Despite the economic struggles of the pandemic, Wisconsin may have just got one new law right. On Mar. 26, the state legislature passed a new law which allows bars and restaurants to sell alcohol to go. Previously, only full unopened bottles could be sold to customers, but now cocktails may be sold in individual-sized to-go containers.

After months of lockdowns which have hurt small businesses across the state, this bill will help increase sales for Wisconsin bars and restaurants that have struggled.

The Wisconsin Tavern League is one the biggest advocacy groups for this bill.

“For an industry which has seen a 40% decrease in revenues over the last year, the passage of AB 32 represents some much-needed good news. More must be done to help the struggling hospitality industry but passage of AB 32 is a good start,” the League’s Facebook page said.

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In addition, the Wisconsin legislature also passed a bill allowing curbside pick-up of alcohol which can be ordered ahead online. The bills include provisions preventing municipalities from enacting restrictions on these measures.

For Wisconsin, this is definitely a bill the public can support, where drinking is a large part of Wisconsin culture.

But not everyone is so supportive. Some critics worry the new laws will lead to more drunk driving and underage drinking. Wisconsin is known for having far more drunk driving cases than most states, with almost 28,000 people arrested for operating while intoxicated in 2019 alone.

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But, the new laws require alcohol containers to have a tamper-proof seal. They prevent customers from sipping their drink anywhere and make it easy for police to determine if a container has been opened. 

“You have to be in a location that’s friendly to drink. You can’t just drink on the street. It’s not Bourbon Street,” Merchant general manager David Biefer said.

While not quite like Bourbon Street, State Street will likely see a huge boost in sales as a result of this bill. Students on campus are notorious for their drinking culture and recent studies explain its prevalence at a majority white university.

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Excessive drinking on the UW campus causes a whole host of problems every year for both students and the community. One in four students link poor grades to alcohol consumption. In addition, excessive drinking causes many student arrests, sexual assaults and personal health problems.

Despite these concerns, advocates of the new law say their intent is to help small businesses. While no one encourages drinking in excess, many Wisconsinites’ livelihoods depend on the sale of alcohol in the restaurants and bars they work in.

It will be important to monitor the effects of the new measures, but it seems unlikely they will cause a dramatic uptick in alcohol-related crime. Dozens of states implemented similar laws within the past year as a response to the Covid shutdowns. Many people prefer to-go alcohol because they don’t yet feel comfortable enjoying their drink in a crowded bar.

People are going to buy alcohol whether the state wants them to or not, so it is better to incentivize residents to buy from bars and restaurants in their communities that are the backbone of the local economy. So if you are going to drink, always be safe and try supporting your local businesses.

Hayden Kolowrat ([email protected]) is a graduate student studying Southeast Asian studies.