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Originally published Tuesday, November 8, 2011 at 9:36 PM

Initiative 1183 passes, ending state's experiment in alcoholic socialism

The Seattle Times editorial board welcomes the apparent passage of Initiative 1183, to privatize the sale of bottled sprits in Washington.

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THE victory of Initiative 1183 is good news for the consumers and taxpayers of Washington. State government does not need to be in the liquor business. It is sufficient that the state regulates that business and collects taxes from it.

This is not a measure for cheap liquor. Washington taxes alcoholic sprits heavily, for financial and social reasons. That will continue. But bottled spirits will no longer be sold in state dispensaries.

The victory of I-1183 shows that voters were not deceived by the dishonest campaign against it. That campaign made a big noise about a "loophole" that could allow minimarts to sell liquor where no store was larger than 10,000 square feet in the trade area. The campaign said that because "trade area" was undefined, the law would open up liquor sales to 1,000 minimarts.

That was nonsense, and we never believed it.

The new law lets the Liquor Board define "trade area." We trust the board will do it in a reasonable way, so that rural people are served without the indiscriminate licensing of minimarts.

Many small communities have an independent grocer with a store larger than a minimart but smaller than 10,000 square feet. The board should license those stores before any minimart.

Under I-1183, the state stores close June 1. They will have existed for 78 years and two months — an experiment in alcoholic socialism aimed to slow the pace of change at the end of Prohibition.

Early on, the state's rules were strict. Until 1948, it was illegal for restaurants to sell liquor by the drink. The customer had to bring his liquor to a "bottle club," which would sell the mixer only.

The hotel industry circulated an initiative to end that restriction, and the people voted for it.

This time, Costco sponsored the initiative — and spent a supersized amount of money to promote it. The Legislature would not have done it; it ignored privatization bills by Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, for years.

Now the people have voted yes, and by a decisive margin.

And so we progress.

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