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Alaska Town Ends Alcohol Ban


January 1996

Barrow, Alaska residents voted to overturn their ban on alcohol in a November referendum (Hugh Dellios, "Bitter Battle Over Booze," San Francisco Examiner, November 12, 1995, p. A12).

As was reported in the January 1995 issue of NewsBriefs, Barrow residents narrowly approved a total ban on alcoholic beverages in November 1994, a move designed to wipe out alcohol-related violence and public disturbances ("Alaska Town Bans Alcohol," NewsBriefs, January 1995, p. 13).

The campaign against the ban was led by the Barrow Freedom Committee, whose members say it infringed on personal freedom. "People who live here should be entitled to the same rights and privileges as anybody else, without being made to feel like a criminal," said committee Chairman Tom Nicholos.

Leading the charge in favor of the ban were the leaders of the town's Inupiat Eskimos, who represent about 60 percent of the population. They point to the devastation and death that resulted from the introduction of alcohol into their communities. "The graveyard is full of young men who died as a result of alcohol," said Beverly Hugo, an Inupiat. "Where is the Barrow Freedom Committee when we hold the funerals?"

The Sober Life Movement, a group of Inupiats in support of the ban, say felony assaults dropped by 86 percent, fights by 61 percent, and drunken driving by 79 percent after the ban took effect. "We had peace in Barrow for a year, and it was wonderful," said Samuel Simmonds, one of the Inupiat elders. "Now, once again alcohol will be a curse."

Two people have applied for a liquor license, but until a lawsuit about the election in resolved, there will be no bars in Barrow.

The town, now with a population of 4,000, is in the northernmost tip of Alaska. Between November 18 and January 24 there is no sunlight and the temperature can sometimes be as low as 50 degrees below zero. The residents decided in the 1970s to close all bars and liquor stores. But the total ban, which took effect on November 1, 1994, was the first time possession or importation for personal use was made illegal.