticketed State Capitol events intended to raise awareness of the food and wine of the Sacramento region.

AJ opposed—this bill gives the appearance that the Legislature is favoring the alcohol industry over public health.


AB 471 signed into law

Allows the City of San Francisco to add 30 alcohol licenses (5 per year over 6 years), restricted to specific neighborhoods.

AJ opposed—San Francisco is already the most overconcentrated county in California. Rather than reassign existing licenses to spread outlets out across the city, this bill simply shoehorns in even more.


AB 479 dead

Increases the tax rate on distilled spirits and uses that revenue to eliminate taxes on women's health and hygiene products.

AJ supported—raising alcohol taxes is a time-honored means to reduce alcohol harm.


AB 522 signed into law

Allows nonprofits to receive special temporary licenses in order to hold raffles involving wine or beer.

AJ opposed—alcohol company in-kind donations to nonprofits are a growing and problematic trend, giving the industry free marketing and a positive veneer while costing them less than an outright cash donation.


AB 609 signed into law

Extends an exemption to certain activities allowing licensees to provide free distilled spirits or wine to consumers at invitation-only sales or distribution events.

AJ opposed—this perpetuates the permeation of alcohol into all parts of the waking day.


AB 711 signed into law

Allows beer manufacturers to provide free or discounted rides through taxis and ride-sharing services.

AJ and CAPA opposed—while free rides for people who would drive dangerously is a good thing, these promotions are delivered before the fact—rather than help address acutely intoxicated would-be drivers, they normal overconsumption and encourage recipients to go out and drink dangerously.


AB 997 signed into law

Allows patrons of wineries and/or breweries that are physically adjacent to bring alcohol from one onto the grounds of the other.

AJ opposes—alcohol sellers are supposed to be aware of how much they are serving their patrons. This bill vastly compounds the difficulty of that task.


AB 1046 dead

Classifies soju or shochu of 24% ABV or less as a wine.

AJ opposed—these are very high ABV, nearly tasteless "wines" that are most often used as a cocktail base. This bill lets any distilled spirit producers sell their product at qualifying wine-licensed outlets just by labeling it soju/shochu.


AB 1054 dead

Exempts the use of "palcohol" (powdered alcohol) for certain uses in "nonpowdered products".

AJ and CAPA opposed—this bill tears holes in last year's palcohol ban.


AB 1221 signed into law

Establishes a statewide Responsible Beverage Service training program for California, requiring that all on-sale retailers complete the training. Provides both an overview of state laws and regulations and of the physiological effects of alcohol.

AJ supported—individuals at points-of-sale can play a key role in reducing the harms from alcohol overconsumption. Moreover, these trainings help ensure staff follow existing laws.


AB 1722 signed into law

End prohibition on the issuance of a license, other than an on-sale beer license, for premises situated more than one mile outside the limits of an incorporated city and within 2 miles of any camp or establishment of men, numbering 25 or more, engaged upon or in connection with the construction, repair, or operation of any work, improvement, or utility of a public or quasi-public character.

AJ and CAPA opposed—this was an opaque bill that changed form several times. In the end, however, it increases the number of alcohol outlets, and that will always have a negative impact on public health.



Senate Bills 

SB 65 signed into law

Makes driving, boating, or flying while drinking an alcoholic beverage punishable as an infraction.

AJ and CAPA support—this is a common-sense intervention aimed at reducing drinking and driving (or drinking and boating, or drinking and flying).


SB 228 signed into law

Allows beer on the grounds of a public schoolhouse if it is part of an instructional program in brewing.

AJ opposed—public schoolhouses are primarily intended for the education of children. Allowing alcohol on premises promotes the product and normalizes its consumption. In addition, this bill makes no effort to include public health and safety or RBS training as part of a curriculum directly involving tasting and making alcoholic beverages.


SB 384 dead

Allows local jurisdictions to extend last-call times in bars and restaurants to 4 a.m.

AJ and CAPA opposed—our positions have been made clear elsewhere. Suffice to say that pushing back last-call times creates a more dangerous driving environment; stresses already overtaxed emergency and law enforcement systems; merges early-morning commuter traffic and late-night partier traffic; and creates a lasting environment of overconsumption in a state that has yet to establish a consistent, comprehensive late-night transit plan in any city.

WIN, but this bill will absolutely come back

SB 461 signed into law

Extends a loophole allowing distilled spirit shippers to own certain hotel and motel on-sale stores.

AJ opposed—this extends an existing violation of tied-house laws. Liquor manufacturers should not own on-sale establishments.


SB 582 signed into law

signed into law

Allows for the alcohol industry to purchase advertising space in the new Los Angeles Chargers football stadium, as well as the adjacent performance venue.

AJ and CAPA opposed—alcohol permeates the sports world, and sports advertising is a prime channel for delivering alcohol advertising to kids. Moreover, this bill would allow manufacturers to purchase space from or for on-sale locations, in clear violation of the three-tier system.


SB 611 signed into law

Improves on 2016's legislation requiring ignition interlock devices for individuals convicted of certain forms of driving under the influence.

AJ supported—these laws improve on ignition interlock devices, a smart idea for preventing DUI.


SB 664 signed into law

Allows alcohol manufacturers to purchase advertising on behalf of on-sale licensees at AT&T Park in San Francisco and the Chargers' stadium in Inglewood.

AJ opposed—as with SB 582, sports advertising gives the alcohol industry unfettered access to an underage audience. Moreover, it violates the three-tier system.



Two-Year Bills

These bills will be revisited by the legislature in 2018.

AB 330 

Authorizes the court to order a person convicted of driving under the influence to enroll and participate in, and successfully complete, a qualified “24/7 Sobriety” monitoring program during probation.


AB 629

Allows art galleries to give away wine or beer to patrons.

AJ and CAPA opposed—like last year's dry-bar bill, this would put alcohol in more places where it doesn't need to be. Gallery employees would be furnishing alcohol without any licensing, training, monitoring, or enforcement. The likelihood that this would lead to underage drinkers getting access to alcohol is close to 100%.

SB 254

Allows for companies to deliver alcohol and tobacco, if licensed by ABC.

AJ opposed unless amended—home delivery of alcohol and tobacco is dangerous and depressing, but it already occurs in California. This bill does not specify how delivery personnel will be trained, how age will be verified, limits on time of delivery. Enforcement would be very difficult, a major problem in California's current "easier to ask for forgiveness than permission" business culture.

SB 378

Enhances ABC's ability to investigates violations and take action—including suspending licenses—against alcohol sellers on conditions of imminent threats to health and safety.

AJ and CAPA supported—ABC neeeds greater authority in bringing action against problem retailers. However, the list of threats to health and safety should be extended to include illegal alcohol sales.


 NOTE: Although SB 384, the 4 A.M. bar bill, was gutted and amended and no longer has a bill number, its sponsor, Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) has threatened to revive it in the second year of this session. Though this proposal flies in the face of legislative tradition, we take his threat seriously and urge all allies to remain vigilant. Check for news, updates, and action alerts.

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READ MORE about alcohol legislation in California and the U.S.