Bar owner: 'There isn't a rational reason except to inhibit business growth in the state'
Every year, Ashley's restaurant in Westland holds a Belgian Beer Festival that highlights more than 60 different Belgian drafts.
Ashley's owner Jeff More says that due to state laws and regulations that date back to the Prohibition Era, he pays twice for glasses with Belgian logos on them and can only use the glasses for the 11 days of the festival.
More said the kegs are shipped with the special glasses to beer distributors in Michigan and the price includes the cost of the glasses. But because of an archaic state law, Ashley's also has to pay the distributor for the glasses. That's because the state's "aid and assistance" law prevents any vendor from providing anything of value for free to any wholesaler, manufacturer, grocery bar or tavern.
On the final day of the festival, all the glasses with logos have to be removed from the bar, which More said requires a truck.
"I paid for it," More said. "Shouldn’t I get to use it?"
The restrictions are part of the convoluted laws and regulations that are being debated in Lansing and involve the distribution of alcohol in Michigan.
A bill from Sen. Joe Hune, R-Hamburg, would add to the state's alcohol laws. He introduced Senate Bill 505, which would prevent manufacturers and wholesalers from giving vendors any item that has advertising on it for the use of anything but advertising. For example, a manufacturer couldn’t provide a bar with a beer mug with a Bud Light logo on it or a napkin with the Jack Daniels logo.
In fact, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission has a rule that doesn't allow bars to have beer glasses or napkins with logos on their premises. If SB 505 passed, the bill would make law of the liquor commission's current rule.
Michigan didn't even allow bars to put up illuminated advertising signs until Attorney General Mike Cox issued an opinion in 2004 that said the ban was unconstitutional and an infringement of the First Amendment.
Andy Deloney, chairman of the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, said the liquor commission is going to look at the commission's bar logo rule, which some think may have spurred the legislation.
But he said even if the MLCC allowed barware with logos, the state's "aid and assistance" law still would apply and not allow establishments to receive free barware with logos on them. The restaurants and taverns would have to buy those items.
According to The National Alcohol Beverage Control Association's 2012 survey, Michigan and Kentucky are the only states that prohibit any "retail merchandising specialties." But several states have varying stipulations about what is allowed. For example, in Ohio, barware advertising is allowed but items can't be valued at more than $25 each. In Illinois, advertising on barware is allowed but the restaurant or bar much purchase it.
More said Ashley's was able to get the glassware with logos for its festival because the state made a rare exception. He said he disagrees with the state's restrictions.
"There isn't a rational reason (for the restrictions) except to inhibit business growth in the state," More said. "If you are a beer distributor and you don't want to give away free beer ware, then don’t do it."
Troy Tuggle, spokesman for Sen. Hune, didn't respond to a request for comment.
Mike Lashbrook, president of the Michigan Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association, didn't respond to an email seeking comment.
Here is a video explaining Michigan's convoluted three-tiered distribution system: