Should Liquor Be Sold in the Competitive Marketplace?

liquor 150x150 Should Liquor Be Sold in the Competitive Marketplace?In my five years at the BBB, I never received a complaint about a (state-run) liquor store. I don’t know if that’s because Washington State was doing a great job, or because people weren’t complaining to us. But the liquor business could change this November.

If Initiative 1183 passes, the state’s 78-year-old liquor monopoly will end. (We are one of 18 U.S. states still in the liquor business.)

Proponents of Initiative 1183 say the measure would provide millions for local governments. It would enable them to focus on strict enforcement of the law, leaving the distributing, pricing and selling of liquor to the competitive marketplace. Costco is a major contributor to this campaign, and the Washington Policy Center for Government Reform recommends it.

Opponents say it will cause a new 27 percent tax on liquor sales, increase underage drinking, DUIs, and boost hard liquor consumption. The Washington State Council of Firefighters, breweries, beer distributors and Governor Christine Gregoire are among those to come out against the bill.

Doing the Math

It has always seemed silly to me that regional liquor laws vary so greatly. If you live in a dry county, you can just drive across the border, for example. There are parts of North Idaho where you can be in Montana, Washington, or even Canada in under an hour.

According to the Washington Policy Center, Washington currently has the second most restrictive “liquor retail outlet density,” with one store per 20,502 inhabitants. Wyoming has the least restrictive, with one store per 765 inhabitants.

They must be using a different definition of “restrictive” than what the word means to me. I disagree that having only…say…five liquor stores in my city causes me to buy less alcohol than if there were 15. I drive by a liquor store on my way to and from work every day, but that doesn’t increase my consumption. Of course, I’m thinking of adults.

A study reported on Science Daily  did say that University of California Riverside researchers found that “violent crime could be reduced significantly if policymakers at the local level limit the number of neighborhood liquor stores…among teens and young adults ages 13—24.”

Compare and Contrast:

Personally speaking, out of the (about 30) states that I’ve travelled through, I found Nevada to have the most relaxed liquor laws, and Utah the most restrictive.

InNevada, liquor stores can be open 24 hours a day and liquor can be sold in grocery and convenience stores. Public intoxication is legal and according to the Internet, making any local laws to change this is prohibited.

Utah’s liquor sales are controlled by the state. You can only buy liquor in a restaurant fromnoontomidnight, if food is served with it. Private clubs, which charge membership fees, can serve liquor from10 a.m.until1 p.m., and no liquor stores are open on Sundays. Period. (Again, if the intent is to prevent people drinking on Sunday, they do realize that you buy it on Saturday, right?) Keg sales are banned and alcohol can’t be served on election day until after8 p.m.

Points I’m Pondering

Would the BBB be best able to help a consumer with a complaint against a liquor store if that store were a private business or state-run?

Are monopolies always bad? (My aunt Bessie has never gotten over the death of Ma Bell, “the only telephone company that was worth a darn.” Since the government forced that company’s breakup, she says, prices have skyrocketed and service has declined.)

Where do proponents and opponents of the measure get their statistics from, and can I trust them? I visited one website alleging that one in four minors attempting to buy alcohol from private retailers succeeds. Yet there were no links, statistics, or survey organizations cited to back up this claim.

Who is sponsoring the “No” ads you’re seeing? It’s no secret that Costco Wholesale Corp both spearheaded the campaign to get the measure on the ballot and also contributed nearly all of the $22.7 million needed for the “Yes” campaign. Shouldn’t the “No” people be so transparent? Maybe I just haven’t seen the right ads.


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About Holly Doering

Holly Doering has worked for the Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Washington, North Idaho, and Montana for half a decade. Her areas of expertise include the CORE Values Program (Character, Optimism, Respect, Ethics) for Teens and Charity Review as well as writing and editing. Prior to that, she has written for two newspapers, a local magazine, and taught English at the community college. She is the proud author of a short story in ZYZZYVA literary magazine and has had good luck publishing lots of poetry. Each year she rolls up her sleeves and wades into the autumn Nanowrimo writing madness and has several unfinished novels to her credit.