Law/Justice

Let Us Drink in Public

This reads like something out of Reason Magazine. Is the old-fashioned anti-authoritarian left making a comeback?

By Miles Kampf-Laffin, The Jacobin

The aromas of freshly stewed gumbo and boiled crawfish wafted out onto the street in front of Broadview Seafood at the edge of New Orleans’s Seventh Ward. On Ash Wednesday this year, as I recovered from the revelry of Mardi Gras, I salivated as I considered my meal: Should I pick up some crab legs? A po’boy, with freshly fried shrimp enveloped in a crunchy French roll? All important questions, but my first order was the most essential — an ice cold tall boy of a hazy IPA. And since I was in one of the few bastions of legal public drinking in America, I purchased it to go.

Having received my bounty of gumbo, crawfish, and a po’boy, my beer cradled under my arm, I considered my next move. Grateful for the lax public drinking laws, I had a full range of options: Walk up the nearby iconic Esplanade Ave and sit in oak-laden Fortier Park, surrounded by stately nineteenth-century mansions and brightly decorated homes; or walk a bit further west and sit on the banks of Bayou St. John. I chose instead to bring my banquet to the pastoral City Park, joined by friends. We splayed out in the park, talking and eating and laughing — all while freely sipping alcoholic beverages in public, without fear of reprisal.

It was a joyous experience. But currently, such experiences are limited to those living in or visiting the Crescent City and a small number of other locales around the country. This is a travesty: we all should be able to drink in public.

But today, eighty-seven years after the ratification of the 21st Amendment, we’re still living with vestiges of a Prohibition-era legal framework, where alcohol consumption is severely constrained and policed. Alongside the nationwide minimum drinking age of twenty-one, most every state has established strict regulations banning public drinking, commonly referred to as “open container” laws.

It’s time to repeal these outdated disciplinary laws and realize the unfinished work of the Prohibition repeal movement by finally legalizing public drinking across the United States.

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