Lowering Washington’s liquor tab

Starting June 1, 2012, the control of the sale of hard liquor will be transferred from the state of Washington to private businesses thanks to Initiative 1183, which passed in the Nov. 8 state election. Proponents of the initiative say that it will remove the state’s monopoly on liquor sales, allowing for competition in the liquor market, while increasing state and local government revenues by $200 million each.

Brian Smith, Director of Communications of the Washington State Liquor Control Board, which approves licenses and enforces liquor laws for the state, said that liquor stores that are not state run but have licenses from the state to sell liquor can be “grandfathered in,” meaning that since they have licenses already, they can simply reapply. In order to reapply, they will have to purchase some inventory owned by the Liquor Control Board, but will not have to meet other requirements, such as the 10,000-square-foot minimum store size requirement.

In a public statement, the Liquor Control Board expressed their disappointment in the election results. “Weighing most heavily on our hearts and minds are the more than 900 Liquor Control Board employees who will lose their jobs,” the statement said. The Board is remaining neutral on the politics of the initiative.

Those in favor of I-1183 believe that in addition to achieving the aforementioned changes, the initiative will decrease the price of liquor. Supporters have noted that being able to buy liquor at Costco will be favorable to the public due to the good relationship people have with with the retailer. They point out that Costco has been able to sell liquor safely in other states. Others point out that the privatization of liquor will  be  more convenient for customers and will increase revenue from liquor sales for the state of Washington.

Opponents of the initiative believe it will not provide the expected revenue. Some expressed concern that while the price of liquor will be low for a while, companies will eventually raise their prices, thus causing customers more expense. Others expect that I-1183 will benefit big businesses while many people become unemployed, giving big businesses an edge of smaller ones. Thus, the initiative will be a bigger cost than a benefit. Another argument is that the initiative will increase the amount of stores selling liquor, accomplishing the opposite of what the initiative proposed.

The Liquor Control Board will continue some of their functions, despite no longer selling liquor. Smith said that their “number one priority” is public safety and that they will continue to enforce the drinking laws as best as they can. He noted that their stores had the best no-sales rate to minors in the country. The public statement also said the Board “will continue to carry out our enforcement, licensing, adjudicative and policy-setting functions affecting over 16,000 liquor licensees statewide.”