Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics & Public Service

Project Prologue

Liquor Laws

Liquor Laws in Utah

Utah’s statutory philosophy is to limit and control the availability of alcohol

Utah is one of 18 control states in the country.  A control state means that the state has a monopoly on the sale of alcohol whereby it has the power to limit and control its availability.  During his administration, Governor Leavitt supported Utah’s philosophy as a control state, and he closely followed the statutory alcohol beverage policy of the state of Utah.  This policy provides that Utah will not promote or encourage the consumption or sale of alcohol, but it will make it reasonably available to adults who drink responsibly.

The debate in Utah does not center so much on the basic philosophy of controlling the sale and consumption of alcohol.  There is broad acceptance of the need to control alcohol as a dangerous product, especially in the hands of minors.  The issue debated is mostly whether alcohol is reasonably available in Utah to adults, both residents and visitors, who drink responsibly.

Utah’s laws, by restricting the availability of alcohol, reduce consumption and the related public health and safety costs

A report entitled: “The Effects of Privatization of Alcohol Control Systems” prepared by Pacific Institute for Research & Evaluation for the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association states on page 2:  “It is well established by research that the availability of alcohol has substantial effects on alcohol consumption and alcohol problems.  As state control of alcohol sales declines, alcohol tends to become more available.  As alcohol becomes more available, consumption and problems increase.  In fact, these increases are so predictable that it is possible to put a price tag on the impact to public health and safety.”

The sale of alcohol in Utah, except in state owned liquor stores and for 3.2 beer, is controlled by a quote system of licenses designed to allow an increase in the number of licensees based only on population growth.  This policy is supported by two essential facts:

1)      Alcohol is a mind altering drug that changes the way the brain functions.  It creates a dopamine high which causes addiction.  It shuts down the prefrontal cortex of the brain which causes people to act impulsively and make poor decisions.  These issues are particularly acute with young people.  Alcohol also impairs coordination and visual acuity causing many deaths and injuries.

2)      Alcohol use is a health and safety issue.  Government has an obligation to protect the public from the harms that alcohol can cause, which means regulation of how alcohol is dispensed.

Dram Shop laws deter criminal behavior

In 1992, the Dram Shop law amendments to distinguish commercial and non-commercial service of alcohol were put in place to deter commercial sellers of alcohol to serve alcohol in excessive amounts.  In 2003, to further deter criminal behavior, the cap on damages that may be awarded to any person under Dram Shop law was raised from $100,000 to $500,000. The aggregate amount, which may be awarded to all persons injured as a result of on Dram Shop law violation, was raised from $300,000 to $1,000,000.

Governor Leavitt’s approach

Governor Leavitt understood that in Utah alcohol issues can be polarizing and controversial, particularly in a culture that is predominantly LDS and non-drinkers.  Practically all citizens, regardless of religious beliefs or affiliation, however, agree that alcohol consumption is a public health and safety issue.  Governor Leavitt’s involvement with alcohol issues was primarily in the realm of public health and safety.  His philosophy was to allow the Alcohol Beverage Control Commission and the Department of Alcohol Beverage Control deal with the day to day running of Utah’s alcohol monopoly.  His personal influence on the business of selling alcohol was mainly through the Commissioners he appointed to the Alcohol Beverage Control Commission.

The Leavitt approach reduced pressure to increase the availability of alcohol

Governor Leavitt’s approach to focus on the public health and safety issues concerning alcohol consumption proved to be a very effective way to reduce pressure from the alcohol industry and its supporters to increase the availability of alcohol.  He understood that the greatest concern about alcohol for a majority of the people of Utah, including LDS and non-LDS citizens, is it negative impact alcohol can have on public health and safety.  Nationwide research supports this conclusion.

In a U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) document entitled, “Drinking in America: Myths, Realities, and Prevention Policy” a national survey revealed that:

A large majority of Americans either do not drink or drink infrequently. For this majority, alcohol is an unimportant consumer product. According to the National Survey, about 46 percent of adults 21 years of age and older report that they did not consume any alcohol in the past month and an additional 26 percent report drinking once a week or less. . . . Binge drinkers [five or more drinks at a sitting] are 23% of the population, but drink 76% of the alcohol.  [Among those who binge drink] frequent bingers are only 7% of the population, but drink 45% of the alcohol consumed by adults in the United States.

The belief that most adults drink in moderate amounts without problems translates into public policies that make alcohol readily available at low prices and permit widespread marketing that communicates only positive messages about alcohol’s effects. These policies in turn create an environment that encourages alcohol use and downplays its potential for harm to public health and safety.

Although we may think that our alcohol policies are simply helping to meet the demand from moderate-drinking adults, they are actually accommodating heavy and hazardous drinking by a small minority of consumers, many of whom are underage. Such policies undercut our efforts to reduce alcohol-related problems.

Most Americans either abstain from alcohol or drink very infrequently—less than once a week. Our public policies and social norms, however, do not reflect this fact and make alcohol readily accessible at low prices. Alcohol sales are dominated by a relatively small minority of the population who drink heavily.

Policies and norms that promote alcohol availability support and encourage these problematic drinking behaviors. Most Americans consume very little alcohol, so it is not surprising that large majorities of the population support stricter alcohol policies designed to reduce drinking problems.”

Alcohol legislation passed during the Leavitt administration increased public health and safety protection

The alcohol industry and its active sympathizers, which comprise a small minority of Utahans, did not have the support of the Governor or legislative leaders for any changes which would increase the availability of alcohol.  Governor Leavitt’s approach to emphasize public health and safety concerns was adopted by the majority of legislators, and remained such during his entire administration.  This approach for dealing with this issue was a great success.

An amendment to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Bill required that when alcohol is available to a consumer, food must be available for consumption as well. This restriction was added in 2003 along with an increase on beer taxes.

During Governor Leavitt’s service the negative social consequences of alcohol consumption continued to be about one half of that in surrounding states

The negative social consequences that include increases in drunk driving deaths and injuries, crime, violence, domestic and child abuse, and underage drinking and drug addiction all remained relatively low as compared to all of Utah’s surrounding states.  Utah has long enjoyed considerably less public health and safety issues involving alcohol than is found in other states.  While cultural factors play into these statistics, a prominent component for such low alcohol related public health and safety issues is undeniably due to the regulated levels of availability of alcohol.

The following chart shows that Utah enjoys approximately one half of the DUI related deaths that are found in surrounding states.

Utah DUI Death Rates in Comparison with other states:

Arizona     45% Montana  48% Utah 24%
California     42% Nevada  43% Washington  47%
Colorado   42% Oregon  41% Wyoming  41%
Idaho  40% Texas  48%

Source:  2006 Traffic Safety Annual Assessment Alcohol- Related Fatalities; August 2007  DOT HS 810 821  NHTSA

The following chart shows that Utah enjoys approximately one half of the underage drinking and drug issues when compared in an 8 state average.

Utah Avg. 8 State Average or MTF*
12th Grade Ever used  Alcohol 38% 73% (MTF)
12th Grade 30 Day  Alcohol use 19% 45% (MTF)
12th Grade Binge Drinking 12% 25%
6th Grade Intent to use drugs 20.3% 41%
12th Grade Intent to use drugs 19.2% 45%
Needs Alcohol and/or drug treatment 9.4% Not Available
Parents Attitudes Favor Drug or alcohol use 17% 41%

Posted on Utah Department of Human Services Web Site: www.hsdsa.gov/sharp.htm.

Governor Leavitt and the E.A.S.Y. Program

The Leavitt Administration laid the groundwork for the passage of the E.A.S.Y. (Eliminate Alcohol Sales to Youth) program, which was passed a little over a year after he left office.  The E.A.S.Y. program provides permanent funding to educate the people of Utah about the dangers of underage drinking.  It also provides money for additional enforcement of existing laws.  The legislature provided approximately $1.7 million annually to be appropriated as a cost of doing business in this area, and it takes the revenue from alcohol sales.  This money is used to educate the public about the consequences the physiological and psychological damage alcohol can cause young brains, particularly as young people are most susceptible to binge drinking.  The funds also help to step up law enforcement to eliminate underage drinking.  The legislature recognized that the state of Utah, because of its monopoly of the sale of a potentially dangerous product, has the responsibility to provide this education and support.

Utah’s alcohol laws and the 2008 Winter Olympic Games



As Utah prepared to host the 2002 Winter Olympics, the advocates of increasing the availability of alcohol predicted that Utah’s liquor laws would cause major international embarrassment to the state and its people.  Governor Leavitt and the Alcohol Beverage Control Commission ignored the pressure to make alcohol more available.  The Olympic Games were a tremendous success and brought luster to Utah’s international reputation.  There was very little if any notice or comment on Utah’s liquor laws.

Utah’s experience with the Olympic Games supports Governor Leavitt’s unwillingness to make alcohol more available because unsupported concerns that current liquor laws are detrimental to Utah’s economic future and growth.  Even if it could be shown that Utah’s liquor laws resulted in a negative impact on economic growth, any advantage in economic development would be far more than off-set by the huge social and economic costs which result from increased alcohol availability.


https://spcoll.li.suu.edu/eadfiles/Xe1kcH8BnM5_0W5sJ69V/ms122NW20001121b.pdf The people of Utah were very fortunate that Governor Leavitt during his entire administration was able to increase emphasis on public health and safety, and to limit the availability of alcohol with the huge social and economic costs that follows.

Additional Information

Peculiar? Liquor laws lambasted as just plain weirdhttps://spcoll.li.suu.edu/eadfiles/Xe1kcH8BnM5_0W5sJ69V/ms122NW19970421.pdf



Liquor laws spark heat at hearing


Utah’s dry issues State’s top court debating alcohol sales regulation




Letter of complaint from a visitor: https://spcoll.li.suu.edu/eadfiles/Xe1kcH8BnM5_0W5sJ69V/ms122CR20020725.pdf

Leavitt’s Response:



Statehouse Briefs


Articles relating to appointments made by Leavitt to the Alcohol Beverage Control Commission:















Senator revises liquor bill to compromise


Guilt by Association


Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service