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Our View: Dickinson should improve liquor laws, increase licenses

For years, Dickinson has been somewhat divided over its liquor license limits.

One of the biggest sticking points on this issue has long been the connection between the number of licenses the city allows and its perceived connection to underage drinking and our youth's access to alcohol in the community—a worry only exacerbated by recent failures by 34 percent of businesses who underwent alcohol-compliance checks.

Now, first-year City Commission President Scott Decker wants the city to fix both both issues.

Dickinson has 18 on-off sale liquor licenses—a term that basically applies to bars and, according to city code, is limited by the city's population. It also has an unlimited number of licenses for hotels with 75 rooms or more, and restaurants whose sales are at least 51 percent food. There are unlimited beer and wine or beer-only licenses, and the city has the ability to issue microbrewery licenses. Of course, all of those establishments must meet the city's legal guidelines to obtain and retain their licenses.

Lately, some of these businesses haven't been living up to their end of the bargain.

According to the city administrator's office, 46 businesses in Dickinson own liquor licenses—many of which are restaurants. In recent alcohol-compliance checks, nine of 26 businesses who sell alcohol—bars, liquor stores, restaurants and fraternal organizations were all checked—served to minors.

This has sparked worry in the community, and among Dickinson leaders.

Decker has long advocated for relaxing the restrictive and very monopolous on-off sale liquor license law as a means of opening up commerce, competition and the free market for entrepreneurs and first-time business owners. But first, he believes the city needs to improve alcohol compliance. This is the right approach.

Decker and City Commissioner Sarah Jennings said this week they'll head up a group that includes Dickinson bar and restaurant owners aiming to clean up language in the city's outdated alcohol-compliance laws. There are 25 pages of code pertaining to "Alcoholic Beverages."

Decker and others believe some of that code is outdated.

Once updating of the city's alcohol code is complete, Decker wants city leaders to start focusing on relaxing its on-off sale licenses.

Currently, to buy a liquor license means one has to buy a business. There is no way for a person who wants to own their own small, hole-in-the-wall bar to do so without nearly going bankrupt before ever opening their doors.

Because there is a limit of 18 liquor licenses for bars, when one license is up for sale, it goes to the highest bidder—and in some cases we've seen that the highest bidder is often a person or group that already owns a liquor license. That makes Dickinson's liquor licenses a monopoly open only to those with vast financial means. The little guy stands no chance.

Opening up the liquor licenses allows people who want to open a business the chance to do so.

There will be those who paid exorbitant dollars for their own liquor licenses who will not like this, mainly because of how much they paid for theirs and the added business competition that's sure to follow.

But the end results will be positive for Dickinson, which remains a remains a growing city despite the energy industry's abrupt slowdown.

And when a city grows, free-market competition vastly outweighs monopolistic policies.