Alcohol Justice: A Temperance-Oriented Activist Organization

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

Alcohol Justice is the newest name of the Marin Institute, formerly known as the Marin Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Other Drug Problems.

In reporting its new name, the former Marin Institute finally acknowledged that “we aren’t a research organization as 'institute' implies.” The fact that the Marin Institute wasn’t a research organization has long been noted by observers, although the activist group has often presented itself to the public and media as engaging in research.

Alcohol Justice is a massively endowed temperance-oriented organization that has picked up the anti-alcohol banner previously carried by earlier temperance groups. It is even recognized for its activities by the Prohibition Party. 1 Yes, the Prohibition Party still exists and has thousands of members and millions of supporters.

Alcohol Justice is funded by the Buck Trust, whose founders directed that its resources be used exclusively for the good of the people of Marin County, California. 2 In spite of that mandate, Alcohol Justice now engages in nation-wide temperance activities. 3 The Buck Trust assets are reported to be about one billion dollars. 4

In addition, Alcohol Justice has received many millions of dollars of taxpayer’s money at both state and federal levels. Millions of that have been channeled through the federal Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, a very controversial agency.

Alcohol Justice

  • Aggressively promotes neo-prohibition alcohol policies.
  • Ignores repeated Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigations that have all concluded that alcohol producers do not target underage persons in their ads and marketing. Alcohol Justice continues to insist, in spite of the evidence, that such targeting is widespread. 5
  • Presents attacks of alcohol beverage vendors as comparable to illegal drug pushers victimizing our young people.
  • Insists on using the highly misleading term "binge" to refer to alcohol consumption that may not be high enough to cause any level of intoxication. 6
  • Promotes the temperance-oriented "A Matter of Degree" program, whose own supporters have reported it to be ineffective in reducing alcohol problems. 7
  • Promotes alcohol beverage bans.
  • Promotes the false belief that alcohol problems are increasing in the U.S., although they are actually decreasing. 8
  • Crusades against First Amendment constitutional free speech rights in pursuit of its agenda.

Alcohol Justice repeatedly reports the often deceptive and misleading "research" and statistics produced by the other anti-alcohol groups. The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY), the Alcohol Policies Project of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the Center for Substance Abuse and Addiction (CASA) and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) all produce flawed and even pseudo-scientific reports to promote their agenda. Cooperation and interaction among groups in the anti-alcohol industry tends to be high. For example, David Jernigan, who co-founded the Alcohol Justice, now works at CAMY. 9

Like the $10 billion dollar Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a major financier of temperance in the U.S., Alcohol Justice is very aggressive in promoting its temperance-oriented agenda across the country both publicly and clandestinely. 10

Alcohol Justice is very active politically. In testimony to the United States Congress, Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute revealed that

Politics is not merely a byproduct of CSAP grants to groups like Alcohol Justice. It often appears to be the agency's goal. CSAP has, for instance, labored mightily to equip activist organizations to lobby not only federal officials, but also state and local governments. The agency provided nearly one million dollars between 1990 and 1993 for the Marin Institute's youth Alcohol Environment On-Line Information Project. The project was directed against the alcohol industry which, of course, was considered to be creating the "environment" with which the Institute was dissatisfied. According to the formal grant proposal, the Institute intended to "compile the only special collection of materials on the alcohol beverage industry in existence outside of the industry itself." Indeed, the Institute's Media and Policy Center, explained the proposal, "is creating ALCNET, an on-line computer network to meet the needs of media advocates in the alcohol field for rapid communication regarding media opportunities." Federal funds underwrote the creation of a daily on-line news summary regarding youth alcohol problems, an on-line database consisting of industry materials "relevant" to the prevention of such problems. The Institute then planned to promote use of the network by the individuals and organizations with which it had been working.

Although the project was formally directed at drinking by children, it was clearly intended to assist political activists in counteracting advertising by the alcohol industry. Advertising, explained the Institute, "creates an environment in which the messages of the alcohol beverage industry's multibillion dollar promotional campaigns are reinforced at every turn." Hence, enter Washington doling out taxpayer funds. The federally-subsidized "media advocacy" project, explained the Institute's grant proposal, "tries to reframe health issues to focus on industry practices as a primary problem, exposing them as exploitive and unethical." 11

Family Friendly = No Alcohol

Family friendly events involve no alcohol consumption or possession in the view of the Alcohol Justice.

Jews, Italian-Americans, Greek-Americans, French-Americans, German-American, Spanish-Americans or Portuguese-Americans tend to drink in family situations. In these groups young people typically learn how to drink within the safe environment of the family and they do so from an early age. And these groups are characterized by low rates of drinking problems because of their healthy attitudes toward beverage alcohol.

But Alcohol Justice calls for laws prohibiting parents from serving their children alcohol beverages within their own private homes for religious, cultural or other reasons. It does this in spite of the fact that federally-funded research has demonstrated that young people who drink with their parents are less likely to drink elsewhere or to have alcohol problems. 12

Alcohol Justice promotes the idea that individuals are helpless and not responsible for their own behavior. Therefore, it has promoted “environmental prevention” to reduce the availability and consumption of alcohol. The last major experiment with environmental prevention was National Prohibition, which was imposed from 1920 through 1933.

Alcohol Justice calls for alcohol prevention rather than for alcohol abuse prevention. In reality, it seeks to reduce the availability of alcoholic beverages and to marginalize (de-normalize) and stigmatize their consumption.

The temperance-oriented group even calls for its neo-prohibition program as a way to create a dry, supportive environment to decrease the risk of relapse among alcoholics. Society is responsible for causing the behavior of individual alcoholics, at least in the view of the activists at Alcohol Justice. 13

Alcohol Justice has its own preferred terminology:

  • alcohol-free instead of non-alcohol
  • positive choices about alcohol instead of decisions not to drink
  • kids instead of adolescents or young people
  • environmental prevention instead of neo-prohibition 14

It’s clear that Alcohol Justice has a neo-temperance agenda.

Alcohol Justice Opposes Debate of Public Issue

The U.S. currently has the highest minimum drinking age of any country in the entire world. This is a radical social experiment both historically and internationally. Unfortunately, there is considerable evidence that such a high minimum drinking age, which criminalizes drinking by millions of citizens who are socially and legally adults, has many unintended consequences.

The high drinking age drives drinking “underground” into venues where it is not subject to the usual moderating norms of society. To the contrary, such unsupervised drinking environments encourage the rapid and excessive consumption of alcohol just as speakeasies did during National Prohibition. When people have to go to great effort to obtain alcohol beverages, they don’t sip and savor them but gulp them down while they have access to them.

Similarly, raising the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) has made consuming alcohol a desirable “forbidden fruit” that’s now seen as a major symbol of maturity and independence. Empirical research has clearly demonstrated this fact.

There are numerous moral, constitutional, law enforcement and other arguments against such a high minimum drinking age. But these are important issues about which reasonable people can and do disagree.

Public policy issues should always be open to debate in a democratic society. Therefore, it disturbs some observers that Alcohol Justice has launched an attack upon a congressional candidate for daring to suggest that the issue should be publicly debated. In trying to prevent debate, the temperance-oriented group has attacked the candidate’s motives and integrity rather than the strength of his arguments. 15 That kind of behavior might be expected from a playground bully but not from a powerful organization that desires legitimacy and respectability.

Exactly what constitutes the best minimum drinking age is an important issue. Let the debate begin. For more, visit Choose Responsibility.

Alcohol Justice Opposed Alcohol Producer’s Charitable Activities

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, a large brewery and its wholesalers donated $3.8 million in cash to the Red Cross and other relief agencies, stopped beer production in the region to can free water instead of beer, made its fleet of trucks available to the Red Cross for deliveries of food, water, power generators, and other critically needed supplies. In many cases across the devastated areas, the brewer’s trucks were the first on the scene to deliver the food, water and other life-saving supplies. The brewer and its wholesalers saw a need and quickly responded with massive relief efforts.

However, in the view of Alcohol Justice, the response of the brewer and its affiliates was a “second disaster” visited upon the suffering region. Although hurricane victims greatly appreciated the help, Alcohol Justice didn’t. The anti-alcohol group insisted that “Anheuser-Busch’s charitable efforts took its predatory practices to a new low.” It insisted that “packaging water in Budweiser beer cans - delivered in Budweiser trucks - is just another example of how the alcohol industry exploits vulnerable people.”

Editorials and letters to the editor throughout the stricken region suggest that residents greatly appreciated the brewer’s relief efforts, the Red Cross praised the brewer, Florida Sen. Steven A Geller said that if more companies had acted as the brewer did “my state and country would be far better off,” and Mississippi state legislators were critical of Alcohol Justices cynical attack.

Apparently only the radical Alcohol Justice understands in what way the brewery's charity is predatory and exploitive. It also appears that “there’s no level to which this group won’t stoop” in order to criticize any action by any alcohol beverage producer.

Alcohol Justice has earlier attacked Coors Brewing Co. for an "involved parenting" program, and the Sutter Home winery for donating money to breast-cancer research. In the eyes of Alcohol Justice, no alcohol producer can ever do good. This really tells us much more about the anti-alcohol group itself than about the alcohol producers it criticizes. 16

Anti-Alcohol Leadership Career Opportunity

When Alcohol Justice began looking for a new Executive Director, it knew exactly what it wanted. According to its official announcement, 17 “The Marin Institute [Alcohol Justice] is an alcohol industry watchdog that works to stop the alcohol industry from harming public health. Alcohol Justice is a national organization, based in Marin County, California that monitors the alcohol industry’s marketing and public influence activities, exposes its harmful practices and efforts to hide the truth, and mobilizes community action to counter the industry.”

Because of its secure funding and resources “the Institute is poised to build on its record of success countering the alcohol industry’s predatory practices.”

The position description emphasize that the Executive Director is responsible for the developing and implementing the activities of the Institute “including monitoring the marketing and public influence of the alcohol industry; exposing the industry’s harmful activities and efforts to hide the truth, and mobilizing community action against the industry.”

“The successful candidate must have demonstrated accomplishment in efforts to change industry behavior (i.e. tobacco, firearms, etc.), influence social/public policy and shift public opinion. Significant experience working as a watchdog of corporate bad acts, with a record of success using media advocacy and other counter marketing techniques to weaken an industry adversary and change behavior” is a required qualification.

The successful candidate should also have the “Demonstrated ability to represent the Institute and deliver key 'counter industry' messages in media interviews, fundraising pitches and public speaking opportunities.”

Another Anti-Alcohol Activist Career Opportunity

The Marin Institute [Alcohol Justice] posted the following job announcement under “Job Opportunities for Activists” for an organization (that is, itself) “fighting for social and racial justice.” 18 It described itself as “an alcohol industry watchdog based in San Rafael, California. We envision communities free of the alcohol industry’s negative influence.”

The Marin Institute [Alcohol Justice] is looking for an Advocacy and Outreach Organizer to join our action oriented group of dedicated public health, public policy, and advocacy experts. We are looking for a media-savvy candidate with experience in counter- marketing messages, public relations, and community organizing. The Advocacy and Outreach Organizer is responsible for helping to develop, implement, and manage programs that focus on exposing negative alcohol industry practices through strategic use of media and coalition advocacy.

If you want to help expose the alcohol industry’s dirty tricks in promoting harmful products, engaging in deceptive marketing (particularly targeting youth), and undermining public policy, and have performed a similar function in another industry watchdog or public health-oriented advocacy group, this job is for you. With primary responsibility for managing one or more projects, responsibilities include creating coalitions, providing technical assistance to local, state and national organizations, contributing content to the website, and assisting in media advocacy efforts both locally and nationally.

There are two sides to every important issue or controversy and things are rarely completely black and white. So Alcohol Justice was apparently hoping to find a candidate who would leave all objectivity, critical thinking, open-mindedness, independent judgment, and personal integrity at the door.


  • 1. Prohibition Party web site ( Similarly,, a strongly prohibitionist group links to the Marin Institute along with the WCTU, the League Against Intoxicants and the Anti-Saloon League historical site. The Marin Institute is widely recognized as an anti-alcohol group. See, for example, Kate Macarthur. Coors slammed for targeting kids: "Scary Movie" tie-in raises ire of anti-alcohol group. (Marin Institute) Advertising Age, November 2, 2003.
  • 2. Rutinger, Joan. Why you should not vote for the Buck Center. The Coastal Post, October, 1995. ( The will clearly said that the income from the trust ...shall always be held for exclusively non-profit, charitable, religious, or educational purposes in providing for the needy in Marin County, California, and for other non-profit charitable, religious or educational purposes in that county. "
  • 3. Sievers, Bruce. Who Elected Us? Stanford Social Innovation Review, January, 2004. (
    %22Buck+Trust%22&hl=en). See The Mental Health Association of Marin, et al., v. Marin Community Foundation et al., (1994) 29 Cal.App.4th 1846; Thelen Reid & Priest, LLP. Banking (; Kelleher, Bob. Blandin under fire. Minnesota Public Radio, October 29, 2003 (
  • 4. Fein, Ian. Ex-supe Gary Giacomini to help disburse Buck funds. Point Reyes Light, October 16, 2003.
  • 5. Youth and Alcohol Ads: Are Youth Overexposed?; Do Alcohol Ads Target Youth?; Alcohol Advertising.
  • 6. Binge Drinking; Binge Drinking Information, Facts & News; Binge Drinking is Deceptive Term; Many Binge Drinkers are Sober; Trivializing Binge Drinking.
  • 7. Expensive Alcohol Prevention Program Ineffective.
  • 8. For example, Alcohol Problems go Down, but Concern Goes Up!; Underage Drinking Rates.
  • 9. Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth web site.
  • 10. Marton, Rebecca Murphy. The Role of Government and the Non-Profit Sector in the New Temperance Movement. AWARE, 1992. This one of the very few publications to report on the Marin Institute.
  • 11. Testimony before the House Subcommittee on National Economic Growth, Natural Resources, and Regulatory Affairs presented by Doug Bandow, Senior Fellow, Cato Institute . June 29, 1995
  • 12. Drinking with Parents is “Protective“ of Alcohol Abuse.
  • 13. Marin Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Other Drug Problems. Solutions to Community Alcohol Problems: A Roadmap for Environmental Prevention. San Rafael, CA: Marin Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Other Drug Problems, 2005.
  • 14. Marin Institute web site.
  • 15. Marin Institute. Marin Institute Responds to Peter Coors’ Plan to Lower Drinking Age. Marin Institute press release, June 25, 2004.
  • 16. Mullin, Jeremy. Shoe on other foot for Marin Institute: Group gets slammed for opposing A-B’s $3.8 million donation to relief effort. Advertising Age, May 15, 2006; Marin Institute. Money from Misery: Anheuser-Busch Uses Hurricane Katrina as an Opportunity to Increase Profit.
  • 17. Marin Institute web site.
  • 18. Center for Third World Organizing: Job Opportunities for Activists. (
    and+racial+justice.%22&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=us) July 11, 2007.
  • Brickley, P., and Powledge, F. The Buck Bequest: A Case Study in Philanthropy. NY: Nation Institute, 1983.
  • Hawken, Paul. Marin Institute, Paul Hawken, Marin Institute Founding Committee. San Raphael, CA: Superior Court of California, 1987.
  • Jernigan, David H. Thirsting for Markets: The Global Impact of Corporate Alcohol. San Raphael, CA: The Marin Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Other Drugs, 1997.
  • Jones, R.J., et al. Alcohol and Other Drug Problems in Marin County, California: Results From a General Population Survey. San Raphael, CA: The Marin Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Other Drugs, 1991.
  • Marin Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Other Drugs. The Marin Institute Thesaurus. San Raphael, CA: The Marin Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Other Drugs, 1995.
  • The Marin Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Other Drugs. San Raphael, CA: Leonard and Beryl Buck Foundation. 1987- (annual).
  • Moshier, James F. Alcohol Beverage Control in a Public Health Perspective: A Handbook for Action. San Raphael, CA: Marin Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Other Drugs, 1989.
  • Moshier, James F. The Model California State Alcoholic Beverage Control State/Local Partnership Act. San Raphael, CA: The Marin Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Other Drugs, 1995.
  • Newsletter of the Marin Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Other Drugs. San Raphael, CA: Marin Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Other Drugs (quarterly)
  • Wechsler, R., and Schnepp, T. Community Organizing for the Prevention of Problems Related to Alcohol and Other Drugs. San Raphael, CA: Marin Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Other Drugs, 1993.