Booze, Politics and State Control

By James Madeiros


Most of the tippling public is given to understand that Prohibition ended amid many celebratory clinking glasses in December 1933, but the truth is that a subtler form of liquor control has persisted to this day.

State-controlled liquor sales are nothing new to the industry, although many would likely be surprised to find what kind of weird and wonky liquor laws this creates among various states.State liquor monopolies (there are now 17) limits who can sell what kind of alcohol where and when, which some people have argued since 1933 is simply a more underhanded version of Prohibition.

To be sure, it does create a great deal of incentive for state Liquor Control Boards to guard revenues from would-be private retail profit poachers, and usually leaves politicians stuck trying to appease both state liquor agents and powerful retail interests (i.e. grocery stores and supermarket chains) in an arena where one side must lose.

The most recent showdown over deregulation in the state of Washington was won by private retailers, thanks in large part to a hefty $22.7 million campaign support contribution from Costco, which stands to profit handsomely from liquor sales privatization. Despite much post-vote maneuvering by opposing politicos – and even lawsuits filed by distributors fearing they’d be cut out of the profits – liquor sales in grocery stores commenced in the state on June 1, 2012.

The NO on I-1183 campaign fought the measure on the grounds that more liquor sales would mean more crime and social ills, and also argued that voters shouldn’t let Costco buy the election. But, what has been the real result, now that the state is approaching its first month of freedom from the state’s liquor tyrants?

Buyer’s remorse, say many voters. An informal survey conducted by the Seattle Times, combined with some light retail research, revealed that prices for liquor have gone up for many preferred brands, and many pro-1183 voters are feeling they were bamboozled by the promise of more, cheaper booze.

Of course, no one really promised 1183 supporters anything of the kind, and many find it unsurprising that retailers would hike prices. Savvy consumers have long known that convenience comes at a price, even at a wholesaler like Costco. The upshot, however, may be that the liquor sticker shock will better prevent the very social ills NO on 1183 campaigners so terribly fear.


Legal Stuff: I should remind everyone that our blog entries are for your information only and are not intended as medical advice. If you’re going to drink, do it legally and responsibly; don’t be stupid =).

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