The Pros and Cons of Initiative I-1100 - Liquor Sales in Washington State

Note: This article is republished due to public interest. The original publication date was June 23, 2010.

On June 23rd, a campaign called Modernize Washington delivered over 396,000 signatures for Initiative 1100 to the Secretary of State's office in an effort to get the initiative on the November general election ballot. Both the pro- and con- sides of this initiative have produced talking points presenting their positions. Below is text from the YES campaign website for Modernize Washington in favor of Initiative 1100 followed by a press release by to NO campaign, Keep Our Kids Safe, against Initiative 1100.

We present both arguments so you may judge their respective merits.

YES on Initiative 1100

The main goal behind Modernize Washington’s Initiative to the People I-1100 is contained in Section 1:

The people of Washington State desire that the Liquor Control Board focus on its core mission of education and enforcement to protect the health, welfare and safety of the citizens.

In order to strengthen the agency to more effectively educate the public, combat abuse, collect tax revenue and enforce state liquor laws, the Washington State Liquor Control Board will stop selling liquor and end its Prohibition-era monopoly on selling distilled spirits. The state will license the sale of distilled spirits to strictly regulated vendors who are already proven to be responsible sellers of beer and wine.

This initiative will improve regulations to prevent abusive and underage drinking, enforce licensing regulations and collect taxes for the State’s general fund.

The Initiative accomplishes this goal by creating these changes to existing law that is called Title 66 in our Revised Code of Washington.

  • Washington State’s Liquor Control Board [LCB] will no longer sell liquor.
  • LCB will end their current contracts with contract liquor stores.
  • Current operators in good standing of contract stores will receive licenses to continue in business as a private retailer, if they wish to continue operating.
  • LCB will no longer distribute spirits. The state distribution warehouse will be sold to generate money for the state.
  • A new distributor can be licensed and may buy from any licensed distillery and sell to licensed vendors just like beer and wine sellers.
  • Any store or distributor currently licensed to sell beer or wine, and in good standing, will be able to obtain a license to sell spirits, for an additional license fee.
  • Local jurisdictions throughout the State can determine how many outlets they will allow in their city via zoning regulations.
  • The state’s ‘mark-up’ on spirits is eliminated.
  • The existing tax on liquor will remain and it will be up to the Legislature to adjust the amount of tax.
  • The initiative mentions a 10% tax on purchases of spirits by restaurants. This is not a new tax or a tax increase. This is a technical update to current law, and merely requires private sellers to collect the existing tax which is now collected only by state stores.
  • Repeals the "Three-Tier System", a set of Prohibition-era "blue laws" which grant monopoly privileges to middlemen, at the detriment of consumers.
  • Frees the LCB from the burden of enforcing outdated and unhelpful "blue laws". The LCB will instead focus its mission on enforcement of licensing laws and education against under age drinking and general abuse of alcohol.
  • All license fees from the new licenses to sell spirits may only be used for enforcing liquor laws and educating the public against underage drinking and other abusive alcohol consumption.

No on Initiative 1100

Initiative 1100 Is a Major Threat to Public Safety that Will Cost Taxpayers Hundreds of Millions

Proposed measure puts our children and communities at risk by eliminating sensible regulations and allowing more than ten-fold increase in outlets selling hard liquor

With the State Auditor estimating that teens’ access to hard alcohol will increase by over 400% if Initiative 1100 passes, a growing coalition of public safety officials and others – calling on voters to “Keep Our Kids Safe” – today denounced Initiative 1100, a proposed statewide measure to privatize liquor sales.

“I see people all the time who come into the Hospital after a car accident caused by alcohol,” said Sharon Ness, a Tacoma-area nurse. “Why on earth would we ever want to sell liquor in the same stores where we sell Cheerios? Allowing hard liquor to be sold in neighborhood convenience stores, gas stations and thousands of other outlets across the state is bad for our health and bad for our kids.”

Currently, there are 340 outlets across the state licensed to sell hard liquor. Since any outlet now selling beer and wine will be allowed to sell hard liquor under I-1100, the number of outlets will skyrocket to more than 3,300 if the initiative passes, as controls over the distribution of liquor are wiped out.

“Making hard alcohol more accessible by selling it in convenience stores is a potential threat to the public’s health and to the safety of our communities,” added Kelly Fox, Olympia Firefighter and President of the Washington State Council of Firefighters, who over his career has been a first responder at the scene of many tragic drunk driving accidents.

According to a recent report from the State Auditor, under its current system Washington maintains a 94% compliance rate with no-sale to minors. However, other states with privatized sales have a compliance rate of 75%, meaning that roughly one out of every four underage kids who walk into a convenience store to buy liquor walk out with a bottle in hand.  That represents a 400 percent increase in the rate of non-compliance.  In addition to making alcohol more accessible to minors,  I-1100 would also harm kids by eliminating hundreds of millions of dollars of state revenue from alcohol sales that is currently used to support public safety, education and children's health care.

If Initiative 1100 were in effect in 2009, Washington State taxpayers would have lost more than $230 million in revenue, which was used to fund schools throughout the state as well as health care and other core services.