Utah legalizes homebrewing

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

The United States state of Utah has legalized homebrewing of beer and wine.

The Utah State Capitol
Image: Scott Catron.

H.B. 51, "Exemption for Alcoholic Beverage Manufacturing License", was signed into law by Utah governor Jon M. Huntsman, Jr. on March 24 after being passed by large majorities in both houses of the State Legislature. The bill was introduced by Salt Lake City representative Christine A. Johnson (D-25th district) and will take effect on May 12.

The act modifies existing Utah law to give an exemption to the state's requirement of a brewing license for amateur brewers, as long as the beer or wine they produce is not for sale and the amount produced is less than 100 US gallons (379 liters) per year for an individual or 200 US gallons (757 liters) for a couple. The unlicensed distillation of spirits remains illegal in the United States under federal law.

Home-brewed beer is typically made in batches of a few gallons
Image: KVDP.

Although prohibition of alcohol in the United States ended in 1933 and the homebrewing of beer has been legal at a federal level since 1978, many US states, counties and cities restrict the production, sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages more tightly than is done at the federal level. With the passage of Utah's legislation, four US states still forbid homebrewing: Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi and Oklahoma.

The legislation was introduced largely through the work of University of Utah law student Douglas Wawrzynski. AHA director Gary Glass was also closely involved with Rep Johnson in drafting the bill's language. Wawrzynski told Wikinews about what led him to initiate a campaign to change the law:

I moved to Utah from Connecticut in 2005 and started into the hobby [of homebrewing] shortly thereafter. There are multiple homebrew shops that have been operating legally in Utah for several years, so it wasn't until after I started law school in the fall of 2007 that someone suggested to me that the hobby might not be legal in Utah. After having done some research and contacting the American Homebrewers Association, I began to understand the current ambiguity of the law and how it could certainly be interpreted to adversely affect homebrewers. In fact in 2005 the city of South Salt Lake had taken steps to affirmatively enact penalties for engaging in homebrewing. While that effort was ultimately abandoned it illustrated just how the current state of the law could have a negative impact on homebrewers.

Cquote1.svg Home-brewing is a healthy and vibrant hobby in Utah Cquote2.svg

—State Representative Christine A. Johnson

Despite the restrictions, according to the American Homebrewers Association (AHA), some seven thousand people in Utah were illegally taking part in the hobby, which has 750,000 adherents nationwide. Rep Johnson said "home-brewing is a healthy and vibrant hobby in Utah" and thanked the AHA for "thorough education, great committee testimony and association members who flooded elected officials with emails of support."

The bill passes on Rep Johnson's second attempt to introduce it. As H.B. 425, the act was introduced late in the Utah legislature's 2008 session, where it did not reach a Utah Senate vote. Ms Johnson's legislative work has primarily concerned equality and human rights in Utah, including a successful attempt to add a voluntary amount to the marriage license fee in order to fund shelters for victims of domestic violence and a failed attempt to introduce language banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity into Utah state law.

Cquote1.svg I'm not comfortable with home brewing. It seems fraught with mischief to me Cquote2.svg

—State Senator Greg Bell

Opposition to the bill, meanwhile, was sporadic and reflected, in Wawrzynski's view, bad understanding of homebrewing rather than hostility toward the hobby:

In each of the several committee meetings this bill went through, the bill was met with challenging and sometimes bizarre questions regarding its impact and what this would enable people to do. One Senator, Senator Lilenquist [State Sen. Dan Liljenquist, R-23rd district] even inquired if this bill would make it legal for someone to put beer in a baby bottle and give it to a one year old.

Ronda Rudd Menlove, a Republican representing the 1st district, says her primary concern in voting against the bill was the potential for alcohol to affect children:

When the vote was taken on HB 51, I had a constituent sitting by me, a young high school student. I briefly explained the bill to him during the debate and then asked him how he would vote on the bill and why. This is what he told me. He said that he was concerned that young people would have greater access to alcohol because alcohol would be brewed in homes resulting in great accessibility for youth living in those homes. This concerned him greatly as a member of a local youth city council as well. He is concerned about the amount of under-age drinking in his community and believed that greater access to alcohol could cause an increase in under-age drinking in Utah....

My secondary reason for voting against the bill is that I am adamantly opposed to the excess use and abuse of alcohol. I am opposed to any use of alcohol by pregnant mothers. As a secondary level teacher and high school administrator, I worked with troubled youth and special education populations. I have struggled with young people who live with the effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. If you want to be very depressed, read about the lifelong effects of FAS. This syndrome affects learning and behavior that is often erratic and unpredictable. Most of the students with FAS fail miserably in school and find little success in school, jobs, or life. This is a very serious problem related to alcohol use and one that affects the innocent fetus and not the perpetrator of this action.

Utah has quirky alcohol laws. The overarching goal of preventing under-age drinking and the abuse of alcohol has created these laws. The intention is admirable and one that I support. How to achieve these goals is challenging and has resulted in laws that may seem strange to others living outside of Utah. Utah's Governor and Legislature has struggled with this and recently passed legislation revamping these laws. I voted against those changes due to the fact that little information was provided about the impact of the changes.

Kraig Powell (54th district), a Duchesne County Republican, the other representative to vote against the bill in its final form, said he did so because a constituent was "concerned about increased access to alcohol and drunk driving dangers". Meanwhile, Senate Majority Assistant Whip Gregory Bell (R-22nd district), said to the Deseret News: "I'm not comfortable with home brewing. It seems fraught with mischief to me."

Cquote1.svg Relax, stop worrying, and have a legal homebrew Cquote2.svg

—Douglas Wawrzynski

Wawrzynski believes that education and understanding from the community were critical in the passage of the bill.

[T]hrough the efforts, emails and testimony of people like Representative Johnson and Gary Glass, and most importantly, from Utah homebrewers themselves, we changed minds through education. In fact, the Chairman of the Senate Business and Labor Committee, Senator Valentine (R-14th district) openly admitted on the record that he had been compelled to change his vote to a favorable one after hearing compelling testimony from member of the Utah community.

I think that as the state of Utah continues to grow in diversity, the community will become enriched with a wide array of backgrounds and opinions. As this happens we will have an opportunity to develop a greater understanding of our own neighbors and how differences in lifestyle can ultimately be respected and embraced.

Paralleling a common motto of the homebrewing community, Wawrzynski proclaimed on passage of the bill: "Utah homebrewers are finally free to relax, stop worrying, and have a legal homebrew".


Sources

Wikinews
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