Banning sales of certain high-alcohol beers and wines in Olympia’s downtown core made a lot of sense when it took effect in February 2014 for local convenience stores. There is evidence that the ban reduced public drinking, based on a 20 percent drop in alcohol-related litter downtown.
Recently, the city proposed a broader ban to include 64 labels, some of which are being substituted on convenience store shelves for the nine already banned. We support this effort.
Some brands targeted by the ban have alcohol content approaching or exceeding 8 percent at a price of less than $2 for a 24-ounce container. These are not products geared to polite social drinking.
Clearly, the ban is not a complete answer to public drinking problems in the downtown. But Olympia needs many tools as it tries to to reduce uncivil behavior, help inebriates off the street, and reinvigorate the downtown, which is on the verge of renewal with several housing projects underway.
The proposed larger list of banned products needs approval by the Washington State Liquor Control Board, and we urge the three board members to approve it.
Scott Hazlegrove, executive director for the Washington Beer and Wine Distributors Association, has pushed back against the proposal. He questions the effectiveness of the bans, but Olympia is following the lead of other cities that have found such bans useful.
And as in other cities, Olympia has found that the initial list of banned drinks has been undermined as those labels were replaced by other high-alcoholic drinks.
Olympia started small with its alcohol-impact area and number of targeted drinks. It is asking only for tools available to cities like Seattle and Tacoma that also have alcohol impact areas.
A ban alone is not enough to deal with a much larger societal problem that overlaps with homelessness. Thurston County urgently needs a detox center of its own to take in those who need medical supervision to take the first steps toward overcoming their addictions. Because many addicts are self-medicating for underlying mental illness, it is welcome news that the county is moving ahead this year to create a mental health triage facility.
Other efforts underway will bring mental health screenings to the places where homeless people get meals or shelter. The city also is adding two officers to its downtown foot patrols to cover a night shift from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. starting in May.
State and federal governments must step up funding for treatment beds for drug and alcohol addiction, which fell off during the Great Recession. The Affordable Care Act’s dramatic expansion of Medicaid is beginning to answer that call for help.
A two-year budget proposed in the state House on Friday includes about $110 million in new funds for chemical dependency treatment just through money available through the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid , which now covers hundreds of thousands of low-income people who did not qualify for help before.
House Democrats’ budget plan has other funds also allocated for chemical dependency treatment and care.
All these efforts can work together with an effective ban that makes it harder for street drinkers to obtain their cheap, high-alcohol, get-drunk-quick products.
Under the proposal weighed by the liquor board, the size of the alcohol impact area remains the same as it is today. The zone runs roughly from Water Street on the west end to Eastside Street on the east end, and from 14th Avenue on the south side to Marine Drive and Olympia Avenue on the north boundary.
The state should give the city tools to make this work.