It has never been difficult to get a drink in Wisconsin. But now early risers don’t even have to wait until dawn because gas stations are selling cold beer at 6:00 a.m. Wisconsin has approximately 3,801 establishments licensed to sell alcohol for consumption elsewhere and most of them can sell alcohol earlier and longer as a result of Act 97.
During Legislative debates, this proposal was repeatedly described as earlier alcohol sales for grocery stores but all retailers, including gas stations and convenience stores, are now able to open earlier. There is only one reason to start selling alcohol at 6:00 a.m.– selling more alcohol. Calling this measure business development was a cruel, but effective, deception.
People weren’t leaving Wisconsin to purchase alcohol before 8:00 a.m. We know the date of every Badger, Brewer and Packer game, when alcohol was sold and people just planned ahead. There is extensive evidence that greater retail availability has an impact on the non-commercial demand for alcohol. The World Health Organization’s Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol explains:
“Commercial and public availability of alcohol can have a reciprocal influence on the social availability of alcohol and thus promote changing social and cultural norms that promote the harmful use of alcohol.”
I listened to health care providers, a judge, community groups and prevention professionals beg – yes beg - members of the Legislature to defeat this proposal. Supporters, mostly grocers, suggested people would shop elsewhere if grocery stores couldn’t sell alcohol at 6:00 a.m. But where would shoppers go for milk and bread? Illinois? Minnesota? Not likely.
Fortunately, home rule can over rule Legislative indifference to common sense and public safety. Municipal governments have the ability to restore the 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. alcohol sales through local ordinance. Since emergency responder and police budgets are municipal costs, every taxpayer has an interest in returning to the saner 8:00 a.m. opening. Wisconsin‘s residents are fed up with the financial burden of alcohol misuse.
The earlier time isn’t about tailgating, sportsmen or the organizationally challenged. The earlier opening is about selling more alcohol regardless of the cost to individuals or society.