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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Politics and Wine in Massachusetts

Eddie J. Jenkins is the Chairman of the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (MABCC). Ted Mahony is the Chief Investigator for the MABCC. They both recently announced they strongly oppose ballot Question 1 in the upcoming November election which would allow supermarkets to sell wine if local municipalities grant them a license. Lame duck Gov. Mitt Romney should consider removing these two public servants from their jobs for taking sides with liquor stores on this question in the midst of the campaign, but since he has issues of his own and desires to potentially run for President, it's doubtful he will do the right thing.

"We have a well thought out, responsible system of alcohol sales in the Commonwealth and we are vigilant about enforcement despite limited resources. A dramatic expansion of alcohol sales as proposed in Question 1 would undermine the system as a whole and make meaningful enforcement nearly impossible," Jenkins said in a statement that was included in a press release issued by a group funded by liquor stores and distributors fighting the ballot initiative. "There is the potential for over 2,800 new alcohol outlets flooding our communities, with no additional funding for regulatory oversight."

For his part Mahony said, "Currently, there are 2,900 package store liquor licenses in Massachusetts. Question 1, if passed, would add an estimated 2,800 new licenses for supermarkets, convenience stores and small food stores, nearly doubling the number of licensed sellers of alcohol. This increase in liquor licenses would make alcohol more accessible to underage persons, which is why I stand in opposition to Question 1."

Excuse me, but there are several facts these two gentlemen have ignored and apparently want the voters to be confused about when they enter the polling booth.

First of all, the stores that would get licenses to sell wine would be subject to state laws and have to proof people who try to purchase wine. Are Jenkins and Mahony admitting that the MABCC does not properly monitor and regulate the sale of beer, wine and liquor in the state? If so, they should be fired for not performing their duties. Or are they trying to tell us that no package stores in the state ever sell to someone with a fake ID?

Secondly, the number of retailers who apply and are ultimately granted licenses to sell wine will likely be much lower than the 2,800 being tossed around by opponents. Not every retailer has the space, the skill or the desire to go into the wine business. Also, with local officials ultimately controlling who has the ability to sell wine, you can bet not every application will be approved. Some estimates put the number of new licenses at under 1,000, about a 10 percent increase for the state when you count bars and reastaurants.

Finally, the suggestion that grocery stores selling wine will somehow lead to every 16 year old in the state suddenly getting hooked on chardonnay just does not fly. I live in North Carolina, where grocery stores can and do sell wine, along side beer. It makes it convenient for consumers and these retailers are responsible, proofing customers and monitoring employees. Selling wine along side food is also a way to teach responsible consumption, by showing the product is part of healthy living and family meals.

I would bet that Jenkins and Mahony would be in favor of tighter state controls overall on the sale of alcohol. Perhaps they would like to be in charge of a state store system. Then again, they might like to see Prohibition-style restrictions come in to play. I'm not sure, but I'm certain of one thing: these guys stepped over the line in trying to influence the outcome of the vote by scaring people into thinking Massachusetts would sink into the abyss if Shaw's or Price Chopper started selling merlot.


Mike said...

What's your source for the first point? I can't think of a single store that sells only beer in MA. Besides, this initiative is written really just for grocery stores.

Regardless, I support the ballot initiative and think the current campaign against it is rather ridiculous. I'm definitely voting for it this coming November. It seems that critics' major (and only true) argument is that it will enable underage drinking. This is patently ridiculous. Every grocery store from which I've bought alcohol from in MA has been extremely diligent in checking IDs. It doesn't matter how old someone is. Everyone is checked. Period. On the other hand, package stores have been noticeably less stringent. Besides, how many teenagers are out holding wine and cheese parties? I don't think so.

Rick Lyke said...


Thanks for the comment.

I clarified my first point, because I was trying to note that each grocery chain is already allowed to sell alcohol in three of their stores in the state.

My point is that the regulators are trying to make it sound like that once a grocery store gets a license they will not have to comply with the basic laws on selling alcohol. Springfield, Lenox and Worchester are not going to turn into Deadwood if this passes.

jack said...

Does Massachusetts currently permit sales of beer in grocery stores? If so, the apparatus for alcohol control already is in place at that retail level and the argument of the opponents is specious.

If not, the state could face an increase in staffing, depending on the growth of alcohol sales outlets. Some complaint, therefore, can be justified, but only barely.

Liquor lobbies in every state always have and always will oppose change that benefits the consumer. Jenkins and Mahoney no doubt spend all of their time with people in the liquor business, notwithstanding that they are regulators. Their perspective, obviously, is warped.

Romney's a Mormon. Don't look to him for help. The only cure is referendum.

Susan said...

Supermarkets take selling regulated products seriously. They have pharmacies an sell tobacco. they will do a better job of carding kids. Can you really imagine kids trying to buy wine in a supermarket frequented by parents and their friends? I am voting yes