Friday, June 1, 2012

Washington Says Goodbye To The Booze Business

Nearly 80-years of state liquor control is now over.

I tried to make a quick run to a Washington State Liquor Store Thursday night, but like the half dozen other cars that turned into the parking lot of the Greenwood Avenue store, I was disappointed to see that they were all closed for the day to check inventory before the sale of booze goes public.

Today, June 1st, Initiative 1183 takes effect in Washington allowing stores larger than 10,000 square feet to sell liquor.  The measure was approved by voters last fall but opponents filed suit, saying it includes a provision for public safety funding, violating state rules that require initiatives to only have one subject. 

Just ahead of the switch, the Washington Supreme Court upheld the initiative on Thursday, agreeing with a judge that voters still would have passed 1183 even without the public safety provision.

"[The] disputed portion of I-1183's ballot title is not palpably misleading or false," wrote Justice Steven Gonzalez for the majority opinion.

Four of the nine Washington Supreme Court justices dissented and presented two different opinions.  Justice Charles K. Wiggens wrote one dissent, discussing how the measure adds new taxes and contains $10 million dollars that will be spent on nothing liquor related.

"An initiative can impose new taxes, but the ballot title cannot misleadingly imply that it does not," wrote Wiggins.

The other dissenting opinion came from Justice Tom Chambers who agreed with Initiative 1183 opposition that the law is unconstitutional because it failed to mention a new tax.

While options on where to buy liquor in Washington just got a little better, the price is also on the rise (hence the rush to try to buy a few bottles today).  The initiative included a 10% distributor fee and a 17% retail fee, to reimburse the state for millions in lost revenue (that's the public safety funding money).  While prices on some spirits are expected to go down and consumers should see more frequent sales and specials, the new taxes could still bump the discounted price up higher than they were while sold by the state.  Seattle Times Reporter Amy Martinez but together a thorough article on Thursday's ruling as well as price examples if you want to read more.

All the taxes and extra costs involved is a bit confusing.  The state has put together a website to help walk you through them all: I-1183 Taxes

While many stores won't have room for the selection Washington State Liquor stores did, Metropolitan Market claims it will have an exclusive selection of craft and local spirits for you to buy.  Costco, the major financial supporter of I-1183, says it will carry about 70 different products and not just huge two gallon jugs.  Its Kirkland Vodka is something I've heard good things about for years from California friends.  Someone once told me (though I wasn't able to confirm it) that it's actually from the same producers of Kettle One (all the research that I just did was comparing it to Gray Goose, so really I don't know what to believe until I'm able to try it or talk to Costco PR).

While many supporters think the convenience of more retailers will increase liquor sales some of you will still be able to stop by your regular liquor store.  Washington State auctioned off its liquor stores and licenses so many private owners will take over the state stores while bringing in more than $31 million dollars.

Now, Washington is out of the liquor business and the revenue state run stores created but you and I can stop in at more than 250 Washington retailers to pick up a bottle of booze with our veggies for dinner (already that's 4 times what it was on May 1st and that number is just expected to grow).


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