New Mexico: Judge overrules Santa Fe ban on sale of alcohol minis
Source: Albuquerque Journal
By Edmundo Carrillo
October 6th, 2015
A Santa Fe district judge ruled Tuesday that the city could not prohibit sales of liquor in miniature bottles under state law.
The Santa Fe City Council passed an ordinance in April banning the sale of so-called “minis” of 8 ounces or less. The stated purpose of the measure was to cut down on street-side litter.
Liquor business owners said the ordinance, which was supposed to take effect Thursday of this week, would hurt sales and that for some stores minis make up a significant part of the sales volume.
Judge Sarah Singleton ruled that the city did not have the authority to impose such a ban, saying the New Mexico Liquor Control Act does not specify the sizes of the containers of booze that licensed alcohol vendors can sell and that state law supersedes the city ordinance.
“The licensees, under the state Liquor Control Act, have the authority to sell single miniatures for off-premise consumption,” Singleton said. “It is up to the state to determine what size of containers can be sold and not up to the city. I believe the city has overstepped what is permitted under the state statute.”
City spokesman Matt Ross said the City Council will discuss whether it will appeal the decision at the next council meeting, next Wednesday. He said Judge Singleton’s decision should not affect a liquor minis ban that took effect for businesses along Airport Road on the city’s south side in 2013, since that stretch of land sits in an “overlay district” with special land use regulations.
The City Council passed the citywide ban on miniatures, sponsored by Councilor Signe Lindell, on a 6-2 vote on April 8. City Attorney Alfred Walker said at Tuesday’s court hearing that because the state Liquor Control Act does not specify the sizes that are permitted for sale, Santa Fe had the right to ban sales of miniatures to reduce litter.
“The court will see that the city has the authority to address litter this way,” Walker said. “It (the Liquor Control Act) does not specifically permit the sale of these items. The Liquor Control Act is silent about litter, and it’s silent about the size of packages that may be offered for sale.”
Randy Bartell, who represents several Santa Fe alcohol vendors, argued Tuesday that the ordinance contradicted state law. He said that the city has the right to try to cut down on trash, but that an ordinance against sales of liquor minis is the wrong way to do it.
“Though the ordinance does articulate a purpose of litter control, even if it is a good and legitimate purpose, if it’s inconsistent with state law, it’s inconsistent,” Bartell said. “It’s not telling people what they can’t do with certain types of trash. It tells businesses what they can’t do with what can become trash.”
Lindell said that although Singleton’s ruling overturns a well-intended ordinance, she is happy that the council at least raised awareness of the littering problem, and she hopes citizens will think twice about where they throw their liquor bottles now.
“We’re disappointed,” she said. “We felt that it was something that would be good for the city, but at least we brought that topic forward. We are disappointed in the number of miniatures that are littered in the city.”