It’s good times for beer drinkers in Durham. Next month a number of the municipality’s grocery stores will begin selling beer, as part of Ontario’s revised alcohol rules. This might not seem to be a tremendous development if you live in Europe or the US, but in Canada it’s a big deal, thanks to the country’s strict yet fragmented approach to alcohol sales. A number of provinces and territories allow sales of beer, wine, or liquor only from government-owned outlets, and others allow private sales in varying degrees.
Alcohol sales are almost always controlled by governments because that is a recognized way of mitigating some of its harmful effects. Studies in the US show that easier alcohol availability or a lowering in price is usually linked to increases in the effects of alcohol abuse: drunk driving, alcohol-related mortality, and crime.
This is not to say that Durham is headed for a spree of impaired driving now that residents will be able to pick up a Molson’s at Farm Boy or Walmart. For one thing, the price of beer will not change, so that factor will not influence consumption. It also might end up that consumers stock up less because they can more easily buy beer from an outlet close by.
And this ruling affects the sale of beer only – wine and hard liquor will still be on sale only at the same approved vendors. All in all, beer will be sold in about 450 more stores at most. Durham retailers must apply through Ontario’s Alcohol and Gaming Commission for authorization to sell in their stores.
So this move by the province is not one where anti-drunk-driving advocates need to dig their heels in. Ontario already has the lowest permissible blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level in the country, .05 percent. According to MADD Canada, if the province wants to lower its DUI stats it should impound the vehicles of convicted drunk drivers.
Recently Thanksgiving saw a disturbing spike in DUI arrests, and road safety groups will be on the lookout for anything that looks like a rise in impaired driving once beer sales are liberalised in Durham. But the most important thing is to keep spreading the message that no one should ever drink and drive. If that sinks in, some more easily available brews might not make a difference.