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Boozing it up

For some odd reason, I find myself often fascinated with Massachusetts politics above those of my own New Hampshire. It's a great opportunity for me to express a purely theoretical form of politics: I have absolutely no stake in matters, but I can readily get all sorts of information about them.

This year, there is a ballot question in the Bay State that would allow grocery stores to sell wine. It's currently prohibited, and the fight over changing the law is quite heated -- and remarkably educational. And as (for various and sundry personal and medical reasons) I am a strict teetotaler, never having been more than slightly buzzed in my life, it's even more hypothetical for me.

The backers of the measure -- largely the grocery stores -- say that it's a matter of consumer choice and convenience. They say that it would not grant any new liquor licenses, but merely allow local communities the option of granting them to supermarkets that meet certain criteria and apply for them.

The opponents -- largely current owners of liquor stores -- say that it would start a "slippery slope" that would eventually lead to wine and beer being sold at any convenience store or mini-mart. It would pretty much double the number of liquor licenses in the state. It would make alcohol more accessible to minors, and lead to carnage on the highways.

My first thought is that the opponents have a point. There isn't a "slippery slope" when it comes to laws in Massachusetts. The "slope" is a ninety-degree cliff covered in axle grease. To say about Massachusetts lawmakers that "if you give them an inch, they'll take a light-year" would be an understatement. Their long-term contempt of the will of the people is firmly established.

That being said, I find myself sympathizing with the backers of the measure. Currently, the owners of liquor stores hold a state-established monopoly, and as a general principle I don't care for that. As a rule, I tend to back increased competition and consumer choice.

The final nail in the coffin, though, has to be the tactics used by the opponents. They have twice been caught violating state law in their actions. They had a police chief, in uniform and sitting in his office, film a commercial opposing it. They also had two of the three members of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Council make official statements on behalf of the ABCC against it. In both cases, the law prohibits public officials from using their offices to take political stands.

They are also having as one of their spokesman the grandfather of a young girl killed by a drunk driver. Ron Versani, the driving force behind Melanies Law, which heavily ratcheted up the penalties for drunk driving, is all over the airwaves denouncing the measure.

The odd thing is that in over 30 states, such liquor sales are already allowed. Here in Manchester, New Hampshire, I can walk less than three blocks to a Cumberland Farms and buy beer and wine to my heart's content. But the drunk-driving rates are not notably higher in states like mine that allow smaller stores to sell alcohol.

On Tuesday, the people of Massachusetts will go to the polls and decide whether or not to allow supermarkets to sell wine. The way they vote will not matter to me one whit. But it will be a telling indicator on whether or not the state will continue its trend of having the State protect them from themselves, or whether or not the people feel they can trust themselves not to be complete, self-destructive idiots.

After all, this is the state that keeps re-electing Ted Kennedy and John Kerry to the Senate.


Comments (28)

I always get a kick out of ... (Below threshold)

I always get a kick out of going out-of-state and seeing alcohol sold in convenience stores. It blows me away that people can do that. I guess we in PA are still repressed.

Where does Teddy get his bo... (Below threshold)
Old Coot:

Where does Teddy get his booze? Is it delivered by tanker-truck or in 55-gallon drums from Costco? Just curious.

In a recent trip to Denver,... (Below threshold)
epador:

In a recent trip to Denver, I couldn't figure out how come the Safeway seemed so small. It was missing the wine and beer aisles.

One thing to note: do the grocery stores say they're gonna reduce regular food prices since they'll get more profit from the booze?

The opponents -- largely... (Below threshold)
astigafa:

The opponents -- largely current owners of liquor stores -- say that it would start a "slippery slope" that would eventually lead to wine and beer being sold at any convenience store or mini-mart.

How terrible. Go to New Hampshire and buy it from the state. That's what government is for, eh?

My father in law, BTW, a Boston native, runs a gallon of Scotch through his liver about every three of four days. He's done that for the last 40 years or so. It's like being related to a science project.

Control of the sale of booz... (Below threshold)
Scrapiron:

Control of the sale of booze by the state and limited to state owned stores is the biggest contributor to drunk driving and other alchol problems. The drunks and alcholics know they are limited to when and where the can buy their daily fix so they buy large amounts. The problem is they can't control their drinking so they drink too much because it's available. They can't stand to have a full bottle in the house so they drink it. If it was available 24-7 they would not buy so much at a time. Rambling but that is a fact proven in states and cities that have changed the laws.
Making things illegal drives people to break the law, simply to break the law. Limits on teen drinking and smoking prove that daily. They will buy it simply to prove the can and once they buy it they use it.

"But the drunk-driving rate... (Below threshold)
todd:

"But the drunk-driving rates are not notably higher...". Hey Jay Tea: Does, or will New Hampshire allow for private stills to be set up for ethyl auto fuel? I know that this is allowed in some regions of the country.

What effect would this have on the atmosphere lying in the relatively lower lands of the Mad River Valley? Would it be a compatible mix with the maple syrup refiners? Would it tend toward esterics or aldehydes?

odd... when I lived in MA a... (Below threshold)
ken:

odd... when I lived in MA a year ago, the local Tedeschi sold beer and wine.
Nothing tops the drive-thru liquor stores they have down south or out west!

Ken:That way you c... (Below threshold)
odd:

Ken:

That way you can hurry off to the drive-thru, Las Vegas wedding chapel.

I live in California. You c... (Below threshold)
Scott:

I live in California. You can buy wine at Safeway or any other supermarket. You can buy it at the corner store, at AM-PM markets, etc.

Why is this a problem?

I am cooking a poached chicken tomorrow. I bought a nice Chardonnay at Safeway today for $4.

That's what a free market does.

It also helps that the largest wine-growing area in America is 40 miles north of me.

Grow up.

Scott:A $4.00 char... (Below threshold)
USMC Pilot:

Scott:

A $4.00 chardonnay? Obviously didn't have a cork!

Scott:Sorry, I jus... (Below threshold)
USMC Pilot:

Scott:

Sorry, I just couldn't resist.

Well, considering several s... (Below threshold)
Faith+1:

Well, considering several states allow the purchase of beer and wine at various stores and their highways aren't littered with the dead makes the opponents arguments ridiculous.

The argument has nothing to do with concern for the people oe drinking habits and everything to do with leveraging the government to regulate sales of a consumer product for the benefit of a select few. That is just wrong on so many fronts.

It is nothing but an argument over using the government for a protectionist racket to articifically protect businesses.

Wet/Dry is what they have i... (Below threshold)
Joe:

Wet/Dry is what they have in Texas. Last year the local city voted to allow beer/wine sales in grocery stores AND liquor by the drink in restaurants. Previously, if it was a dry city, all that liquor tax revenue collected on liquor sales of any sort was collected by the few wet cities. It made some cities (like Addison) very prosperous. Now that competition has come, those previous wet cities have seen a decline in restaurant business and previous dry cities have experienced a mini boom. Income redistribution WITHOUT onerous tax laws. Amazing. Another side benefit of it was, previously liquor by the drink was only available in 'private clubs', which generated the ficticious 'unicard' system. So for a $1.00, you became a 'member' of the 'unicard club' and therefore could purchase liquor by the drink. A hypocritical and stupid loophole to get around a former blue law holdover. Restaurants often just gave away the cards (taking down your driver's license number first!), just to get the liquor sale (and the profit).

Being a very occasional consumer myself, I voted FOR allowing beer/wine sales in grocery stores / liquor by the drink just because it p*ssed off my wife (who is a rabid tea-totler), the previous law with loopholes was so hypocritical, and the tax revenue that was given away to surrounding cities without the blue law. And, Surprise. I don't read of any increased drunken road rage carnage on the road, the sun still rose in the morning, and we are not picking up hordes of drunken revelers off the sidewalks in the morning. Surprise. Surprise. Surprise.

And, like a previous commenter, when it's time to fixed my favorite Marsala wine dish, or I need a can of beer for Drunken Chicken, I don't have to drive 20 miles round trip, now its three blocks to the local Krogers. Call it a blue law defeated for a green purpose.

I bought a nice Chardonn... (Below threshold)
astigafa:

I bought a nice Chardonnay at Safeway today for $4.

Sounds enchanting. I'll bring the graham crackers.

I believe law enforcement i... (Below threshold)

I believe law enforcement is against this measure as well. I work in MA, but thankfully do not live there. Either way, any state that elects Ted Kennedy cannot be trusted to make the right decision.

Hell, any state that elects... (Below threshold)

Hell, any state that elects Ted Kennedy has no right to say anything against alcohol.

Personally, I had no great ... (Below threshold)
cmd:

Personally, I had no great care on either side of this question, but when I heard Ron Versani's radio ad where he said - and I paraphrase - "I can't promise that drunk driving will increase if this measure is passed, but I know people who think it will."

Excuse me? You know people who think it might increase drunk driving? You have nothing but presumption and feeling?

Well, screw you, Versani - this state isn't run by your feelings, and it isn't run by what you think will happen. Here's a clue for you, slick - don't hide behind Melanie, but come out like a man and give us facts and figures.

Oh, but I forgot - your granddaugher was killed by a drunk driver. So obviously, you've got the ultimate moral authority to lecture the rest of us benighted fools as to what products ought to be sold in a store.

Take your "I think," take your question and screw, asshat.

Slightly off topic, but pos... (Below threshold)
Brian the Adequate:

Slightly off topic, but possibly interesting note.

When I was living in Colorado, some state representative decided to try and repeal the blue law prohibiting liquor and car sales on Sunday. The initiative went down in flames due to ardent opposition funded primarily by car dealers and liquor store owners. Seems they liked the law because it gave them a day off without having to lose sales to competitors who wouldn't voluntarily take a day off.

I live in the communist sta... (Below threshold)
Knightbrigade:

I live in the communist state of mASS. Hacks here will stomp on the will of the people any chance they get, AND THE HACKS keep getting RE-elected!!! GO figure!!! so maybe the people GET what they deserve!? ex: Teddy gasbag, and John footinmouth.

Anyway I am voting YES on question ONE.
I will also be voting (Ken CHASE) for Senate, and hope the gasbag supporters take a nap that day.

Brian the Adequate:<p... (Below threshold)
USMC Pilot:

Brian the Adequate:

You got that right! The greatest thing to hit the restaurant business was the no smoking in restaurant laws. Now we don't have to have those stupid smoking sections that no one wanted to sit in , and none of the waitresses want to work. And this from someone who hates government regulations. Well. I never said I wasn't a hypocrit sometimes.

YES, $4 Chardonnay. ... (Below threshold)
Scott:

YES, $4 Chardonnay.

It's Fetzer, from Sonoma County. It does TOO have a cork.

Wine is cheap here, folks.

Scott:Well, someon... (Below threshold)
USMC Pilot:

Scott:

Well, someone has finally come up with a good reason to live in CA.

Wow, Scott, that is a good ... (Below threshold)

Wow, Scott, that is a good deal.

What is the expiration date on that Chardonnay, anyway?

J.

Scott:You may now ... (Below threshold)
USMC Pilot:

Scott:

You may now feel free to take cheap shots at Georgia.

You can't buy wine and beer... (Below threshold)

You can't buy wine and beer in the grocery stores in some states?

Gah!

And Epador, the mark up between wholesale and retail (at least here in Florida) is quite small. The convenience stores mark it up a little more, but they mark everything up more. And if the grocery stores want to price competitively with the liquor stores, they won't being making any great profit. I buy beer, wine and liquor at wholesale for the restaurant so I know the mark up is small.

The real question is - If Mass does pass the law, will they lower taxes if they begin collecting more money for licensing? I guess we all know the answer to that one.

Scott:A $4.00 char... (Below threshold)
Imhotep:

Scott:

A $4.00 chardonnay? Obviously didn't have a cork!

Posted by: USMC Pilot at November 4, 2006 04:36 PM

FWIW, most of the newly bottled wines don't have "corks". It's either a plastic replica or a screw top. That includes the $20 - 30 bottles from Cali; which you can get at Costco for $15!

Does anyone have stats that show that in states where grocery stores can't sell alcohol, the drunk driving arrests/deaths are lower?

We live in Kansas, which ha... (Below threshold)
cj:

We live in Kansas, which has some restrictive alcohol policies -- just recently can buy on Sunday; can't buy ice in liquor stores, so they have a little cubicle selling ice, which has to be a separate purchasing transaction; can't buy alcohol over the internet and have it delivered to you. (They used to have, about 15-20 years ago, the 'membership' criteria to buy alcohol in restaurants, or bring your own.)

So when my husband and I traveled to Belgium a few years ago and went thru a McDonald's drive-thru window, needless to say, we were a bit surprised that BEER was on the beverage menu!

It's not about where it's s... (Below threshold)
melissa:

It's not about where it's sold. It's about the amount of liquor license that will be distributed in each town or city. As it is there are liquor stores everywhere. There are already enough liquor licenses allotted. We don't need liquor everywhere. MA people are already in enough trouble with DWI's. In reality we are doing the courts and the juditial system and the people of MA a favor by not issueing MORE liquor licenses. It would mean more alcohal consumption and more problems.




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