5 Stupid Alcohol Laws in Virginia

Antony Davies,

Release Date
May 12, 2015


Lobbying & Special Interests

Who knew “happy hour” was a banned term? Until 2014, it was illegal in Virginia for a bar to advertise “happy hours” or “drink specials” outside. Bar & restaurant owners still face onerous prohibitions on how they sell alcohol, from speaking about to serving it. Professor Antony Davies explains that these laws were made with noble intentions, such as as reducing drunk driving. Because regulators didn’t take into consideration the unintended consequences of their actions, however, these laws incentivize even more dangerous behavior.
Do you have more examples of crazy alcohol laws? Let us know in the comments!
For more information about the specific laws Professor Davies discusses, visit the links below:
1. It’s illegal to hold happy hours after 9pm.
2. Rules on where and how “Happy Hours” can be mentioned/advertised**.
3. No alcohol sales from 2am-6am.
4. Sale of alcohol in “novel” or “unusual” containers is prohibited.
5. Touching your own butt in a bar is against the law.

Unintended Consequences (Video):
Prof. Don Boudreaux explains what economists mean when they talk about unintended consequences.
Virginia bars will soon be able to tell you if they offer happy hour (Article): Washington Post writer Fritz Hahn’s piece from January 2014 about the relaxation of Virginia’s laws against advertising happy hours.

Antony:            Welcome to the first episode of Drunk Regulatory History, where we examine ridiculous alcohol laws.
Speaker 2:       Who are you?
Antony:            This week, we bring you the five dumbest alcohol laws in the state of Virginia. Here in Virginia, it is illegal to hold happy hours after 9 p.m.
Speaker 2:       Why do you hate happiness, Virginia?
Antony:            If you normally charge $5 for drinks, you can’t drop the price to $3 at 9 p.m.
Speaker 2:       You can’t just charge $3 all day for drinks.
Antony:            No, actually you could do that.
Speaker 2:       That’s dumb.
Antony:            Indeed, and this is the difference between a regulation’s intent and a regulation’s effect.
Speaker 2:       Someone went to college.
Antony:            The regulation’s intent is to reduce drunk driving by reducing the number of drinks people have after 9 p.m., but the regulation’s effect is to cause people to order many drinks at 8:55, drink them while the price is still low, then drive home drunk.
Speaker 2:       Virginia wants me to drink and drive?
Antony:            No, but the law intended to prevent you from drinking and driving ends up encouraging you to drink and drive.
Speaker 2:       You’re the scientist.
Antony:            Virginia not only restricts when bar owners can hold happy hours, but in what seems to be a clear violation of the First Amendment, tells them that they cannot use the words happy hours outside their establishments.
Speaker 2:       That can’t be true.
Antony:            It is, try it.
Speaker 2:       Come on down to the bar, where from 6 to 9, we will be having a happy …
Antony:            I told you.
Speaker 2:       Are you a wizard?
Antony:            Virginia also prohibits alcohol sales from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. Just like the 9 p.m. curfew on happy hour, this law ends up encouraging people who would otherwise buy alcohol between 2 and 6 a.m. to stock up at 1:55.
Speaker 2:       What time is it?
Antony:            Virginia oddly also prohibits the sale of alcohol in novel or unusual containers. The law specifically prohibits humorous representations, containers in the shape of something laughable.
Speaker 2:       No container shaped like Virginia alcohol laws.
Antony:            Bars in the state of Virginia are some of the most regulated businesses, no ifs, ands or buts.
Speaker 2:       Like a butt, like you can’t touch my butt.
Antony:            That’s actually true.
Speaker 2:       That was a joke.
Antony:            In Virginia, touching your own butt in a bar is against the law.
Speaker 2:       Butt in Virginia, you’re funny.
Antony:            How do we even get dumb laws like this? It’s because lawmakers aren’t considering the unintended consequences of the laws that they enact. When they write laws telling people what to do, they often overlook the fact that people will alter their behavior so as to get around the law without necessarily breaking it.
Speaker 2:       If you won’t let me touch my own butt in the bar, I’ll touch it outside.
Antony:            Sadly, well-intended laws often achieve results that are well, pretty dumb.
Speaker 2:       Hey you’re pretty too.
Antony:            Thankfully, that’s all the time we have for drunk regulatory history. Do you have a dumb liquor law where you live? If so, let us know in the comments section and we’ll see how it stacks up to the alcohol laws in the state of Virginia.
Heywood:        Virginia, we heard you loud and clear, and in hindsight, the whole happy hour thing was pretty dumb. We have amended the law. You may now use the phrases happy hour and drink specials, but no other alcoholic beverage related phrase can be promoted within that timeframe. Also, the word discounted may not be used. The specific type of drinks may not be listed. The discount amounts cannot be promoted and 2 for 1 drink specials or unlimited alcoholic beverages are still totally illegal anytime, any place. Fixed it.
Speaker 2:       Do you have dumb liquor laws in your area that seem pretty dumb? Write a thing below.