KYUK hosted a city-sponsored call-in show on Thursday to discuss questions Bethel voters have on the upcoming ballot measure Proposition 1, regarding banning alcohol sales under the state's local option law.
Come October 2, Bethel’s registered voters will choose either "Yes," or "No" on a local option ballot measure which results from a petition. If passed, Bethel would go from "wet" status, with legal alcohol sales, to what is called a "damp" status where possession of alcohol is legal but sales are not. Alcohol would have to be imported.
Jedediah Smith, a Local Government Specialist with the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office, joined the program by telephone. Smith said that if local option were to pass, implementation would begin 90 days from when the election result was certified. With that, all licenses would become void, and restrictions on the amount of alcohol a person could import would take effect.
“Those amounts include 10-and-a-half liters of distilled spirits, 24 liters or more - or no more than 24 liters of wine, and a half keg of malt beverage or 12 gallons in individual containers,” Smith said.
Smith says that current state statute allows the city to lower limits on alcohol beverage imports per month, should the city choose to do so. For tax collection changes, Anchorage-based liquor sellers would apply a 15 percent use tax to any written alcohol orders from Bethel, according to City Clerk Lori Strickler, and those collected taxes would then be sent to the city. The city is not applying the tax to alcohol brought in luggage, as enforcement for that would be difficult.
“There was a discussion [to have the use tax apply to the luggage], but there was a concern that we would not be able to track that, and that the person that was carrying the alcohol on would then have to come to City Hall and self-report that 15 percent tax,” said Strickler. “So, there really wouldn’t be a good way for the city to track that type of purchase through common carrier.”
But state statutes may contain a solution to that, says Smith, in that it allows the city to establish a checkpoint at airports for alcohol monitoring.
“If people brought beverages in, in their personal freight, on a flight, the city could set up this designated site and anything over a certain amount,” said Smith. “It could, in theory, be required to go through this designated site.”
On the legal side of things, some alcohol-related misdemeanors would get bumped up to felonies under the local option law. Bootlegging, the sale or barter of alcohol by an unlicensed vendor, is currently a class A misdemeanor, but would become a Class C felony under local option. Selling alcohol to a minor would also become a class C felony. Homebrewed alcohol would be allowed under local option, with federal limits for possession set at 100 gallons per year.
“It really comes down to whether an investigator has reason to believe that someone is brewing with the intention of selling or bartering that alcohol without a license,” Smith said.
If local option passes, the alcohol sales ban would be in place for a while. A petition could not be circulated to lift it for two years.
“But if this does not pass, and Bethel remains what we refer to as ‘wet,’ someone could go through the process of circulating another petition,” said Smith.
You can listen to a recording of the full call-in show in English and Yugtun here.
Note: this story has been updated for clairty on tax applied to alcohol carried in by luggage under Local Option.