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Alaska Town Bans Alcohol


January 1995

Barrow, Alaska residents have approved a total ban on alcoholic beverages, a move designed to wipe out alcohol-related violence and public disturbances (Ian Mader, The Sun (Baltimore), Dec. 19, 1994, p. 2A).

Barrow, population 3,469, which is in the northernmost tip of Alaska, decided in the 1970s to close all bars and liquor stores. But this is the first time it has voted to make possession or importation for personal use illegal. By margins of 605-596 residents voted against possession and by 614-588 against importation. The ban took effect on Nov. 1, 1994.

Proponents of the measures say that more people participate in community events and incidents of domestic disturbance have fallen off. The Inuits, who account for about 61 percent of Barrow's population, have been trying for years to ban alcohol. About 80 Inuit communities in Alaska have already done so.

Those against the alcohol ban in Barrow say that without alcohol there is nothing to do during the long winters. Between Nov. 18 and Jan. 24 there is no sunlight in the northernmost tip of Alaska and the temperature can sometimes be as low as 50 degrees below zero.

"If someone comes to my home, it's nice to be sociable and be able to offer them a beer or glass of wine," said Tom Nicolos, a member of the Barrow Freedom Committee, which is fighting the prohibition.

Others are more concerned with preserving the new-found peace in Barrow. "Me and my wife -- we sleep like polar bears," said resident Samuel Simmonds. "We don't have to listen to all that commotion outside our window."