Alcohol abuse in rural Alaska is a prevalent, and persistent problem. Alcohol abuse, not illegal drugs, is the primary cause of violent crime in rural Alaska.
Almost 30 years ago the Alaska legislature passed a local option law designed to help communities combat alcohol abuse, and the related problems of fetal alcohol syndrome, domestic violence, sexual abuse, suicide, accidental deaths, juvenile crime, and violent crime.
The provisions of the local option law are complex, in part because the regulations have been amended over time, but the essence of the law states that communities can hold elections to decide whether they will be designated a dry, damp or wet community. In a dry community, alcohol is prohibited. It cannot be legally imported, produced, sold or consumed within the community by anyone. Of the 200 or so isolated, rural towns and villages in Alaska, approximately 136 have voted to become dry.
The hub communities in rural Alaska, such as Barrow, Bethel, Kotzebue, and Dillingham provide medical, social, legal, and transportation services to the smaller villages in their region. Most of the hub towns are damp. This means limited amounts of alcohol can be imported for personal use. Each community sets its own limits for the type and amount of alcohol that can be imported, and determines the penalties for violations. In most communities illegally importing or selling alcohol is a class C felony.
Larger towns such as Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau are wet. These communities have liquor stores, grocery stores that sell beer and wine, and restaurants and bars that serve alcohol. Retailers in these communities are required to know and obey the local option laws when shipping alcohol to rural communities. Recently, a statewide database that tracks alcohol purchases and shipments to damp communities has been established. It is hoped the database will catch offenders who order from multiple suppliers in order to violate importation limitations.
Bootlegging and Smugglers
Though the local option provision has been in place for several years, alcohol abuse remains a prevalent problem in the bush due to bootlegging and smuggling. The Alaska State Troopers Drug and Alcohol Report explains that these are very lucrative crimes. A bottle of liquor costing only $10 in an urban liquor store will sell for $50 in a damp hub-town like Kotzebue or Barrow, and more than $150 a in a dry village like Point Hope or Selewick.
The short answer for my job is that if I or my techs travel into the Bush for work, we avoid taking alcohol with us.
For hunting or fishing trips, I tend to be very discrete with anything I pack.