Moderate consumption of alcohol can make the heart merry, but left unchecked, the spirits can lead their captives to sudden destruction. The Spirit Licence Act (the Act) provides for some amount of control to be exercised over the distribution and consumption of spirits.
“Spirits”, as defined by the Act, means any liquid containing alcohol as a product of distillation. Spirits therefore include rum, brandy, whisky, and all beverages whether purporting to be wine, beer, or other fermented liquors containing a greater proportion than forty percent (40%) of proof spirit.
Subject to exemptions, the Act prohibits the sale of spirits in Jamaica, either by wholesale or retail, except by persons duly licensed under the Act, or on their behalf by persons in their immediate employment. A person who sells spirits without being duly authorized to so do commits an offence and shall, on summary conviction, be liable to a penalty not exceeding five thousand dollars ($5000) or in default of payment thereof, to imprisonment with or without hard labour for a term not exceeding six (6) months.
The licences provided for under the Act are characterized based on factors such as the quantity of alcohol to be sold and the point of sale. A wholesale licence for example, entitles the holder to sell, at any one time, not less than two hundred and twenty-five (225) litres of rum, among other spirits. A town retail licence however, entitles the holder to sell spirits in any quantities not exceeding those permitted by the wholesale licence, but only at the location named in the licence and for consumption on or off the licensed premises. A town-off licence does not permit the consumption of spirits on the licensed premises. As for hotels and clubs, these are specifically provided for, as the hotel licence and club licence authorize the sale of spirits at these locations.
Adults are generally permitted to consume alcohol, but persons are not at liberty to get drunk and wreak havoc without restrictions. Reasonable steps must be taken to prevent drunkenness on licensed premises. It is an offence for a person holding a licence under the Act or who is the manager or actual keeper of licensed promises to, among other things:
- permit drunkenness or other disorderly conduct in the licensed house or premises;
- permit persons of notoriously bad character to assemble and meet together therein;
- supply spirits to a person who is already intoxicated; and
- permit or fail to use his best endeavours to prevent and put an end to any disorderly or improper conduct in his licensed house.
That person shall on summary conviction, for a first offence, be liable to a penalty not exceeding two hundred dollars ($200), and for any second or subsequent offence, be liable to a penalty not exceeding five hundred dollars ($500) and to having his licence forfeited. The fines might not be very threatening but the possibility that a person could lose his licence to sell spirits might be sufficient to discourage commission of the offence.
A person who is guilty of drunkenness, or other disorderly or improper conduct in any part of a licensed premises will also be liable on summary conviction to a penalty not exceeding three hundred dollars ($300), or to be imprisoned in any prison with or without hard labour for a period not exceeding thirty (30) days. However, as mentioned in the Supreme Court case of Lennox Gayle v Regina  JMSC Crim 1, this offence applies to conduct on a licensed premises, as opposed to in every public space. In the absence of written provisions that are aimed at restraining dangerous conduct resulting from alcohol consumption, we should feel personally convicted to not allow the spirits to cause harm to us and those around us.
The provisions of the Act are among the efforts to control the spirits and those under their influence, but they can do so much and no more. Consumers and suppliers of alcohol have a legal and moral duty to drink and distribute spirits responsibly.
Kimberley Brown is an attorney at Myers, Fletcher and Gordon and a member of the firm's Commercial Department. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the firm's website www.myersfletcher.com. This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.