Bring Happy Hour Back to Massachusetts

Last week, state Senator Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth) made waves when he proposed a controversial amendment to the casino bill that could ease restrictions on drink specials in Massachusetts. In short, the state’s restaurants and bars would have to follow the same liquor licensing regulations as the future casinos. If you put aside the legal mumbo jumbo, we have an exciting proposition: the return of happy hour.

Listen, I understand why the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission banned happy hour in 1984: Drunk driving was out of control. The deaths caused were incredibly tragic and sad. But really, haven’t we improved both our laws and our understanding of drunk driving in the past 27 years? The same year that the ABC approved the ban, President Reagan signed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which required states to raise the minimum drinking age to 21 if they wanted to keep their federal highway funding. At the time, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) was only a few years old; today, it’s a lobbying behemoth with annual revenues of more than $40 million and more than 6,000 volunteers. The collective national education on drunk driving is working: Over the past 20 years, the drunk driving fatality rate has decreased nationally by 44 percent. That’s an amazing victory, with untold lives saved.

But really, it’s time to start inching the anti-drinking pendulum back toward the middle. Today, unlike in the early 1980s, everyone knows the risks of drunk driving. There are strict laws against it, including a Governor Romney-signed bill that requires an ignition interlock device for repeat offenders. Meanwhile, the alcohol industry has seen a welcome resurgence, as craft distillers and brewers (not to mention winemakers) are turning out quality products, unlike the swill we were drinking in the ’80s. Today, craft brewing employs more than 100,000 workers, while locals Boston Beer Co. and Harpoon rank in the top 10 largest craft breweries in the country. Imagine how many more people would be willing to try new craft beers if they were on a happy hour special for $3 or $4 — instead of the current $6 or $7 standard. I’m not advocating that we toss away all our alcohol laws — just the ones that are unnecessarily restrictive. If casinos are allowed to give out free drinks — and for that matter, gambling is going to be legalized — we really ought to be able to get a $3 Harpoon IPA at the local pub.