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State Pre-Emption, Local Control, and Alcohol Retail Outlet Density Regulation

      Abstract

      The substantial health and economic costs of excessive alcohol consumption make its reduction a major public health and economic concern. The Community Preventive Services Task Force, based on a systematic review of the research literature, concluded that restricting alcohol retail outlet density through local land use and zoning regulations is an effective strategy for reducing these costs. Yet the implementation of the Task Force's recommendation is limited by state pre-emption, which determines the extent to which states allow local government to adopt policies and enact legislation. This article summarizes the state pre-emption doctrine, its status in the 50 states pertaining to alcohol retail outlet density regulation, and findings from state legal analyses conducted in six states. Data reflect state laws in effect as of January 1, 2012. Analyses were conducted during the 2012 calendar year.
      An examination of relevant state laws found five distinct pre-emption categories: exclusive state licensing, exclusive state licensing and concurrent local zoning, joint licensing, exclusive local licensing, and a mixed system. The analysis demonstrated wide variability across the states, ranging from exclusive state pre-emption to broad state delegation of authority to local governments. Pre-emption is applied differentially in many states based on retail outlet characteristics. In many cases, state pre-emption laws are ambiguous in terms of their application, leading to inconsistent and confusing court interpretations. Reforms targeting the adverse impact of state pre-emption on alcohol retail outlet density have the potential for reducing the harm associated with excessive alcohol consumption. State and local public health departments can support such reforms by implementing educational, analytic, monitoring, and technical assistance activities.
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      Linked Article

      • Law and the Public's Health: Science and Policies
        American Journal of Preventive MedicineVol. 44Issue 4
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          This issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine includes two articles that have a common theme, the role of law in policy initiatives to improve the public's health. In the first, by Mosher and Treffers,1 the subject is state pre-emption of local efforts to regulate the sites where alcohol beverages may be sold. The second, by Taber and colleagues,2 looks at the impact of state laws addressing the composition of school lunches on the intake of fruits and vegetables by youth.
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