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Q & A with the DABC: How liquor laws work in Utah

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Posted at 9:34 PM, May 04, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-05 08:57:08-04

FOX 13 solicited viewer questions on Facebook and Twitter on how Utah liquor laws work. Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Executive Director Sal Petilos and DABC Compliance Director Nina McDermott answered the questions.

RELATED: Utah is the most controlling of the liquor control states, but study says we're not alone

Below is a partial transcript of the Q & A with FOX 13's Ben Winslow:

Why do I have to have my driver's license scanned to go into a Utah bar? What is the data used for?

Petilos: Essentially, the data is used to verify age. Beyond that, the data is automatically purged in seven days. Data can be requested by law enforcement for investigative purposes, but that data cannot be used for things like advertising, merchandising or any other commercial activity.

Where is the evidence that the laws are working, versus having a population ratio where most don't drink?

Petilos: I think you need to look objectively at the data that people have. Utah has one of the lowest, if not the lowest, DUI rates in the nation. In terms of underage drinking, you look at the data and Utah, as you would expect has a lower rate than what is nationwide. 

Why is Utah beer 3.2 and not the same percentage as other states?

Petilos: Utah has beers that are over 3.2. That said, 3.2 beer is only available at convenience stores and grocery stores. Heavy beers are only available in liquor stores, by law.

Why doesn't Utah sell mini-bottles?

Petilos: I don't know, honestly. I have no idea. But that said, I think there's a statutory restriction as to the smallest amount liquor stores can sell and that's up to 200 ml.

McDermott: Currently, the commission has only authorized the sale of mini-bottles for hotels. Right now, the commission at the issue of whether a Type 5 package agency (winery, distillery) can sell mini-bottles and they've asked us to look at the public policy reasons for why we wouldn't be allowed to sell them in stores. Back in the early 1990s, there was some change where clubs used to have them as part of how you got a drink in Utah, you bought a mini-bottle and mixed it yourself. When they started doing liquor by the drink, they made it illegal. As to exactly why you couldn't buy it in the liquor stores? We're not sure and we need to look into that issue.

Do people who actually make up the laws even drink?

Petilos: In terms of laws, that's the sole purview of the legislature. In terms of individual legislators drinking, if I am to remember some of the committee hearings that I have been in, some of them do drink. In terms of the commission, the litmus test really for membership is really more political party affiliation than anything else. I know it's a mixture of people who drink and people who don't drink. When you talk about the commission, I think they really are focused on doing the job before them which is applying the laws and the rules to the issues that come before them.

Why can't I have two drinks for myself? A sidecar?

Petilos: This is one of those questions where the technicalities of the law is difficult. That said, in a club you are allowed to have two spirited drinks before you -- the only condition being that for the second drink cannot be solely the primary drink of your first drink. Essentially, if you have a rum and Coke the second drink cannot be rum alone. State law.

Why doesn't the state of Utah allow private retailers of liquor?

Petilos: Utah's a control state and by statute, all alcohol has to be shipped to and received by the DABC. Again, it's part of the entire structure of control within the state. The sale of liquor is left to the DABC.

What scientific research or studies have you done to validate the need for a so-called 'Zion Curtain'?

Petilos: The DABC has not conducted any studies with regard to that. We haven't. The requirement for a special preparation area is in statute. We are charged with making sure that we implement the statute.

Why can I not buy in grocery stores like everywhere else?

Petilos: Statute. There's beer, 3.2, which is available in grocery stores and convenience stores. The legislature, by statute, has said that spirits, wines and heavy beers can only be made available through the DABC stores.

Why can't we have canned drinks like Four Lokos or Mike's Hard Lemonade sold in gas stations like other states?

Petilos: Flavored malt beverages are classified as 'liquor' under statute. That is because they have non-traditional method of manufacture and typically you have flavors added to them that contain alcohol. That is why they are not available in grocery stores and convenience stores.

Why are liquor stores closed on Sunday? Why are the hours only 11 to 7 the other days?

Petilos: There are several stores within the network that are open 11 to 10. I suggest if they're interested in finding out which ones of the stores have those hours, they look up our website dabc.utah.gov and they'll find out what store operational hours are. As for Sunday? It's in statute the DABC cannot sell on holidays or Sundays.

Why are there strict restrictions on how many ounces of liquor can be mixed into a cocktail or poured as a shot? Why not make the drink as it is traditionally made?

Petilos: Statute requires the amount of alcohol in a specific drink be limited. So measuring that ensures that the amount of alcohol in particular drinks are controlled. Additionally, I think measuring drinks helps businesses with inventory control.

Why does Utah have such crazy insane liquor laws?

Petilos: I think that's subjective. Utah is seen as having "crazy" -- to paraphrase -- "crazy laws" but that said, we're not the only regulated state in the United States. There are other states that have regulations that apply to it, and even in open, unregulated states when you travel in some counties, you'll run into situations where you can get a drink in one and not in another county.

McDermott: Every state has the authority to regulate alcohol in the way that they choose. Alcohol, even within control states, there's so many ways that it is controlled. Even in the licensing states, there are ways that you would license stores -- the state doesn't have as much control but they still have control in how they license someone and what operational restrictions they have to follow. Utah has some laws that seem crazy, but there's a reason behind them same with the other states. You can get a drink in Utah.

Where does the money go to?

Petilos: Ten percent of the gross revenue of the DABC goes to the school lunch program. Last year, I think it was $36 million. Additionally, some of the taxes go to local jurisdiction, I think it was $18 million last year. One percent goes to public safety for Bureau of Investigation, also .06 percent goes to Parents Empowered and the rest goes to the state general fund, I think that was a little north of $86 million. 

I want to know why I'm not allowed to belong to a Wine of the Month club and have it delivered to my house?

Petilos: The restrictions on who can receive and who can ship alcohol in the state, that's the DABC. I do know of several "wine clubs" within the state and those folks get together and try out new wines that are listed or perhaps they will special order. But there are restrictions on how products can get into the state.

How do you special order? You have to order by the case, right?

Petilos: When you say case, that really depends on the case by the particular manufacturer that they're willing to provide the state (how many bottles). You have to go through the special order program where you submit your name, you order the product and we get it shipped. You choose where you want to pick it up, you can ship to your local store and we'll have it there for you once we get it.

I want to make wine this year and I want to know what I need to do if I want to sell it?

Petilos: You are allowed to manufacture fermented beer, heavy beer and wine. There are size restrictions. I believe that it's 100 gallons if it's one individual 21 years or older in the household, 200 gallons if two or more individuals who are 21 or older in the household. That said, you cannot distill. The 100 or 200 gallons is only for personal consumption. In terms of possibly selling, you have to get a manufacturing license to sell.

Why am I not allowed a whole pitcher (of beer) at my table?

Petilos: You're allowed a pitcher of beer that can be served to two or more individuals. That's in statute.

I would like to know why Utah does not do a 2-for-1 at any bar? 

Petilos: Any practice that's deemed as promoting overconsumption is illegal. Additionally, you cannot give someone a free drink in this state.

What is the rule on powdered alcohol?

Petilos: A law was passed this session that bans that in this state except for purposes accepted by statute. So, if you want it you can't get it unless it's for scientific research.

There are people who go across the border and bring liquor in. Is that a crime?

Petilos: Technically it is. I think it's enforced when you are caught. Importing a keg is illegal.

McDermott: It is illegal to bring in alcohol from outside of the state. There are a few exceptions if you are coming through customs or if you obtain it on a military base. If you are moving from out of state, you can get a one-time exception on taxes. As to enforcement, that would be a (Utah Department of) Public Safety question.