Alcohol in the North: Costly in many ways

As a traveller or new resident to The North and more specifically, Tuktoyaktuk, the laws relating to Alcohol (spirits, wine or beer) take some real getting used to.   The first thought coming to mind, “Someone must be making a fortune bootlegging”.

To start, alcohol cannot be purchased anywhere within Tuk (technically).  There is a complete lack of businesses offering even a beer on the menu.  As a matter of fact there are no restaurants.  The only legal fashion would be traveling to Inuvik via 400$ plane ride during the summer months, traveling 170km by ice road in the winter or writing a fax and placing your order.  So, forget after work beer runs.

Yes, you can order your required alcohol supplies through fax.  Prepare for sticker shock.  As an example, in speaking with locals, the cost of 2 cases of 24 cans of beers, including shipping would cost just slightly less then $187.00, making the cost roughly $3.75.00 per beer!!!

In addition to the high cost of alcohol the Hamlet has instituted limits on how much a person of legal drinking age can possess.  Tuktoyaktuk will ONLY allow a person to possess, up to, 2 40oz bottles or 2 cases of 24 beer, at one time.  However, you are allowed to order this amount each day.  So lets clarify.  While only being allowed to possess the above-mentioned amount at any one time, you can order it 5 times per week.  Liquor store is not open on weekends.

Other communities attempt the  same type of legislation, some even more ‘Big Brother” in nature.  Kimmirut will allow you to place an order, however, you may be denied.

As you would expect, unintended consequences are readily on tap.

Why all this regulation?

All that is alcohol-regulation stems from the ill reaction to the stark realty of alcohol abuse in The North and Tuktoyaktuk.   Those misguided fellows/femmes believing centrally planned policies are the answer fail to see past their reactionary response, subsequently a myriad of unintended consequences take shape.

Those responsible for the above mentioned legislation are in clear need of a history lesson and a small lesson in Supply and Demand.  The remaining portion of this post will provide the reality ‘well intentioned’ regulations have brought on,  doing nothing but create wealth for some while amplifying the effects of an already serious issue.

The most effective way to observe the true effects of regulation, is to peer into the black market of a community.  A black market can provide insight into the confidence the citizens have in the place they live or be a good indicator of other significant information.    In this particular case, alcohol supply/demand.

Currently, a pint (or mickey) of spirits in Tuktoyaktuk will COST a buyer 100$.  The factors for this price include, scarcity, threat of law or risk and of course demand.

During the Spring and Summer months, the main mode of transportation to the closest community selling alcohol is by plane.  A round trip ticket currently cost approximately 400$.  A community such as Tuk does not possess a large number of resident able to afford this fee on a regular basis.  Therefore the number of residents able to access alcohol is reduced and so is the supply coming into Tuk.  What do we know about a product in demand in low supply?

As mentioned earlier, due to regulation, a person can only transport a specified amount into the community .  Therefore a person cannot even make the trip cost effective by buying for others and perhaps charging a small fee to make up for their travel costs.  Those enterprising individuals who do attempt to supply Tuk with alcohol run the risk of prosecution, thus requiring a higher return to make their efforts worthwhile.

And it goes without saying, if there were not demand, a seller could not possibly receive 100$ for his 400ml bottle of alcohol.  If this is not convincing enough, take into consideration prices drop in the Winter months when travel, by ice road, reduces the cost and increases the frequency a person may travel to purchase alcohol.  Taking out the middle man, as it were.

“Smuggling alcohol and bootlegging are common in dry and restricted communities and
intoxication and alcohol-related problems continue to be problems.” –Alcohol Problems and Approaches 2004, Page 35

By not having a local supplier, by limiting amounts combined with the higher cost of purchase, several unintended consequences come into play, multiplying the effects to direct and indirect victims by an enormous factor.

To get a true taste of how a community is effected by drugs, alcohol and the like, the most accurate source is the local Health Centre.  In speaking with employees at the centre in Tuk a different perspective is gained as to the unintended consequences of attempting to control alcohol abuse.

“The community’s ban on liquor came into effect on June 15, 2009. Bohnet said that’s when things took a turn for the worse.”  cbc.ca, May 7, 2013

There are social costs involved, when regulation drives activity underground.   A 100$ dollar bottle of alcohol has been transformed into something highly valuable.  The value of which exponentially grows when factoring in a larger bottle can cast as much as 300$.

As a result, a person’s mindset changes.  Instead of being placed into the cupboard or basement bar as a source for future drinks, all of the alcohol is drank in one night.  The value of this liquid has now become so distorted, should you lose site of it, someone from home or at a party will have likely taken it.  Unfortunately, the most effective way to avoid this, is to drink it all yourself….in one night, whether you can handle it or not.  In other words, whatever you were able to buy for the evening will be drank by the end of the night, regardless of quantity.

The distorted value of alcohol has therefore led to increased binge drinking.  The local health department indicates alcohol poisoning is common and so often is the case, increased sexual assaults;  Women drinking until the pass out, only to wake with their pants around their ankles with no knowledge of what happened is not out of the ordinary.

Allan from the show Two and Half Men said it best, “Hey! When the bar is only open nine months a decade you drink ’til you puke! …and then you keep drinking!

Alcohol regulation also fails to take into account the resourceful nature of humans.  Another nurse who possesses decades of experience in the north recounted, in conversations, how locals, if alcohol is not available, will begin to brew their own concoctions, which include, but are not limited to ingredients such as shoe polish.  The dangers of such elixirs are compounded when considering they brew such drinks in plastic garbage bags.  If this were not bad enough, their lack of willingness to wait for the product to ferment properly, results in the consumption of larger quantities.  Users drink more to make up for lack of potency.

The high price of alcohol has another consequence.  The 100$-300$ used to purchase the Black Market Alcohol has been taken from what it was intended, exacerbating an already poverty stricken environment.  All things being equal, would you rather an alcohol abuser take 15$ from his family to feed his problem or 100$-300$?

Interesting how perhaps the regulation legislating the amount of alcohol a person posses, while purported to act as a barrier to alcohol abuse, in realty, would seem to be legislation directed at the person enterprising enough to attempt making alcohol more accessible to their fellow towns people.  An open market, made up of competition would drastically reduce prices, therefore eliminating some issues created by High Price Alcohol.

Of course, forgotten in all this, is the creation of a new victim.  What of the person who is able to drink responsibly at dinner or while hosting guests.  Regulation has now effected another demographic.  As another unintended consequence, you potentially lay the ground work for a law abiding citizen to make use of an illegal service such as a bootlegger or you simply impose a tax on a individual for a flawed policy in the name of the “Greater good”.  A tax, not collected by the government to be used on roads, but rather providing a diverse income stream for the individual illegally retailing the banned substance.

There are many factors to consider when formulating a strategy to reduce alcohol abuse.  This post is not meant to provide the outright solution, but to simply point out popular measures such as alcohol restriction is a failed policy but great economics lessons.

Quite often policies are put in place by groups or individuals seeking results such as reelection and not because policy was thought through.

In a perfect example of the politician looking to score votes and not considering those pesky unintended consequences, one only needs to look at Prohibition Laws (Volstead Act) in the US.  With men off to war, politicians at the time played to the female vote, as they had just won the right to vote, and the Temperance Movement.  With a voter base often negatively effected by alcohol abuse, the result, naturally, was not only an election win, but an eventual increase in alcohol abuse, victims and the infusion of wealth to organized crime.

Based on being able to observe the current situation in one community and extrapolating conditions are the same else where, it would seem another major root cause to the alcohol abuse is the social welfare system in place.  While not meant to be discussed in this post, idleness created by an over generous welfare policy has sewn the seeds of destructive behaviour as opposed to directing energies elsewhere.

Food for thought

–a glass of scotch

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