On the Bethel City Council agenda tonight is a ballot proposition that would ask voters to approve allowing just one store in Bethel to sell alcohol, and that store would be owned by the municipality.
The council is being asked to let the voters decide in the August primary. The community of about 6,300 people has the option to do this under a local option provision in Alaska Statute.
If it passes, it’s likely that the city-owned store could never face sanctions for selling to persons under the age of 21. Currently that is a Class C felony, but the city council is considering a second part of the ballot proposition that would eliminate the city’s liability.
The agenda item reads:
*Introduction Of Ordinance 18-01: A Ballot Proposition To Adopt Local Option, Alaska Statutes 04.11.491 (A)(3)(C), Prohibiting The Sale Of Alcoholic Beverages Except For A Package Store License Operated By The Municipality And Opt To Not Apply A Class C Felony To Violations Of Alaska Statutes 04.16.051, Furnishing Or Delivery Of Alcoholic Beverages To Persons Under The Age Of 21 AS 04.11.491(G)(3) (Council Member Forbes)
The City of Kotzebue already has a municipally owned and operated liquor store. Only residents of the city with a permit may buy alcohol there, or nonresidents who obtain a nonresident permit. Kotzebue is considered a damp community, where import of alcohol, even a bottle of champagne brought in by a friend on a plane, is illegal.
Dozens of communities in Alaska are either dry or damp, with different rules, many of which are listed here.
Bethel started commercial sale of liquor in 2016 after years of debate. It had been 40 years since the town had had a liquor store. As a hub community, it can serve many of the dry or damp communities that are within a snow-machine ride and this has brought social costs.
The Bethel Search and Rescue service has been strained to the breaking point since the liquor sales started 17 months ago.