March Update on I-1183

March 21, 2012

As you recall, last November, Washington voters approved I-1183, which basically allows private sales of liquor instead of state sales. Even though the law does not go into effect until June 1, my local Fred Meyers has actually already done a lot of shifting of products in order to get shelf space for the liquor, shelf space that will remain empty for another three months.

I said last fall that I was focused on the distribution aspect of I-1183. A few weeks ago, The Olympian wrote an article about how, starting on March 1, Washington bars and restaurants could buy liquor direct from the distilleries. I think this is a good thing. I had argued that a distributors are still needed for a business in the alcohol industry, but sometimes, you need the ability to bypass them for the local economy. This article still confirms this is happening, as Dry Fly Distilling out of Spokane is in the process of getting a distributor. What I am hoping is that local restaurants will start carrying locally made alcohol and promote it more because the shorter distance makes it easier to bypass a distributor. I see distributors as being a good thing for a larger scale, bigger distance market.

There is some speculation that liquor prices will be going up, according to the Seattle Times. I-1183 had some increased fees to cover the cost of enforcement and education, fees that make distributed liquor 10% higher than state sold liquor. It will be interesting to see if this actually pans out.

Last of all, just this week the Cowlitz County superior court ruled that I-1183 does not violate the state’s constitution. In this case, Judge Stephen Warning actually overturned his previous ruling on the matter. The suit argued that I-1183 violated “state rules requiring initiatives to address only one subject because it included a provision to set aside $10 million for public safety.” Warning’s ruling on March 2 stated that the measure did address two subjects, but he overturned his own decision on March 19, stating that “there is a well-established – albeit negative – relationship between public safety and liquor,” so I-1183 is seen as dealing with all issues of liquor and not a separate issue. There are other challenges to I-1183 still happening.

Meanwhile, my Fred Meyer’s store will have rows sitting empty for the next three months, waiting for June 1 when they can sell liquor.

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