In a state where nearly half the counties are legally dry, any change in alcohol-related laws causes a stir – even when the locale, Tupelo/Lee County, was among the first to choose the wet column when Mississippi repealed statewide prohibition in 1966.
The Tupelo City Council’s 4-3 vote this week to extend the hours alcohol can be sold in the city surely has its detractors, though the issue came before the council before they had a chance to voice their views. The debate would have been highly predictable; the recourse that those who don’t like the vote will have is the ballot box in the next election.
Any expansion of the availability of alcohol draws opposition from those who see it only as a scourge and for personal or religious reasons – or a combination of both – would prefer it to be legally unavailable. Their opinion deserves respect, but it clearly is not the majority view in the city.
As a practical matter, legalization of alcohol better controls its distribution and availability to underage drinkers than in counties where alcohol sales aren’t bound by legal restrictions, and it ensures that a tax is collected on it. The notion that making alcohol illegal keeps it from being consumed has long been proven a fallacy.
Yet where alcohol is legal, there are certainly legitimate issues for debate about how and when it should be sold. Hours and days are one of those.
The debate over Sunday alcohol sales in Tupelo was resolved in favor of its availability nearly five years ago. There has been no noticeable increase in DUIs or other alcohol-related incidents on Sundays as a result.
Similarly, the expansion of the hours that alcohol may be sold in Tupelo on Sundays and other days of the week shouldn’t have a measurable impact on individual and public safety.
It could, however, mean additional tax revenue for the city. Economic considerations are at the core of the Tupelo Restaurant Association’s unanimous request for the change, and the council majority obviously believes it will be helpful to businesses and, ultimately, taxpayers in the city.
Many Tupelo business and government leaders are working to establish the city as a welcoming place for young business people and professionals who might otherwise settle into bigger cities with more dining, entertainment and nightlife options. A Sunday brunch with a Bloody Mary or the ability to get a midnight dinner and glass of wine won’t make or break that effort, but neither should it be harmful to the safety and tranquility of the city.