How Benevolent: Two States Just Decriminalized Kids' Lemonade Stands

P. Gardner Goldsmith | July 27, 2021

The legislatures of New Hampshire and Illinois both recently decriminalized the shocking activity of kids selling lemonade to willing customers.

No news from either state regarding how many people have descended into bomb shelters to dodge the coming lemonade Armageddon. 

The legislature of NH last week passed HB 183, which exempts “persons under the age of 14, who are selling soft drinks on family owned or leased property, from city, town, or village district licensing requirements.”

Good news.

And, as Ella Lubell notes for Reason, “The term ‘soft drink’ includes not only lemonade but also other mixed, non-alcoholic beverages.”

But some don’t see the positive in this -- and they are blind to the principle.

For example, Lubell reports that Senate Minority Leader Donna Soucy – a Democrat – told WMUR-TV:

This seems to me like one of those solutions in search of a problem.

But is it really not a problem? Let’s check, first, on the practical level…

The NH Constitution grants the state no power to regulate private competitive businesses. Only in Part Two, Article 83 does the rulebook allow for the government to act against corporations in order to punish them for operating in "…combination, conspiracy," or attempting to create "monopoly" (the only monopolies that aren't open to market competition are those supported by government bans or restrictions -- like licensing -- on competition.) 

And Part One, Article Two prohibits any level of government – including localities – from interfering in peaceful market exchange.

Related: Trudeau Administrator Demands LICENSING for All Canadian Websites

So, NH Senator Soucy, the fact that localities haven't enforced prohibitions against unlicensed lemonade stands does not mean that there isn’t a problem. To think otherwise is to disregard your oath to abide by the NH Constitution.

As Reason’s Lubell observes:

(J)ust because this tolerated illegality hasn't caused a problem yet, doesn't mean that it won't cause a problem in the future if the bill doesn't become law. Consider the incident in Illinois that spurred Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker to sign a similar bill two weeks ago.

One hopes NH State Senator Soucy pays attention: 

In 2017, then 9-year-old Hayli Martenez opened a lemonade stand in her front yard in a low-income neighborhood of Kankakee, Illinois. She charged 50 cents per cup. All of the profit went to her college fund.

How DARE her!

But in July of 2019, Hayli received notice from state and city health officials that she would have to shut down the stand or be fined. She ended up switching the stand to donation-only, but the incident received state-wide attention.

That, there, is a message to the NH Senate Minority Leader, Ms. Soucy., straight outta Illinois. Adds Lubell: 

Now, roughly two years later, the state has passed "Hayli's Law" to protect her business and those of other entrepreneurial kids around the state. 

‘Who would have thought you would need a lemonade law?’ said Hayli's mom Iva. ‘But it wasn't about the lemonade. It was about being able to take what you have and make it work for you. We turned lemons into lemonade.’

And this is not a problem found only in Illinois.

This is not an isolated incident. Reason has reported on similar cases across the country for years.

The core of the problem is important to remember and teach to others. It's "licensing": the aggressive act of politicians claiming the power to tell others whether they can or cannot engage in peaceful commerce with willing participants. As it is with speech -- i.e. the simple exchange of words -- commercial interaction simply is free association, the exchange of money for goods or services. The principle of freedom is the same, and when politicians assume the power to demand a license in order to engage in free association, they issue a threat, they engage in the aggression of coercion that tells people their lives and property are not their own to peacefully control.

And, though NH State Senator Soucy might believe lemonade stand freedom is insignificant, the same principle applies. 

Yes, Senator Soucy, it even applies to the less visible, quaint, practice of kids selling drinks on their front lawns.

Even if they don’t enforce their claim to power, if politicians say they can make kids get “permission” to engage in the peaceful act of exchanging goods for money, those politicians engage in a threat. Government-owned weapons back every one of those threats. If you resists enough, people with those weapons will arrive at your home or place of business to elevate the threat, to arrest you. And if you claim that you are not harming anyone, that you merely are engaging in peaceful interaction with voluntary participants? Your peaceful actions will not be respected.

Licensing is a political claim over your life and livelihood. It often is used by those with political connections to block lower-priced entrance into a sector of the market, and it stands as an absolute affront to individual liberty.

This story of lemonade in NH and IL is a window to learn the larger lesson, not only about what a particular constitution might say, but about the deeper moral principle of freedom, and its core – the question of who decides how we will engage in peaceful human interaction – is one of the most fundamental issues of life.

Related: 'Braid Free or Die!' NH Ends Onerous Licensing For Hair Braiding