We've published a story today about brown-bagging once again - this time in Wartrace, and it's got this writer to thinking about how messed up Tennessee law seems to be in this regard.
Wartrace's attorney says that while the practice of "brown-bagging" is permissible in the city code, the small town would not be able to allow liquor by the drink, due to its small population.
For me, the issue has to do with controlling how much a person might consume in a sitting.
Here's what I don't understand: If a town passes a law allowing liquor by the drink, restaurants would be able to set up a bar and serve alcohol to their customers. The way I understand it, it is illegal in every state of the nation to serve a customer when they've had too much. Bartenders and servers have some pretty common sense rules about this and if Joe at the end of the bar has had too much, it's time to cut him off and call a cab.
But with brown-bagging, there is no such control. A fellow could walk into a place with a couple of quarts of Wild Turkey, inflicting acute alcohol poisoning upon himself and the only way to stop him would be to toss him out of the joint. Of course, he still has the booze and can get even more smashed, causing no end of trouble down the road.
I was surprised to read that up until 1986, bringing in a bottle to a restaurant wasn't prohibited at all until the state Supreme Court said that towns could regulate it. In Bell Buckle, the practice is up to the owner of the eating establishment. According to Wartrace's attorney, many of the anti-brown-bagging laws passed in various towns in Tennessee have been overturned for constitutional reasons.
Whenever the question of liquor by the drink is raised in small southern towns, the result is predictable. Church groups protest, saying that it will lead teens to drink, a lowering of moral standards, etc. But the practice is strictly regulated and there are serious penalties if a bartender does serve a minor. He or she can even be sued and held responsible if they serve an obviously impared person that causes an accident down the road.
That's not the case with brown bagging. The amount of consumption and the strength of the drink is up to the person enjoying the spirits.
So why does our state law allow an unregulated type of alcohol consumption go on in public places with little to no control while making it more difficult for a town to pass a law that allows someone to supervise and cut off the supply when someone has had too much to drink?