Archived Opinion

Alcohol vote reveals changing attitudes, new demographics

Ho-hum.

Franklin voters approved the sale of mixed drinks and beer in a vote held last week. Few were surprised the measure passed. In truth, few seem to care too much.

If there is a surprise in the outcome, this is it: attitudes in these mountains about alcohol and its sale have undergone a dramatic change in a relatively short time. It was just a few years ago when the mere suggestion of allowing on-premise alcohol sales was sure to stir up a fervent opposition that would rely on conservative religious groups to round up the faithful and defeat the measure at the polls.

Not so anymore. Franklin’s vote was just the latest. Sylva passed a similar measure earlier this year, and Dillsboro did the same in 2005. Canton approved on-premise liquor sales in 2003, joining Maggie Valley, Bryson City and Asheville.

As it stands now, only Waynesville among the cluster of counties in this region remains as a county seat town that does not allow on-premise mixed drink sales. Still, you can get wine or beer at almost all establishments in town limits. It’s just a matter of time before a similar measure allowing mixed drink sales is OK’d by voters here.

It’s hard to gauge exactly what this change means, but the relative silence with which these measures have passed leaves plenty of room for speculation.

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The influence of those churches that frown on alcohol consumption of any type is, obviously, waning. America’s history is all about Puritanism and prohibition, but the battlegrounds are shifting. The message about alcohol today is not so much about abstaining completely as it is about being responsible.

Another factor, and likely the most obvious, is that the demographics of this region are changing. We have a whole lot of people living here who weren’t raised here, who perhaps came from urban areas where alcohol has always been available. Also, young people who go away to college and work and then move back probably don’t associate alcohol with anything evil.

To these folks, not only is alcohol no big deal, it seems a little backward not to give adults the choice as to whether they want to drink or not.

There’s also been a raised consciousness in recent years about the dangers of alcohol. Whether it’s the attention on curtailing drinking by youths, the movement two decades ago that raised the drinking age to 21, or the increased penalties for drinking and driving, society is more conscious of alcohol-related problems.

Also, there’s no evidence that communities where on-premise alcohol sales are allowed are worse off than other towns. Crime rates don’t go up, drunk driving rates don’t go up, and chain restaurants don’t swoop in and chase out the privately-owned establishments. The truth is that having on-premise sales just provides a bit more profit for those restaurants and bars that choose to make these drinks available.

It’s about choice and responsibility, cornerstones of any free society. Now Franklin residents have another choice. As they should.

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