When my buddy Eric and I were driving cross country, we stayed a few days with his uncle in Erie, Pa.
He was a great host, buying us dinner and taking us to the shooting range where we fired many weapons that I had previously thought illegal in America. In exchange, he asked us one favor: buy fireworks for him.
Why the hell did a man with a permit to own an Uzi need me to buy him sparklers? Because in Pennsylvania, it's illegal to sell fireworks to state residents, but not to out-of-staters.
Such irrationality is the modus operandi in a state with towns named Intercourse, Blue Balls and Jersey Shore.
Still, Pennsylvania's most egregious insult to logic can be found in the Byzantine regulations on the sale of alcohol.
Most of you already know the odd system of beer distributors for cases and kegs, bars and delis for six-packs or 40s and wine and spirit stores for . well, wine and spirits. The Keystone State has a Keystone Cops inspired alcohol regulation system.
But hope glimmers on the horizon. A proposed bill in the state House of Representatives gives residents a new reason to say "Cheers!"
If it becomes law, the bill would change the quantities of beer that could be sold by both beer distributors and "eating-place malt license" holders, which is the ludicrous name for the license that allows pizzerias and bars to sell beer for take-out.
Following the Pa. norm for absurd regulations, that license limits the amount of booze that a customer can walk out with at one time to about a dozen beers. This doesn't mean you can't buy more than that at once - that would make too much sense.
No, after buying two six-packs, you can drop them off outside and walk in again to buy more. This dance can be repeated ad infinitum, but it's probably easier to just head to the beer distributor.
Naturally, Pa. has its own special regulations for beer distributors too - they may not sell beer in quantities less than a case. Whoever wrote these laws had to be drunk when they did it.
But this too might become a nostalgic anecdote: "Back in my day, we had to buy beer by the case - because it was the law!" The bill would permit beer distributors to sell malt beverages in quantities as small as six-packs. It would also allow the eating-place malt licenses to sell up to three six-packs at once. Slowly, Pennsylvania seems to be coming to grips with the idea of having logical laws.
Consumers and businesses alike support the change. "I imagine it'll be good for us and good for [beer distributors]," said Cavanaugh's manager Brian Pawliczek. In an unscientific poll of Penn students, only two of ninety-two respondents opposed the new law. Even Mothers Against Drunk Driving supports the reform because it allows beer to be bought in smaller quantities.
This gives some Pennsylvania drinkers hope for more deregulation. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, supermarkets hope to soon sell beer in their stores, a common sight in neighboring states.
So could Pennsylvanians one day go to one store for milk, eggs, beer and wine?
Probably not. The separation between beer and wine in Pennsylvania goes far beyond archaic regulation.
All 636 of the Wine and Spirit stores are state-owned and operated - that's right, my Republican friends, the USSR might be gone, but Stolichnaya is still socialist in Pa. The stores raked in over $389 million last year, so don't expect an end to this monopoly any time soon.
Pennsylvania is actually the largest purchaser of wine and hard alcohol in America, and according to the LCB Web site, this means "significant volume purchase discounts." But mismanagement and an 18-percent liquor tax dissolve any potential savings. A fifth of Jaegermeister costs $19.99 at the LCB-run store on 41st and Market, but at Canal's Discount Liquor in Pennsauken, NJ, that same bottle goes for $16.09. A fifth in NJ costs a fifth less than it does here.
So until the monopoly's exposed to in-state competition, many Philadelphians (or at least Penn frats) will drive over the border for their booze.
Pennsylvania's state legislature has the opportunity to give both consumers and businesses a reason to celebrate. If they pass the reforms, we should throw a party.
I'll buy the fireworks.
Jim Saksa is a College senior from Toms River, NJ. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You Sir, are an Idiot appears on Mondays.Comments powered by Disqus
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