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Bill Becomes Law: Idaho Cinema Liquor Licenses No Longer Linked to Obscenity


Idaho's previous law was black and white when it came to serving beer and wine during films such as  Fifty Shades of Grey. - UNIVERSAL PICTURES / FOCUS FEATURES
  • Universal Pictures / Focus Features
  • Idaho's previous law was black and white when it came to serving beer and wine during films such as Fifty Shades of Grey.

Patrons of The Flicks in Boise or The Magic Lantern in Ketchum no longer have to worry about the much-debated Idaho law banning the sale of alcohol during screenings of films featuring adult content.

On March 31, Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter signed House Bill 544 into law. The measure unshackles Idaho liquor laws from obscenity statute, no longer threatening movie theater owners with suspension of their beer and wine licenses if they show adult-themed films.

The the law became retroactive to Jan. 1 2015, thus nullifying a lawsuit filed earlier this year by Meridian Cinemas against Idaho State Police. The cinema, located in the Village at Meridian, alleged ISP engaged in a form of censorship by threatening to pull its liquor license when certain R-rated films were screened. Specifically, ISP warned Meridian Cinemas it could lose its license over a 2015 screening of Fifty Shades of Grey, which contained more than a little adult material.

In 2011, Michael Fassbender—this year's Oscar nominee for Steve Jobs—was getting some of the best notices of the year in Shame, but the NC-17 film couldn't find an art house home. In 2013, it was critically acclaimed NC-17-rated Blue is the Warmest Color that was getting the cold shoulder.

When Boise Weekly reported Blue wouldn't be shown at The Flicks or Magic Lantern, international media took notice—the story was picked up by Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and London-based The Guardian. Ultimately, The Flicks didn't screen the film, which was that year's Palme d'Or grand-prize winner at the Cannes Film Festival.

Over the years, ISP repeatedly argued that many films, including several R-rated Oscar winners, would be in violation of the prior statute. In February 2015, two detectives went to the Village of Meridian, watched an R-rated film and soon thereafter threatened the theater with revocation of its beer and wine license. That, in turn, triggered the legal challenge. The new law is now expected to result in the dismissal of the suit.