Day #034: Allow open containers in public

If detrimental behavior is already illegal, why ban consuming alcohol in public?

Inspired by Michael Bierut’s 100 Day Project, 100 Days to a Better RVA strives to introduce and investigate unique ideas to improving the city of Richmond. View the entire project here and the intro here.

  • Idea: Allow open containers on the streets of Richmond.
  • Difficulty: 4 — State law would have to change, and politicians gain little political capital from lessening laws on alcohol.

It is legal in Richmond to have an open container in an automobile provided it is not in reach of the driver and the driver is sober. Meanwhile it is illegal to drink in public–and porches are often interpreted as the public.

The asymmetry and inconsistencies of Virginia’s alcohol laws are plentiful. The Virginia ABC controls everything from revenue breakdowns between food and alcohol to whether it’s legal to play games while drinking in a bar.

It’s time for law enforcement to focus on the detrimental behavior of people who are drinking instead of the actual act of consuming alcohol. This would allow responsible individuals the legal right to consume alcohol in some of Richmond’s most enjoyable or convenient places:

  • The married couple who wants to enjoy a glass of wine while watching the sun set from the end of Oregon Hill.
  • The neighbors who want to share a Legend Brown Ale while porch-sitting on a Sunday afternoon.
  • The VCU senior who wants a to-go cup for her drink instead of being forced to chug it as her friends run out the door in Shockoe Bottom.

The act of drinking alcohol is detrimental to one person: the drinker. It’s the behavior of people drinking that negatively affects society, and, with the exception of impaired driving, sober people are capable of behaving the same way. Fortunately, we have individual laws to deal with all of these problems.1

It is against the law to litter. It is against the law to swear, fight, and be disorderly. It is against the law to be drunk in public. It is against the law to drink and drive. It is basically already against the law to be a nuisance when sober. So what is the advantage of involving alcohol laws?

As much as I think a responsible person should legally be allowed to brown bag a Hurricane and walk down the street, this is really a bigger discussion about the design and enforcement of our laws. What role do preventive laws have in our society? What is the burden of proof when creating preventative laws?

The arguments are ripe with attribution error. Open containers lead to littering–but maybe the kind of people who drink are simply predisposed to littering. “Public boozing equates to neighborhood decline“–but maybe already failing neighborhoods attract residents less willing to follow current laws.

In practice there would still be some limitations. Koozies or brown bags should be used on cans. Glass would be against the rules. Drinking after 2:00 AM wouldn’t be allowed.

People who drink alcohol do plenty of detrimental things to society. Fortunately all of those detrimental actions are already illegal. The ban on the public consumption of alcohol limits the ability of responsible drinkers to engage in plenty of safe activities without adversely affecting society. While it will be an uphill battle, giving people this right is a worthy pursuit.

Love this idea? Think it’s terrible? Have one that’s ten times better? Head over to the 100 Days to a Better RVA Facebook page and join in the conversation.

Photo by: ereyesleblanc

  1. Political activist Matthew Davey is making an economic argument. He argues that allowing public consumption of alcohol in an “RVA Regulated Entertainment District“. His argument is based on Savannah, Georgia which allows open containers in designated areas of the city. 
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Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams loves music, basketball (follow @rvaramnews!), family, learning, and barbecue sauce.

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