Alcohol Justice, formerly known as the Marin Institute, was founded to “reduce consumption of alcohol and the many physical, mental, and societal harms that result.” The group styles itself as the “watchdog of the alcohol industry,” but actually focuses on policies that would limit all alcohol consumption, even responsible drinking. Alcohol Justice focuses on eliminating or severely limiting alcohol advertising, raising alcohol taxes, and banning specific types of alcoholic beverages.
Then known as the Marin Institute, named for Marin County, California, the organization focused its efforts on reducing alcohol-related harm until 2006. After that, the group became much more radical and declared itself the “watchdog of the alcohol industry.”
Alcohol Justice is funded by the Buck Trust. The Leonard and Beryl Buck Foundation (Buck Trust) was created in 1975 after Beryl Buck left $9.1 million to Marin County, California with the provision that it be used to serve the needs of the County residents. The organization also receives some funding from the California Endowment and individual donors.
Alcohol Justice’s record clearly points to an anti-alcohol agenda. For example, the group criticized the United States Food and Drug Administration for including alcohol in its dietary recommendations. Though the USDA bases its recommendations on a thorough review of current nutrition science and only recommends a relatively small amount of alcohol per week for healthy adults, Alcohol Justice claims that the guidelines would encourage greater daily consumption of alcohol, discourage appropriate caution about using alcohol for health benefits, and open the door for the alcohol industry to misrepresent federal alcohol consumption guidelines to consumers.
The organization also claims that no event can be deemed “family-friendly” if alcohol is involved in any way. The organization started several initiatives advocating the removal of alcohol company sponsors and alcohol sales from family-oriented events. Its “Free Your Festivals” initiative focuses on encouraging local and state fairs to remove any alcohol from their events. Even if fairs have a separate “21 and over” area for alcohol consumption, the mere presence of alcohol is too much for Alcohol Justice. The organization also has a “free the bowl” campaign, in which it invites users ages 10-25 to submit videos on ways to free the Superbowl from beer ads. Alcohol Justice argues that the ads market alcohol to children- though Superbowl advertisers see the game’s key demographic as adult males.
Despite Alcohol Justice’s claims, studies have found that alcohol advertising does not increase consumption. A study over a 20 year period conducted by researchers at the University of Texas found little relationship between the amount of money spent on advertising and the consumption of alcohol. And in a report to Congress, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services stated that there is no conclusive relationship between the amount of money spent on alcohol advertisements and alcohol consumption.
Alcohol Justice advocates hefty increases to the tax on alcohol to reduce consumption. Its “Charge for Harm” campaign advocates for legislation to increase alcohol taxes to pay for alcohol treatment services. Such taxes force responsible social drinkers to pay for the poor decisions of a relatively small percentage of consumers. Research from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism shows that alcohol tax increases have a limited impact on the heaviest drinkers. Instead, moderate and light drinkers are likely to scale back consumption when faced with higher prices.
Alcohol Justice has also produced many studies on alcohol consumption that have proven to be nothing more than fear-mongering.
In “The Annual Catastrophe of Alcohol in California,” Alcohol Justice claims that moderate-to-high alcohol consumption costs the state of California $38.4 billion per year, or roughly $1,000 for each of the state’s residents. Alcohol Justice uses this figure to argue for increased alcohol taxes so that consumers will be forced to pay for the “burden” they place on society. However, the authors greatly overestimate the costs associated with drinking. While Alcohol Justice assumes that some consumers have lower wages because of drinking and factor that assumption into the total figure of “costs to society,” the organization fails to recognize that recent research found that drinking actually increases the benefits derived from education and experience, leading to higher wages.