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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Friday, September 29, 2023

Ban alcohol sales to chronic abusers

Alcohol policy in Madison is rarely simple, straightforward or one-size-fits all. Any proposed policy must be thoroughly vetted in terms of its impact on students, bar owners, police and the general community. This is a city that demands public participation in such decisions and should not be one that unfairly singles out a particular constituency for inappropriate burdens on personal rights.

Yet one small segment of the population needs to be held accountable for the disproportionate effect they have on city resources. Roughly 100  to 150 chronic street alcoholics have been costing the city untold amounts of time and money, causing some officials to endorse a plan to ban retailers from selling such individuals alcohol within the city.

The proposed law would create a list of habitual offenders who were either taken to detoxification treatment six times or arrested and convicted of a crime committed while drunk six times in the last 180 days, or a combination of the two criteria. It would ban liquor suppliers from selling them alcohol and impose a $500 fine on those who sell to banned persons. Albeit, the bill is tight when dealing with liquor stores, it would not stop residents from drinking in bars or restaurants.

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We stress that the law is not targeted at students, but rather the small group of individuals taken to detox in visits that sometimes number in the double digits. Any policy of this kind must avoid the contentious issues of underage drinking or house-party violations and remain focused on the frankly dangerous element of the population. This bill is a common-sense answer to a problem that cannot be allowed to continue. It is true that if they are truly desperate, these individuals will likely be able to obtain alcohol in Madison. But this is a small and necessary step towards saving the city's already thin resources.

We believe it is ludicrous for police officers to spend multiple hours in a week taking such habitual offenders to detox only to have them repeat the process a few days later. This wastes time and money that could be better spent ensuring the safety of all residents, including students. Green Bay implemented a similar policy in the 1990s and has seen a significant decrease in problem offenders using up city services.

The ban list should not be seen as discriminating against the city's homeless population, as the potentially banned individuals do not represent that population as a whole, nor are they necessarily homeless. If anything, such people create an unfair stereotype of homeless individuals and need to be offered the sort of long-term treatment that breaks them out of this cycle of abuse.

We call on the Common Council and community leaders to strongly support this plan when it is debated in the coming months. Anything less would be an insult to taxpayers and downtown residents.


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