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Blumenauer vs. Beer

Why does Portland’s congressman vilify one of Oregon’s most successful industries?

1:59 PM, Jun 3, 2014 • By ETHAN EPSTEIN
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Like many supporters of marijuana law reform, Democratic congressman Earl Blumenauer of Oregon makes his case for legalizing pot by...talking about how terrible alcohol is. A marijuana legalization “FAQ” posted on the congressman’s official web page informs readers not only that “marijuana is less addictive than alcohol,” but also that:

· Approximately 80,000 people a year die related to excessive alcohol use.

· Over 10,000 people a year are killed in alcohol-impaired driving accidents.

· Alcohol can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, general poor health, and antisocial and often illegal behavior that includes violence.

Of course, these statistics, whether true or not, are utter non sequiturs: The health effects of drinking have absolutely no bearing on whether marijuana should be legal or not. Blumenauer and his ilk are making an argument for alcohol prohibition, not marijuana legalization. (It's one of the odder tics of pro-marijuana forces is that many of these ostensible freedom fighters take a positively prohibitionist attitude towards boozing.)

But Blumenauer’s bashing of the demon drink is particularly striking given that his district includes Portland, the nation’s craft beer capital. There are more breweries in Portland than in either Munich or Milwaukee. The Oregon beer industry as a whole, which is centered in Portland, employs more than 6,000 people and contributes nearly $3 billion to the state’s economy each year. Oregon’s two senators, Democrats Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, have championed the industry. I can attest that even in Portland’s seediest dive bars, one can find locally produced–and mostly delicious–small-batch craft tipples. It’s little wonder that Portland has earned the moniker "Beervana."

Does Blumenauer think these local brewers, which have been lauded in the New York Times and elsewhere, are responsible corporate citizens? Or, as his web page implies, are they complicit in the death of tens of thousands of Americans? It’s hard to say, because the congressman’s office wouldn’t respond* to a request for comment.

Nonetheless, Blumenauer’s anti-alcohol sentiments may not be well received among Portland’s craft brewers. "[It’s] unfair and incorrect to say alcohol is only negative on public health,” Scott Lawrence of Breakside Brewery in Northeast Portland tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD. “I think overall [drinking] has a positive impact amongst my friend group and the folks I come in contact with daily.”  A sentiment worth toasting–despite (or perhaps because of!)--what Portland’s puritanical congressman might think. 

* UPDATE: Rep. Blumenauer responds through his spokesman:

“The fact that alcohol kills more people than marijuana isn’t up for debate. But, that in no way means that alcohol can’t be enjoyed responsibly. I’ve spent years working with the world-class brewers, wine growers, distillers, and cider makers around Portland and Oregon and have found them to be motivated and active partners in the effort to curb problem drinking, and drinking and driving, especially among minors. Prohibition didn’t work for alcohol and it’s not working for marijuana. It’s time for sensible policies.”

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