Voters sent a strong message last year by their overwhelming passage of Initiative 1183—the liquor privatization initiative backed by wholesale giant Costco—but no one said getting the Liquor Control Board to give up micromanaging spirits sales would be a smooth and easy process.
Already the auctioning of state liquor stores has been characterized by confusion, and labor interests have dragged their legal challenge to I-1183 all the way to the Washington State Supreme Court.
Now the state’s largest restaurant industry group is wagging its finger at the Liquor Control Board over a proposal to place restrictions on the free market for spirits between retailers. For its part, the Liquor Control Board points to what may be a technical glitch in the law as the source of the commotion.
In a letter sent to the Liquor Control Board on Thursday by the Washington Restaurant Association and signed by more than 100 individual liquor licensees, the group expressed strong opposition to a new set of proposed rules.
The Board’s proposal would be to establish a daily limits of 24 liters for the amount of liquor retailers such as restaurants, bars and pubs would be allowed to purchase from other retailers.
The new rules would not effect purchases made from distributors.
The proposed language that has raised concerns at the WRA is as follows:
314-02-103(2): “No single sale to an on-premises liquor licensee may exceed twenty-four liters. Single sales to an on-premises licensee are limited to one per day.”
314-02-106(1)(C): “Sell spirits in original containers to on-premises liquor retailers, for resale at their licensed premises, although no single sale may exceed twenty-four liters, and single sales to an on-premises licensee are limited to one per day;”
In its letter, the WRA makes the argument that retraining the ability of private businesses to buy liquor in the quantities necessary to obtain volume pricing only hurts business and customers:
Limiting the way licensees are permitted to acquire their supply of spirits will harm our ability to compare pricing, options and customer service, ultimately impacting our customers and our bottom line. The addition of the language does not achieve any public safety objective, and reflects an inappropriate intrusion into a private system approved by voters in November.
Inserting language that effectively creates a different type of limitation than approved by voters will create a system that lacks appropriate competition and contrary to what voters approved.
According to Liquor Control Board spokesperson Brian Smith, the Board’s move was necessary because of what may be an ambiguity in Initiative 1183 as it was passed and enacted.
By telephone, Smith told us that the liquor privatization measure passed by voters contained language restricting single sales between retailers to 24 liters, but did not specify a time period for the restriction. Smith explained that the Board consulted with its legal counsel and the Governor’s office and determined the law’s requirement for single sales restrictions compelled them to associate a time period (a temporal restriction, in legalese) with the limit.
Smith added that the length of the time period has been a point of discussion in public hearings since the law was passed last year.