Salt Lake bars and restaurants say Utah's state alcohol agency is back to its old, controlling ways. | News | Salt Lake City Weekly

Salt Lake bars and restaurants say Utah's state alcohol agency is back to its old, controlling ways. 

Small Lake City

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One year ago, Gov. Spencer Cox hired Tiffany Clason as director of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, changed the agency's name to emphasize its new commitment to "service" (DABS) rather than "control" (DABC), and said he was making a business case for the sale of alcohol in Utah.

But today, bar and restaurant owners say the emphasis is definitely back on "control." They say State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) officers have doubled down on sting operations and ticketing. They feel explicitly targeted and many refused to speak on record, saying they fear official retaliation.

At the same time, state liquor store sales are soaring. Those stores are in direct competition with private businesses—they get their liquor at cost, while hospitality has to pay full price plus an 88.5% markup and tax. And according to word on the street, state-run stores aren't getting harassed.

In 2024, HB548—yet another control amendment sponsored by Rep. Jefferson Burton, R-Salem—passed and was signed by the governor. According to the bill, Utah's "highly involved" alcohol policies "reflect Utahns' values and preferences." It allows for more liquor licenses, but brags that "Utah will continue to have the strictest quota in the nation." It also adds three SBI officers who will presumably target licensees. Burton did not respond to City Weekly's requests for comment.

This treatment of small business doesn't reflect my values or preferences. And I don't believe it actually reflects the values or preferences of the Latter-day Saint population that the phrase "Utahns" is clearly alluding to when Burton uses it.

The Mormons I've known all my life are actual conservatives. Conservatism is the idea that the Constitution and Bill of Rights are so important they ought to be conserved. Were it not for these documents, Joseph Smith would never have been able to launch—or restore—his church. That's why Mormons feel conserving our founding documents is a civil obligation.

They should join us in our indignation. Utah threatens small business and over-taxes us not for the sake of the Constitution, but for the corporation we call a state. Case in point: among current DUI arrests, 71% are first-time arrestees. Why? Because these people are not criminals. Having .05% blood alcohol level is not a crime; it's not even a buzz. But it does increase revenue.

Most Mormons don't monitor alcohol policy because they don't think it affects them—but it does. Alcohol policy, policing and taxation are the window into how Utah runs—on the principle of the two-faced god Janus. The state makes money selling alcohol, then makes money ticketing hospitality and patrons. It's a greedy scheme.

We all have a stake in this. Policies regarding alcohol laws, sting operations and ticketing should be subject to public review and debate instead of being the province of privileged insiders who can't get enough control.

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Bianca Dumas

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