Throwback Thursday: The Massachusetts Happy Hour Ban Turns 30

Many happy returns?

Happy hoursimage by Ambernectar on Flickr

Happy hoursimage by Ambernectar on Flickr

On December 11, 1984, Massachusetts became the first state to ban happy hours. Specifically, a regulation went into effect that banned changes in the price of alcoholic drinks at any point during a calendar week.

That means this week marks 30 years since Massachusetts residents have enjoyed a 2-for-1 wine special. The ban came at a time when the country was looking to combat drunk driving in a bunch of ways. Massachusetts took other measures, too, like raising the legal drinking age from 20 to 21.

Though other states debated eliminating happy hour around that time, the policy didn’t really take off nationwide. At this point, the only other statewide ban is in Utah—a state that also bans kegs.

Happy hour’s supporters argue that it is an unfair restriction, and an unnecessary one now that public awareness of drunk driving has increased. Opponents say it will elicit another spike in drunk driving accidents. Among the more surprising groups that support the ban are representatives of the restaurant industry. Those organizations don’t mind eliminating the need to compete on price by cutting into their margins.

But unlike lower drinking ages, happy hours are still going strong in surrounding states, making it hard for them to fade into the past here at home. This means the ban has periodically reignited a debate. In 2011, Senator Robert Hedlund offered an amendment to the casino bill that would have eased restrictions on drink specials at bars and restaurants. (Casinos have looser rules about giving away drinks.) The measure failed, which means that unless something changes, the happy hour ban is going to have many happy returns.