Bethel Elimination of All Liquor Restrictions (October 2009)
The town of Bethel was considered a 'damp' community, meaning that the selling of alcohol within the city limits is prohibited but the citizens of the city are able to buy alcohol from Anchorage. This was put in place in order to act as a way to limit the amount of alcohol entering the 'dry' Yup'ik villages to which Bethel acts as the gateway.
The proposition on the ballot changed this, making it legal not just to possess but also to sell alcohol within Bethel's city limits. Supporters hoped that this would end bootlegging in the area. A similar measure is on the ballot in the city of Kotzebue in the Northwest Arctic Borough.
|Bethel Elimination of All Liquor Restrictions|
Election results from Bethel, Alaska, Votes To Allow Alcohol…And Votes…And Votes, January 2, 2010.
Supporters of the measure want to make it easier to purchase liquor in Bethel. A former council member warns that if the restrictions get any tighter that those people who want to drink alcohol will find alternative means to acquire it that may be even more dangerous than current practices. Also, some citizens of Bethal see the strict laws as ways of imposing unfair laws on them. Those in favor of the proposition are not all in favor of liquor store openings in the city. They see the ability for restaurants and clubs to be able to serve alcohol as a reasonable result.
The school board of the Lower Kuskokwim School District (LKSD) is a strong voice against this measure to lift the alcohol selling ban. They represent the city of Bethel but also 22 other villages in the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta. Their main idea is that if alcohol is legal, then the abuse by under age students would greatly increase in the area.
LKSD, one of Alaska's largest rural districts, covers about 22,000 square miles. The district has about 3,800 students in K-12, the majority of whom are of Yup'ik heritage. There are 352 teachers in the district, 25% of whom are Yup'ik.
Issues at stake
Alcohol abuse is a wide spread problem in the area, regardless of the restrictions. Voters continually vote against allowing liquor stores to open in the city, but this time around, the ballot question is just one of opting out of the local restriction on alcohol sales. But whatever decision is reached, the effect will be felt throughout the area since Bethel acts as a hub for so many other rural villages.
Bootlegging in Bethel
Alcohol bootlegging and smuggling in Bethel has attracted national attention, including a feature article in October 2008 in the New York Times.
- A fifth of R&R (Rich & Rare) sold for $10.00 in 2008 in Anchorage but for as much as $300 in Bethel.
- According to Jess Carson, a plainclothes investigator for the Alaska State Troopers, “Ninety-five percent of all bootlegged alcohol in the Bethel area is R&R, and because of that we tend to focus on it."
- Kotzebue Government Ownership of A Liquor Store Proposition (October 2009)
- Northwest Arctic Borough
- Local ballot measures about alcohol
- Website of the Lower Kuskokwim School District, which opposes the ballot measure.
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