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Originally published May 31, 2012 at 4:11 PM | Page modified June 1, 2012 at 7:56 AM

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With privatization, Liquor Board needs to support consumer interests

The Seattle Times editorial board welcomes the beginning of private retail trade in bottled liquor in Washington. The Liquor Control Board should regulate the new market to maximize competition and consumer interest.

Seattle Times Editorial

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FRIDAY begins the private sale of bottled liquor at retail in Washington. The Washington Supreme Court wisely decided — by one vote — to respect the will of 59 percent of Washington voters. Liquor privatization should be a good change for consumers, but there are problems to be worked out.

Consumers should look carefully at prices. Many advertised prices do not include the 20.5 percent liquor sales tax or the $3.77 liter tax.

The system is new, and there is disagreement over taxes and rules. In regulating this new market, the Washington State Liquor Control Board should keep in mind the reason why voters approved Initiative 1183. They wanted a competitive market, with more choice, more convenience and better prices.

Better prices were never promised, and state and local government were promised they would have no loss in revenue from liquor. But there was to be competition, which was to keep prices in check.

Where the issue is economic, the Liquor Board should interpret the new law to maximize competition and consumer choice.

Already an argument has erupted over a provision in I-1183 that limits the right of bars and restaurants to buy liquor from retail stores rather than distributors. The law limits them to 24 liters. The retailers say this means 24 liters per transaction, with several transactions in a row if needed. The Liquor Board has decided it means 24 liters per store per day.

This is a question that pits the economic interests of two out-of-state liquor wholesalers against the interests of consumers here. The state should favor its own people.

The minimart issue is different. On this one, voters seemed to want economic considerations to be subordinate to safety and enforcement. Initiative 1183 was written to allow new liquor retailers of under 10,000 square feet only where there were no other retailers in the trade area.

The Liquor Board should define "trade area." broadly, so as to minimize the number of minimarts that sell alcoholic spirits.

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