Alcohol Crimes Decline After Liquor Sales Privatization

November 1, 2013

In the lead up to Washington State voters approving privatization of liquor sales in the state, opponents claimed- as they always do - that the increased availability and lower prices would undoubtedly result in increased rates of crime, alcohol-related auto accidents, and greater numbers of minors having access to alcohol, says Michelle Minton, a fellow in consumer policy studies at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

While many public health advocates believe that increasing alcohol outlet density (the number of places one can buy alcohol in a square mile) will automatically increase the rate of alcohol-related injuries and crime, some researchers have found that this isn't so.

  • The number of outlets in the state has soared, and consumers can now buy liquor at more than 1,600 retailers compared to 329 state-run and rural contract stores before.
  • While there were some reports that liquor thefts might have increased, according to the Washington State Patrol, most alcohol-related arrests have declined since privatization went into effect on June 1, 2012.

In his 2003 study, economist Patrick McCarthy examined 111 California cities and found that a higher number of take-away alcohol stores actually correlated with decreases in fatal and nonfatal alcohol-related car accidents.

  • WSP data shows there were 2,861 DUI collisions and 21,941 DUI arrests during the 2008-09 time period.
  • Under the first year of privatization those numbers were down to 2,347 DUI collisions and 19,703 DUI arrests.
  • Statistics for "minor in possession" showed an even bigger improvement with 1,483 cases between 2008-09 dropping to 777 during 2012-13.

The moral of the story is that the consequences of any regulatory change are quite difficult to predict. Attempting to engineer consumer behavior through policy is at best unlikely to work and at worst likely to have negative effects that nobody saw coming. The soundest course of action is to leave people free to make their own choices about how they live their lives.

Source: Michelle Minton, "Alcohol Crimes Decline After Liquor Sales Privatization," Competitive Enterprise Institute, October 28, 2013.

 

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