Introduction and Aims: Liquor permits were once used throughout Scandinavia and North America for managing alcohol, but largely disappeared in the late 20th century. Today, they are used in some Indigenous communities in Nunavut, Canada and the Northern Territory, Australia. This paper examines the extent to which liquor permits: (i) contribute to reducing alcohol-related harms in Indigenous communities; and (ii) offer a viable mechanism for managing alcohol in Indigenous communities.
Design and Methods: The study draws on published and unpublished international literature on liquor permit systems in Indigenous communities, and on field visits to northern territory (NT) communities.
Results: Apart from one anecdotal report, the study found no evidence that liquor permit systems in Nunavut communities have reduced alcohol-related problems. In the NT, they have reduced alcohol-related harms in some communities. However, management of liquor permit systems generates significant administrative demands in communities.
Discussion and Conclusions: Effectiveness of liquor permit systems is a product of five factors: permits themselves; agencies and procedures for issuing and managing permits; agencies and procedures for supplying liquor; enforcement of permit conditions, and the presence of other agencies—legal and illegal—affecting supply and consumption of liquor. Liquor permits continue to be valued by some Indigenous communities for managing alcohol. This study suggests that they can do so provided: (i) agencies administering permits have adequate support; (ii) controls over non-legal purchasing and consumption of liquor are effective, and (iii) the permit system is viewed in the community as legitimate, equitable and transparent.