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A Guide to Municipal Alcohol Policies

Background Information

Alcohol ranks second out of 26 risk factors for death, disease and disability - second only to tobacco.

Alcohol contributes to:

  • Cancers and other types of chronic disease
  • Injuries, trauma in families and the community, violence and social disruptions
  • Health inequalities
  • Significant economic costs

(Wettlaufer & Giesbrecht, 2013)

Durham Region Health Department works with municipalities to develop strategies that focus on building a culture of moderation and responsible use of alcohol. Municipalities have the ability to change local environments and attitudes around the social acceptability of alcohol in their communities. Such changes may result in:

  • Reduced alcohol consumption
  • Fewer harms and injuries related to alcohol use
  • Reduced liability for municipalities
  • Enhanced community safetyCity Hall

What is a municipal alcohol policy (MAP)?


  • Contains rules written by local governments to help protect the people in their communities from alcohol-related harms
  • Includes restrictions on where alcohol can be served and advertised on municipally owned parks and facilities
  • Contains information on how special occasion permits (SOPs) will be handled. Municipalities use SOPs as one time permits to allow a group or individual to run an event in an unlicensed location where they plan to sell alcohol for the event only
  • Must address activities that influence not only the amount of alcohol consumed in the community but "the high-risk contexts and drinking behaviours that are so often associated with alcohol-related problems"

(Babor et al., 2010, p. 5)

What makes a MAP effective?Box Office

Evidence indicates that for local policies to be effective, multiple strategies must be used. For example, looking at both the drinking environments, and how alcohol is viewed in the community.

(Babor et al, 2010)

A MAP should include the following 6 key policy components:

  1. Designation of properties, facilities and events where alcohol can be served.
    All sites should be assessed first for potential risks of injury
  1. Management practices to be used before, during and after events where alcohol is provided in order to prevent harm.

    This should include such practices as:
    • Event staff not drinking during work hours
    • How many workers must be trained in the management of alcohol
    • How many tickets for alcohol can be sold per person at each event
  1. Prevention strategies.

    Some prevention strategies that should be included in an MAP are:
    • Serving only those who are of legal drinking age and not intoxicated
    • Providing food with alcohol
    • Not providing "last call"
    • Offering safe transportation options for those who drink
  1. Enforcement procedures and penalties such as what actions will be taken if the policy is not followed or an incident occurs.
    This can include such things as when and who any incidents should be reported to as well as when the event will be closed down
  1. Information on the signage required.
    Signage could include information about:
    • Appropriate forms of age identification
    • Safe ways to get home
    • Who will be served alcohol
    • Alcohol and pregnancy
    • Areas where alcohol is not allowed
  1. Ongoing policy support.
    This should include a plan for creating awareness about the policy in the community, how often the policy will be reviewed, and how staff are to be trained on the policy

(Narbonne-Fortin, Rylett, Douglas, & Gliksman, 2003)

Best practices for municipal alcohol policiesBest Practices

MAPs should:

  • Address the social acceptance of alcohol by encouraging social responsibility, maintaining restrictions on alcohol advertising and sponsorships, and reinforcing the dangers and unacceptability of drinking and driving (University of Victoria, 2010)
  • Control physical and legal availability of alcohol. This could mean excluding the sale of high alcohol beverages, such as coolers, in municipal buildings. It is recommended that MAPs include statements that only coolers with 5% alcohol or less be served. MAPs should also include limits on how many places serve alcohol in the community
  • Address drinking and driving
  • Address alcohol outlet density in the municipality
  • Increase awareness of the harms caused by alcohol
  • Include information on addiction treatment that is available and accessible in the municipality

Steps to developing a municipal alcohol policy

Steps to developing a municipal alcohol policy include:

  1. Establish a planning committee

    A planning committee should contain no more than 6-10 people. If needed, some members may be consultants instead of sitting on the committee.

    Attempt to include the following when deciding on membership:

    • Key community stakeholders
    • Members of council
    • Members of interest groups who use the facilities
    • Front line workers who will implement the policy
    • Representatives from public health, police, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and local addiction service providers
    • Other interested members of the public
  1. Assess
    To assess what alcohol use looks like in the community:

    a. Collect local statistics on:
    • Alcohol use
    • Alcohol sales in the area
    • Violence and addictions
    • The number of places that sell alcohol in the community
    • Public transportation options
    • Support for policy development

    b. Review any of the past and present issues there have been with Special Occasion Permit sites and permits (i.e. review past SOP evaluations)

    c. Review the training that front line staff receive

    d. Review what alcohol-related resources are available to the public on the municipal web site

    e. Discuss competing ideas/interests

    f. Assess the awareness of alcohol harms and policy in the community

Some questions to consider:

What has the municipality done to encourage licensed establishments to mutually assume greater responsibility for providing safer drinking environments?

How has the municipality shown leadership in working with other stakeholders (e.g. police, health, LCLB) when responding to alcohol-related concerns in the community?

What can be done to promote a lifestyle of moderation?

  1. Set goals and objectives
    When setting the goals and objectives for a MAP consider:
    • What the results of the policy will be
    • What the goals and objectives of the policy are
  1. Write and implement the policy
    A sample MAP can be found in the following resource:
  1. Evaluate
    To know whether or not a MAP is effective an evaluation must be done.

    When evaluating a MAP it is important to know:
    • The incidents that occur at SOPs
    • The number of drinking and driving charges
    • The number of domestic issues occurring in the community

(Alponet, 2009)

Tips for success

MAPs are successful when they:

  • Are developed with input from community members and stakeholders
  • Include evaluation. Both the municipality and special occasion permit (SOP) holder should evaluate how the alcohol-related event went, making notes on any incidents that may have happened
  • Require frequent assessments of the physical environment where SOPs may be issued. This can reduce the risk for injury
  • Require those who serve alcohol and man the doors at SOPs to have special training (see Safer Bars Training Program section)
  • Are written in terms that people can understand

Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario’s role in municipal alcohol policies

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) is responsible for administering the Liquor License Act in Ontario. According to the AGCO website, "The AGCO is also responsible for overseeing the administration of special occasion permits (SOPs). The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), which is responsible for the retail sale of beverage alcohol at Ontario government stores, issues SOPs on behalf of the AGCO. SOPs are required for occasional private events such as weddings and receptions or public events, where alcohol will be served and/or sold" (AGCO, nd). This means that municipalities that plan to allow SOPs in their facilities will need to work with the AGCO and know of the Liquor License Act.Policy

Safer Bars Training Program

The Safer Bars training program is a program that is designed to help servers recognize the signs of intoxication and manage the aggression and harm that may arise from serving alcohol. The organization that provides the Safer Bars training is the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

According to CAMH (2009), "The training is conducted by a skilled, experienced trainer, and is 3 hours long. Each participant receives a workbook, the "Do you know the law?" booklet, and a certificate of completion. Up to 25 people can be trained at one time."

It is not mandatory to have the Safer Bars Training to be able to serve alcohol in Ontario but the Durham Region Health Department highly recommends that anyone who serves alcohol does have the Safer Bars training. We also suggest that municipalities include this training in their MAPS as a requirement for those who serve or work around alcohol.

For more information


De Pape, D. (2011). Raising the Profile of Alcohol: What are the Issues and Opportunities at the Municipal Level? Edmonton, Alberta: Director, Alcohol Harm Reduction BC Ministry of Health Services.

Grand, L. (2009). Safer Bars. No More Risky Business: A guide to Writing Bar Policies to Keep Customers Safe and Reduce Liability. Toronto, Ontario: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Giesbrecht, N., Shield, K., & Wettlaufer, A. (2011). Reducing the Harm from Alcohol: Policies, Strategies and Partners. Toronto, Ontario: Centre for Addiction & Mental Health.

Nova Scotia Department of Health Promotion and Protection. (2007). Changing the culture of Alcohol Use in Nova Scotia. Halifax, Nova Scotia: Author.




Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario. (n.d.) What we do: Alcohol. Retrieved April 25, 2013 from

Babor, T. F., Caetano, R., Casswell, S., Edwards, G., Giesbrecht, N., Graham, K., Grube, J. W., Gruenewald, P.J., Hill, L., Holder, H.D., Homel, R., Osterberg, E., Rehm, J., Room, R. & Rossow, I. (2010). Alcohol: No Ordinary Commodity. Research and Public Policy. Oxford, England: Oxford Medical Publication, Oxford University Press.

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). (2009). Safer Bars Program. Retrieved on July 4, 2013 from

Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA). (2011). Too High a Cost: A Public Health Approach to Alcohol Policy in Canada. Ottawa, Ontario: CPHA.

Narbonne-Fortin, C., Rylett, M., Douglas, R., Gliksman, L. (2003).The Municipal Alcohol Policy Guide: A practical resource for successfully managing drinking in recreational settings. Toronto, Ontario: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and Ontario Recreation Facilities Association Inc.

University of Victoria Centre for Addictions Research of BC. (2010). Helping Municipal Governments Reduce-alcohol-related Harms series. Retrieved on August 14, 2013 from /10193/Default.aspx

Wettlaufer, A. & Giesbrecht, N. (2013). Second-hand drinking: Public health's response to harm caused to others from alcohol webinar. Toronto, Ontario: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and Public Health Ontario.