South Carolina’s alcohol problems aren’t going away. A new Palmetto Family Council report sheds light on the issue and the causes.

As alcohol access has skyrocketed in South Carolina over the past two decades, problems associated with alcohol use haven’t gone away according to a new report published by Palmetto Family Council.

The report – which examines the accessibility of alcohol in South Carolina and the effects alcohol consumption has on the Palmetto State – outlines several startling statistics on the current state of alcohol use in South Carolina.

Alcohol Access Reaches All-Time High

One of the easiest ways to gauge access to alcohol is to review the number of licenses approved by the South Carolina Department of Revenue (SC DOR). SC DOR oversees the regulation of alcohol permits in South Carolina, and any restaurant or business that wishes to sell alcohol must first obtain permission from SC DOR. Upon examining the different categories of alcohol licenses, the report found that the number of alcohol licenses issued by the South Carolina Department of Revenue has risen steeply by 38% since 2000.

Additionally, South Carolina ranks third and fourth in the South for the number of bars and liquor stores per capita, respectively. Nationally, only six cities rank higher than Myrtle Beach in bars per household. Further, South Carolina owns three of the six Southern cities in the top 100 for liquor stores per household.

Relaxed Alcohol Laws

The report found that the South Carolina General Assembly focuses much of its valuable attention on constantly tinkering with the Palmetto State’s alcohol policies. This has led to confusion on how to interpret and enforce new alcohol laws – laws that are often poorly written.

The evidence speaks for itself. A bill introduced several years ago intended to streamline the alcohol permitting process for non-profits, but inadvertently took out eligibility for everyone else. Sections of other pieces of legislation that passed in the House drew criticism from supporters of looser alcohol laws because they were so poorly drafted.

Beyond the quality of alcohol legislation, the report highlights the quantity of alcohol related legislation being introduced and passed. Since 2009, 124 bills concerning alcohol policy have been introduced in the South Carolina Legislature. 25 of those bills have been signed into law.

The report found that the pace at which alcohol legislation has been introduced and passed has slowed in recent years; however, well-funded lobbyists and well-connected legislators continue to work the statehouse every session.

Higher Access Leads to Higher Consumption, Consequences

With more and more access to alcohol, the Palmetto State’s alcohol-related problems aren’t going away. According to the report, South Carolina remains one of the most dangerous states for drunk driving. In 2013, 44 percent of all traffic fatalities were drunk driving related. Over 17,000 Driving Under the Influence (D.U.I.) arrests were made in 2015 alone.

Binge drinking has seen a troubling jump in recent years. The report discovered that as recently as 2015, the Palmetto State had the 11th fewest amount of binge drinkers. However, as of 2017, South Carolina’s ranking fell to 25th – a significant jump in a two-year span. Its ranking also ties South Carolina with Louisiana as the worst Southern state in terms of binge drinking.

College campuses are being affected by access to alcohol, and two high profile South Carolina public universities are seeing the problem increase.

Coastal Carolina University recorded the “highest total number of reported per-capita liquor law violations in the United States” among colleges and universities with more than 10,000 students. With the number of students being hospitalized for alcohol-related conditions growing by 158 percent in just one year, the University of South Carolina is also grappling with how to curb dangerous alcohol habits. The report noted that USC has also realized a higher percentage of sexual assaults linked to alcohol use among its students.

The Report’s Impact

Palmetto Family Council hopes the report will come as a warning to South Carolina lawmakers.

It comes in the wake of a recent ruling by the South Carolina Supreme Court in Retail Services & Systems, Inc., d/b/a Total Wine & More v. South Carolina Department of Revenue and ABC Stores of South Carolina that has opened the door for hard liquor to not just be sold at liquor stores, but also in hundreds of discount retailers, big box stores and even grocery stores across South Carolina. The ruling will stand if the South Carolina General Assembly does not act to clarify the statue under question as required by the Court.

At the very least, the report should give pause to South Carolina senators considering opening the door to more access to alcohol in the Palmetto State.

Briley Hughes

Briley Hughes

Communications Director

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