Friday ushered in a new era for liquor sales in Washington with the start of private liquor sales and the end of state control of those sales.
Last November, voters approved Initiative 1183 by a convincing margin. Some 59 percent of the voters said they wanted the state to get out of the liquor business in favor of private sales.
Initiative supporters assumed increased competition would lead to more choices in the marketplace, increased convenience and even better prices.
The reality is that many questions remain about how privatization of liquor sales will work for the consumer. Clearly, the number of retail outlets selling liquor is expanding. And, yes, that means increased competition. But there’s no guarantee that liquor will cost less.
Don’t forget: State and local governments were promised they would not lose state revenues they were used to receiving from the sale of liquor. The only way to ensure that is to tack on additional taxes on the purchase of liquor.
Disagreement exists over rules and taxes for the new system. The state Liquor Control Board still has plenty of work to do to ensure that consumers receive the maximum benefit possible from the privatization of liquor sales.
And consumers need to pay close attention to the advertised prices for their favorite brand of booze. Many of the advertised prices fail to include the 20.5 percent liquor sales tax or the $3.77 liter tax.
Another important task facing the state Liquor Control Board is determining which minimarts will be allowed to sell liquor. The new law allows liquor retail outlets under 10,000 square feet only in “trade areas” underserved by other, larger retailers.
The liquor board needs to use a broad definition for trade areas to restrain the number of minimarts that can sell liquor. This is a critical move to reduce the likelihood of liquor sales to minors – and all the public health and safety issues underage drinking entails.