Alaska editorial: Village alcohol bans need cooperation and compliance

Posted: Thursday, June 11, 2009

The following editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

Many of the liquor bottles set out for public display at the Fairbanks airport last weekend bore an odd adornment: duct tape.

The extra decoration helps illustrate how difficult it is to stop the bootleggers who smuggle the bottles into Alaska communities that have banned such importation.

At the Big Pour on Saturday, law enforcement officers, recovering alcoholics, elected leaders and other officials poured the confiscated alcohol into 55-gallon drums.

To open some of the bottles, they first had to peel off the duct tape.

Bootleggers tape the bottles after opening them. They open the bottles, almost all of them plastic, to "burp" them. By squeezing the bottle until liquid approaches the rim and then tightly replacing the lid, air in the bottle is removed. Without air, the bottles do not make a telltale gurgling sound when moved or shaken, making them less easily detected.

This well-known precaution is far from the most devious of methods used by bootleggers. It is just one of the challenges for law enforcement officers and others who try to stop the flow of alcohol to communities who have taken the local option to ban it.

The greater challenge - the greatest - is apathy. Too many people turn the other way when they see the alcohol flowing into villages.

The United States, as a nation, gave up its attempt to prohibit alcohol long ago. But some Alaska villages face a much more severe problem than the U.S. ever did. Their circumstances argue more convincingly for local solutions. Just as the nation as a whole believes some drugs are so dangerous they deserve prohibition, some villages believe alcohol must be banned. Alaska law gives them the option to do so.

As with other forms of prohibition, such bans are more imperfect than impermeable, but they do improve health statistics. Unless a community drops the bans or a court declares them unconstitutional, they are the law and should be respected and enforced.

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