Harrington: What Being Stung By the Department of Liquor Control Taught Me

Heady Vermont Staff 15 Feb 2018

Tl; dr — I bartend and because I’m trained and know the consequences, when the state sends an underage kid to buy alcohol, they get turned away and we all get a reminder that regulation works.

True story: even though Heady Vermont is growing (see Luna our latest staff addition) and picking up new subscribers, followers and members every day, like many other Vermonters, I still work a few other gigs.

One of them is as a certified bartender at a Burlington taproom where I tend bar and host a trivia night every other Thursday.

To serve or sell alcoholic beverages in Vermont, you have to take a certification course and be registered through the Department of Liquor Control (DLC). You can complete the initial training course online (it’s $25) by reading the training materials and answering questions to prove you understand the laws.

The training includes a lot of acronyms to remind you to check IDs, give you strategies for spotting fakes and to avoid over serving people. As you can tell from the video and the online training booklet, it’s pretty basic stuff.

The single most important law for training purposes is the Dram Shop Law, which basically states that as the server, I am personally liable if I serve a minor or otherwise break the law.

So a few weeks ago when a young-looking pair of ladies came in the bar, I asked for some backup ID and then I laughed at myself since they were both 24 — everyone under 28 looks young to me these days.

A few hours later, a nervous and even younger-looking girl came into the bar and asked for a beer without looking at a menu. I asked her for an ID and thought about how weird it was she didn’t bother looking at the beer list — it’s a brewery taproom, that’s the whole point — and then I did a double-take when she pulled out a vertical format Vermont ID with the date: 4/20/1998.

I paused and triple-checked my math, using my fingers to confirm that this young lady is currently 19 and just tried to buy a beer as a minor.

“I’m sorry, I can’t serve you” I said and handed her the ID, “You’re only 19.”

She said “Okay” with a hint of relief  before turning and walking quickly out of the bar.

Before I processed why the girl acted so odd and tried to buy an underage beer by herself, a tall, soldierly DLC agent walked into the bar and up to the counter.

“Hi I’m from the Department of Liquor Control, we’re conducting a compliance check,” he said.

“Yes, I can see that,” I responded.

“Do you have your server certificate?”

“Sure thing, no problem.”

As I’m grabbing the binder that holds our laminated server licenses, the agent asks me if we have our designated driver poster displayed on the wall. I point around the corner to the various required signs and the agent takes a picture of my certificate.

“I’m taking a picture of your certificate so I can contact your employer and let them know that you passed the compliance check and that you’re all set,” he said.

“Great, thank you. Honestly the girl you sent in was super young-looking. It wasn’t as tricky a test as I would’ve expected from a DLC sting,” I told the agent.

“You’d be surprised,” he told me, “The previous three places didn’t bother to ask for her ID.”

“Wow, well good thing you guys are out there giving people a reminder. I bet they won’t make that mistake again,” I said.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the lesson of this allegory is obvious: we know how to regulate substances, and we could easily set up a taxed-and-regulated adult-use marijuana program.

From my own recent personal experience of successfully being regulated — and proving myself responsible enough to legally serve an intoxicating and sometimes deadly substance — the equation seems pretty clear.

Regulation works if:

  • You have an effective, accessible, educational, training program.
  • You make trained workers and employers personally liable so that at the point-of-sale, there’s no incentive to serve minors.
  • You occasionally test the system, and when there are mistakes penalties are in place to punish and deter.

I understand pretty well how much the legislature doesn’t want to talk about taxation and regulation, but with Rick Steves visiting Vermont and renewed attention and energy for more cannabis reform, it’s a good time to remind our legislators that we’ve got plenty of time left in the 2018 session.

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