Lifting or loosening restrictions on alcohol sales could lead to substantial increases in violent crime, according to research by Daniel Rees, Benjamin Crost and Mark Anderson. Their study of the impact of ”dry” counties legalising alcohol sales in Kansas is published in the June 2018 issue of the Economic Journal.

They find that a 10% increase in the issuance of on-premises liquor licenses to bars and restaurants can lead to a 3-5% increase in violent crime. When this is broken down by type of crime, they discover that opening a new drinking establishment in Kansas is associated with an additional 0.42 rapes, 2.5 robberies and 2.4 assaults.

The sale of alcohol for on-premises consumption was prohibited in Kansas until 1986, when voters approved a measure allowing counties to go from ”dry” to ”wet”. As of 1 July 1987, all bars and restaurants in 36 out of 105 counties in Kansas were permitted to sell beer, wine and spirits to the general public, with an additional 50 counties voting to become ”wet” between 1987 and 2011.

The researchers analyse county-level data for the period from 1977 to 2011 to explore the effect of allowing by-the-drink sales of alcohol. They show that legalising the sale of alcohol is associated with a 50-60% increase in the number of active on-premises liquor licenses being issued. Issuing an on-premises liquor license to a bar or restaurant is associated with 3.6 to 5 additional violent crimes per year – or a 119% increase relative to the average.

While completely ”dry” counties in the United States are now very rare, other more limited types of alcohol restriction still exist. For example, the state of Massachusetts only issues one on-premises liquor license per 2,000 residents, whereas in New Jersey it is one per 3,000 residents.

The authors conclude that lifting or loosening these types of restrictions could lead to substantial increases in violent crime.

Wet Laws, Drinking Establishments and Violent Crime” by D. Mark Anderson, Benjamin Crost and Daniel I. Rees

Mark Anderson

Montana State University | +1-406-366-0921 | dwight.anderson@montana.edu

Benjamin Crost

University of Illinois

Daniel Rees

University of Denver | Daniel.Rees@ucdenver.edu