Gainesville May Legalize Public Alcohol Drinking

Gainesville, Florida, USA Downtown Cityscape – Courtesy: Shutterstock – Image by Sean Pavone

Home to the University of Florida, Gainesville may begin to allow people to drink from open containers in public places legally, such as sidewalks.

Reports state that the city commission is planning a vote on late Monday evening on whether to allow open drinking on city right of way or property. If the measure passes, a second commission approval would be needed to make it official. 

In September, Gainesville adopted a similar temporary rule in response to the business depression caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. That same ordinance allows businesses to serve alcohol in outdoor and public spaces. 

The goal was to support restaurants during the pandemic, not only by increasing their sales but by keeping customers outside instead of crowding them indoors where the spreading and risk of contracting the virus is much higher.

The measure that is currently up for a vote would make that specific ordinance permanent. It would not affect any laws against open drinking while driving. 

“I support the change because (banning public drinking) serves no real purpose and has the potential to be used against poor and minority neighbors,” Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe said.

“We’ve had open containers for a year now and there haven’t been any issues,” said Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos. “And we shouldn’t have laws on the books that are there just to mess with people. We have laws currently for drunk and disorderly, for disorderly conduct, so if you do something that is a negative impact to society, then we can take action.”

Hayes-Santos stated that police have used open-container laws to prosecute individuals with fewer means.

“The original intent of these (open-container) laws was for ways for police to arrest people,” he said. “They were put in place as a way to arrest homeless people. That is one of the main reasons they are put into effect. And there are disproportionate impacts to lower-income individuals in our community.”

Before the temporary ordinance went into effect, Gainesville police say they issued approximately 60 public drinking citations. In 2019, nine citations were issued, while in 2020, only four were given. 

“We are not issuing this citation a lot,” said Graham Glover, spokesperson of the Gainesville Police Department.

Glover stated that in 2018, the charge for violating open-container laws was altered from a criminal citation to a civil citation. 

Back in May, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a state bill permanently allowing the sale of alcoholic drinks to go. This also began because of the pandemic. 

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