[#] More about our allegedly-dry county ...

The last time I wrote about this topic, it was to discuss the issue of whether it is right to do something (in this case, legalize alcohol sales) for the sake of the revenue that it would provide. I’d like to point out that since my letter has been in print (newspaper & blog), the Cherokee casino across the state line has publicly said that Oklahoma’s new legalization of poker tables for their operation has been a phenomenal boon to them. I’m sure that’s exciting news for those who think we do not change what kind of people we are by changing the kinds of laws we keep in place.

However, since then we have also begun to hear from the "other side" of the dry county debate, and frankly they surprised me. Both writers to the local newspaper (published in the week of 3/9/2005) underscored the value of human choice regarding the legalization of alcohol – that is to say, adults have a God-given right to the choice to drink if they want to.

Well, sure. Let me say up front that I would condemn no one for drinking responsibly in appropriate social contexts. But before you finish reading this blog entry, head over to the grocery store (or if you are reading this at home, look in your fridge) and look at a gallon of milk. Pick it up and think about drinking that whole gallon of milk in one sitting. Think about how much milk is in one gallon. And think about this question: can one gallon of milk (at a time) satisfy someone’s exercise of choice to have milk and to drink milk?

The answer is “yes” – even for my 3-year-old who is constantly drinking milk. But the somewhat surreal part of the arguments in the 3/9 edition of the newspaper is that just 3 days earlier the Sunday paper published a feature on the wet/dry county debate concerning the private ownership of alcohol. In that feature, The Arkansas Democrat Gazette told us that it was completely legal for any adult to own up to a gallon of wine in our “dry” Benton county. That stipulation is due to State regulations concerning “dry” legislation. However, much like the current writers in the local paper, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette portrayed a kind of stunned shame at such a thing – as if a gallon of wine is not enough.

Let me be clear that I’m sure the writers I’m responding to would admit that they have never in their lives consumed a whole gallon of wine in one sitting. A gallon (which is to say, about 3-4 bottles) of wine is plenty of wine with which, as one of them said, to "let your conscience dictate what you do", and it turns out that anyone can own up to a gallon of wine in Benton county if they want to. How “dry” is that, really? Is their choice actually in danger in some way?

The problem, I suppose, is that it is not convenient to come by a bottle of wine in some parts of Benton county. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a place where this is true in particular, but I’m sure those who are advocating a wet county could give us a list. Whether or not that list can be assembled, let me propose that the current state of things advances a particular end: responsible drinking.

So what is the definition of responsible drinking? I found one on the internet on a site called “brad21.org”, dedicated to the advocation of responsible drinking (not a tea-totaling site by any means) in memory of a Michigan State University junior who died at a party from alcohol poisoning. Tbey say this: “Remember: Careful planning of a party can increase the pleasure for both the guests and the hosts.” What some are calling a matter of human rights or high-handed legalism is in fact simply an inconvenience that requires a person who wants to drink to plan ahead. Is that actually something to oppose?

There is no one in the “dry” camp who wants to undo the 21st amendment, or who wants to start policing anyone's home personally with a measuring cup. But we do not want to be people who will do anything for a tax buck, and we certainly do not want to be a people who enact laws that make irresponsibility convenient. I don’t condemn anybody for choosing to drink responsibly, but I cannot see how making Benton county like every other wet county in Arkansas advances the cause of responsible drinking.