State and national beer and wine interest groups are throwing their weight behind the campaign seeking to stop the privatization of state liquor sales. Two initiatives are slated for the November ballot, I-1100 and I-1105, that would kick the state out of the liquor business and allow stores that currently sell beer and wine—like grocery and convenience stores—to also carry liquor. Obviously, that would mean liquor would be competing with beer and wine on store shelves.
In the last week, the National Beer Wholesalers Association and the Washington Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association have contributed $1 million each to Protect Our Communities, the group opposing both initiatives, according to recent reports from the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission.
"These initiatives have huge implications for craft brewing, microbreweries, and wineries," says Sandeep Kaushik, a spokesman for Protect Our Communities. "They're threatened by these initiatives. The craft brewers oppose I-1100, especially. They see themselves pushed off the shelves."
Small-scale Washington wineries in the state echo this concern. They say that if I-1100 passes, selection will be choked out in favor of volume, which is why they’re opposing the initiative. “It repeals all current wine distribution laws that significantly impact small wineries,” explains Annie McGrath, spokeswoman for the Washington Wine Institute (WWI). “We’ve got some pretty great laws on the books for wineries that open up access for small guys to get into the marketplace—a retailer can’t require a winery to pay for shelf space or advertising or menu printing, for example. This initiative repeals all these key protections.” (On the bright side, you’d be able to buy a bathtub full of E.&J. Gallo at Costco for a song.)
McGrath adds that the WWI doesn’t have a position on I-1105 because it wold leave all those protections in place. “For us, this isn’t about privatizing liquor, it’s about losing businesses.” I-1100 would also repeal a state ban on bulk discounts of liquor, wine, and beer, a discount that puts small businesses at an industry disadvantage. The Washington Brewer’s Guild calls I-1100 “the greatest threat the Washington craft brewing industry has experienced in a decade.”
Protect our Communities has also received healthy support from labor and union groups, who oppose the loss of nearly 900 state liquor store jobs if either initiative passes.