it's a sin to sell a lie

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Associated Press reported over the weekend on a new campaign to privatize liquor stores in Washington State. ‘Modernize Washington’ is its name, and its chances look to be about on a par with a snowball in hell. But that’s not to say it’s an entirely futile effort. In my 25 years of covering wine and (occasionally) spirits for a variety of newspapers and magazines, I have never entirely untangled the ridiculous web of laws that apply to the production and sale of alcohol here in Washington. But I have seen places that are far worse (British Columbia, Pennsylvania) and places that are far better (California, parts of Texas). Most places are just, well, different, each with their own Gordian Knot of confusing, sometimes conflicting regulations dating back almost 80 years.

I can tell you from personal experience as a consultant to the Washington State Liquor Control Board that their hands are tied in so many ways that any meaningful reform must come from outside the organization. The citizens’ initiative process is widely used in Washington to redress tax-related legislation. It’s not perfect, by any means, but it can be effective.

Whenever the idea of deregulation is proposed and discussed in the papers, the vast majority of comments from readers seem to be in favor of freedom of choice. The counter arguments about “protecting children” and other public safety concerns are generally raised by the very lobbies whose wallets would be dinged the hardest by any loosening of the legislative controls. That casts a bit of a long shadow over their actual validity.

Personally, I hope I live to see the day when a retail outlet such as Spec's in Houston can open its doors in Seattle. When a consumer can go to a single retail outlet to buy a vast array of meats and cheeses and produce, select from a world class wine shop, and peruse aisles and aisles of liqueurs and spirits.

Give the state its tax dollars, to be sure. Tighten controls on purchasing if need be. Card everyone, no matter how gray and wrinkled they may be. Take away cars from first-time DUI offenders. All fine with me. But let me buy that bottle of Dry Fly along with a fine Washington Syrah and a house-cured prosciutto. Didn’t the Founding Fathers have similar freedoms?


Anonymous said...

I agree, state monopolies are bad.
And how about the US congress stepping in and eliminating all those cross state trade hurdles that prevent wine makers in WA from shipping out of state. It is a true barrier to trade when each state regulates something differently to the point where only the big wineries can afford to hire a specialist to keep track of it all.


Anonymous said...

Totally agree. The state needs to privatize wine, beer and liquor sales. The revenue savings would be a big plus not to mention the increase in tax revenue.

p.s. Great mention of Spokane's Dry Fly.

Josh @nectarwine on Twitter

Anonymous said...

I cant stand it when a writer just throws something out there without really researching it. There are many more states out there to discuss. Utah and Wyoming or example. Did you do the reasearch on alcohol problems in the open states like California? Personally I do think you need to keep alcohol out of the hands of children. Kids are becoming more and more crafty every year on how to get booze. Putting alcohol in big box stores doesnt screem public safty to me. Im not a special enterest. I wish you would do more research before just throwing something like this out there.

PaulG said...

Anonymous, you are mistaken if you think I set out, in the context of a short blog, to research alcohol problems in the 50 states. I set out to express an opinion, and to create a forum for discussion. You are welcome to your opinion, but don't criticize me for not doing something I never intended to do, nor pretended to do.

Wine Boy said...

Paul mentions giving ADULTS the right to choose between State owned versus non state owned liquor stores, and someone throws out the old "protect our children" canard? Utah or Wyoming? Give me a break. With all due respect to Paul, how many residents in Utah or Wyoming even read his blog, and how many of them buy or imbibe wine? Especially Utah? Why should California's perceived alcohol problem be our concern? California and the world have many more serious problems (kids using pot and harder drugs). California is now contemplating legalization of marijuana to raise $$$. Why bust Paul's chops for his freedom of choice point of view? Why criminalize legal ADULT behavior? Last time I looked, the Volstead Act was repealed. It's past time to privatize wine and alcohol in this state, and to allow interstate wine shipments. Tax it and move on.

Anonymous said...

To the other anonymous-

Why do you cite Wyoming? Wyoming is pretty darn close to an open state. The liquor stores can be attached to a grocery store and many are. You can actually buy liquor from drive up windows.

There are 18 states and one county that are considered "control" states. Each state has different laws so you cannot generalize about how states approach alcohol control.

Anonymous said...

Be careful what you wish for- a great part of the reason we currently have no state income tax is (and has been), the revenue generated by stste managed liquor store sales. Is it a coincidence that privatizing liquor sales and an income tax (on only the wealthy {NOW}) are being floated together? - I think not. The legislators dream of a state income tax (we'll all get to participate once the dam is breached) and all the wonderful things they'll be able to do for us. The spend happy democrats will lead the charge, but if you think the republicans will not follow, think again.
As the saying goes: " If it ain't broke...

MagnumGourmet said...

They are proposing privatizing liquor sales, not getting rid of the liquor taxes. Whether the state is selling it or it's the corner store, the state is still going to get their fair share from the taxes. And as for the revenue lost from the margin markup that the liquor stores impose, I personally do not believe it is a good idea for the state to be regulating a monopoly that they control. Perfect example of violation of the Sherman Act.

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