Supermarkets and other retailers start selling liquor in Washington State today! The final legal obstacle was overcome yesterday when those who benefited from the old patronage system lost their appeal to the Washington Supreme Court.
Washington has been a “control state” for almost eighty years. So people could only buy liquor like vodka and whiskey at state-owned stores. And even though we could buy beer and wine at grocery stores, archaic rules prevented them from using modern retailing practices. Retailers weren’t allowed to manage their inventory in warehouses, for example, and producers weren’t allowed to offer quantity discounts. Both were forced to go through privileged distributors.
Most of that is gone now that voters approved, and the court upheld, Initiative 1183 – I’ll drink to that!
Washington Winemaker will join reddit, Wikipedia, and many others to protest the internet censorship bills, SOPA and PIPA, that are worming their way through congress. A lot of people will be taking an important stand tomorrow, and I wanted to add my little corner of the internet to that effort. So this site will go dark on January 18, 2012 – enough is enough!
Washington voters will have the opportunity to liberalize alcohol retailing by passing initiative 1100. It would end the state’s monopoly on spirits sales and allow normal retail practices in the sale of beer and wine (quantity discounts, central warehousing, direct purchases from wineries, etc).
Why that’s not a bad thing
Sometimes opposition takes the form, “Of course I oppose a state monopoly on liquor sales, but …” There is no “but.” If you want to end the state liquor monopoly, this is your chance, and it’s the only one you’ll get for a long time. The last time we got a public vote was in the 70’s. Must we wait another four decades? Meanwhile the legislature has clung to it’s monopoly and protected their wholesaler patrons for over seven decades. Enough’s enough!
Opponents predict more drunk driving and underage drinking if retailers that sell beer and wine start selling hard liquor. They don’t offer any proof for this claim, and that’s because there isn’t any. There is about as much binge drinking, drunk driving, and underage drinking in states with normal alcohol retailing as in states with government monopolies.
More choice & lower prices – I’ll drink to that!
But the evidence-free claims of the opposition aren’t why this initiative should pass. We will get a lot more choice when we’re free to buy what we like rather than what state bureaucrats’ think we should. Here’s a list of what’s available from the Washington State Liquor Control Board. It’s a big list, but any hard liquor not on that list is unavailable from anyone in the state. When I visit my local wine shop and chat with the owner about what he discovered on his latest trip, I get excited about what he could do with brandies and other spirits. How about the cheese selection or the wine aisle at Trader Joe’s? These guys are superb at offering an offbeat collection at great prices. What might a Trader Joe’s spirits aisle look like?
Better prices are another reason to vote yes on initiative 1100. The Liquor Board jacks up the price of spirits by 51.9% across the board – monopolists can do that! – then you get to pay a 20.5% + $3.7708/liter tax on top of it. Those taxes are among the highest in the country, and they would remain in place, but a free market would compete away those monopoly profits. Costco is a big backer of this initiative and when I see the great prices they offer on high quality wine, I can’t wait to see what they do with spirits!
Let’s find out what we’ve been missing!
The Wine Economist has a good analysis of the initiatives.