The state agency which oversees the sale of alcohol in the state is hosting its annual symposium today and tomorrow in Des Moines. Claire Celsi is the chair of the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division (ABD) commission. “We thought it would be great to once a year to get together with all the stakeholders — including the ABD staff, commission, law enforcement, the substance abuse treatment community and distributors — to talk about alcohol regulation, some of the problems and challenges that we face.  And how we can best solve them and bringing in some best practices from all over the country to do so,” Celsi says.

ABD spokesperson, Tonya Dusold, says there’s a little historical significance attached to this year’s event. “This winter marks the 80th anniversary of the repeal of national prohibition, which will be in December,” Dusold says. “And then Iowa followed suit and the 80th anniversary for Iowa will be in March of next year. So, a big milestone.”

Commissioner Celsi says a lot has changed with alcohol sales through the 80 years and more recently with the law change that allows hard liquor sales in convenience stores. “The distribution points for alcohol in the state have increased by quite a bit — over a third I believe — adding all the convenience stores in. So, it’s been a huge challenge for the division to wrap its arms around that and figure out how we’re going to efficiently distribute those spirits, yet still work with our partners, the communities to protect public health,” Celsi says.

Celsi says the ABD sees itself as a partner with the many local retailers who sell alcohol and that’s the approach they try to take. “To not only regulate, but to educate law enforcement and licensees as to best practices to help them comply with the law so that they can keep their liquor license and we can keep the public safe,” Celsi explains. “It really works well when you try to do it that way instead of just going in with an iron fist and trying to regulate. It works much better in a partnership format.”

The ABD’s Dusold says they have many things on the agenda beyond shop talk about licensing and regulations. “We are also featuring as our keynote speaker Andrea McCarren who is a noted television journalist and educator. She did a year-long investigation into underage drinking that drew international attention — and eventually threats to her own family,” Dusold says.

Dusold says they have people from across the state and the country attending what’s officially called “Symposium 21: Marking 80 Years of Alcohol Regulation in Iowa”  at the Embassy Suites hotel near downtown Des Moines.