Contradictory Alcohol Policies: Mean Drunks and Tax Cuts

by lizard

Our city continues to grapple with the effects of alcohol on the segment of the homeless population that frustrates and confounds city officials. Here is Judge Jenks from last week’s public safety committee talking about the “mean drunks” she routinely encounters from the bench:

“These people fight. They fight with each other, they fight with strangers. They’re mean drunks. It’s one of those things that would need to be addressed.”

The impact of alcohol abuse has tragic and expensive consequences for our state that go far beyond the “core problems” downtown, impacts I’ve written about before. One study put the annual cost of alcohol abuse at 642 MILLION dollars. Here is how that number breaks down:

Alcohol induced medical care: 100.7 million
Criminal justice system: 49.1 million
Early mortality/lost earnings; disease/vehicle accidents: 296.8 million
Lost productivity: 53.3 million
Treatment costs: 10.7 million

Alcohol production is also a booming business, which is why there will be another micro-distillery in downtown Missoula and another brewery potentially going in on West Broadway, something City Council will be looking at this evening. The name of this potentially new brewing business is Big Medicine Brewing. Here’s is some content from their website:

The Big Medicine Brewing Co. is a community-orientated and community-based Missoula microbrewery grounded in the world’s great brewing traditions. Through expansive beers, a celebratory atmosphere, and workshops and dialogues that address the critical challenges of our time, the purpose of the brewery is to support people in their own transformation so they are better prepared to authentically connect and transform the world around them.

To encourage more alcohol production, our two Democrat senators, Jon and John, are introducing legislation to cut taxes for alcohol producers:

Beer producers currently pay excise taxes and generally pass the cost on to consumers. The BEER Act would cut the tax in half for all brewers. The Small BREW Act would apply only to smaller brewers, halving the tax on the first 60,000 barrels produced and reducing the tax from $7 to $5 on all barrels after that up to 2 million. All of Montana’s 46 breweries would qualify under the Small BREW Act.

Last week, Walsh joined 45 other senators, including Tester, as a cosponsor of both bills, which were first introduced last year. Walsh also recently announced the formation of a Senate Small Distillers Caucus and expressed his support for the Distillery Excise Tax Reform Act, which would reduce excise rates on spirits from $13.50 to $2.70 for the first 100,000 proof gallons produced.

In a statement, Walsh explained his support for this pro-alcohol legislation, saying that “reducing the overhead costs will allow small business owners to invest in this emerging industry, creating good jobs across Montana.”

Who would criticize legislation like this? Certainly not any of the drunks who make our laws in Helena. Four years ago, Schweitzer made a political point of highlighting the jump in alcohol sales while our legislators are in session:

The Department of Revenue said wholesale sales, which reflect what stores expect to sell to bars and retail customers, increased a whopping 24 percent from January through March in 2009 when the Legislature was last in session.

“The January through March wholesale sales coincide with the primary time period that liquor consumption in Helena is affected by the session,” Department of Revenue spokeswoman Cynthia Piearson wrote in an e-mail.

But lawmakers were not entertained by the way Schweitzer connected the increase to the legislators.

Alcohol is a dangerous drug that ruins people’s lives. Sure, there are those who drink responsibly, but for those that don’t, treatment options are expensive and difficult to access. Instead we spend millions of dollars prosecuting and incarcerating those who have acted recklessly while under the influence.

Maybe instead of increasing the production of alcohol by cutting taxes we should be talking about how to increase access to treatment.

Just a thought.


  1. It’s a good thought, but one which no one gives a damn about. If people are up in arms about paying $110 a day to house a bum, how are you going to convince them to pay $1 million+ for a treatment facility? How do you convince the state when they pay about $100 a day?

    You’re not. It’s great to say we need treatment, but there’s no political will for that, and as you said, the legislature doesn’t really care about alcohol problems, not when most have some.

    • JC

      Greg, the DoC provides the lions share of treatment in the state via programs for the incarcerated WATCH, NEXUS, etc.). What the state doesn’t do a good job at is providing a variety of programs, treatments and services for individuals who haven’t been caught up in the legal system in one way or another.

      As to giving a damn, your statement shows that you haven’t paid much attention to the breadth of the issue, and how many people really do give a damn. Maybe when your family gets hit by the trauma of an alcoholic or addict creating chaos and pain, you’ll think differently.

      If you want an example of another approach to treatment, just look at Missoula’s Recovery Center. It was constructed with a mix of state and private funds — it was paid for before it was built so that the costs of running it didn’t include a hefty mortgage. And they have plans potentially to build another facility 2-3 times the size of that one.

      Why should we be decreasing taxes on alcohol producers, instead of increasing them to cover the social costs of their abuse? Taxes should be raised until the state can contribute its share towards private treatment facilities, and other needed social interventions and services.

      And don’t get me started on the state monopoly on liquor sales and the profits it rakes in while alcoholism runs rampant in our communities.

  2. steve kelly

    Good start. Tip of the “collateral damage” iceberg, however. Sugar, hydrogenated fat, red meat, processed carbs, dairy, gluten, etc. are as addictive, and as deadly as alcohol. At least alcoholics know that what they’re comsuming is poison, and know it’s addictive. The food industry is no better than the alcohol industry, or the tobacco industry, we just haven’t made the truth available to most who suffer and die needlessly from food addictions. Subsidies for killer foods make alcohol subsidies look tiny. We, The People are the enemy, after all.

    • mike

      derpity doo dah, derpity day…smh

  3. lizard19

    after watching city council, I was reminded “Big Medicine” got rebranded as “One Nation” but the website hasn’t really been updated.

  4. Buzz Feedback

    The City Fathers only support MDA-sanctioned drunkenness.

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