The Northwest Grocery Association today filed five versions of an initiative petition aimed at privatizing the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.
As WW reported in a cover story last year, the filing has been almost inevitable since Washington voters approved privatizing that state's liquor sales system in 2011.
Large grocers such as Fred Meyer and Safeway have long felt the current Oregon system, which dates from the 1930s, is archaic. Although there are now some exceptions, virtually every bottle of hard liquor sold in Oregon is first purchased by the OLCC, shipped through its Milwaukie warehouse and then sold through a state-chartered liquor store. (As the grocers have pushed for change, a few grocery stores have been allowed to sell hard liquor).
The distributors, who serve as middlemen between the manufacturers of alcoholic beverages and retail outlets oppose privatization. Although the Oregon Beer & Wine Distributors, represented by the father and daughter team of Paul and Danelle Romain, are a powerful force in the Legislature, the OLCC has not always been popular with Oregonians. That's in part because liquor stores are often small and because of state rules, open fewer hours than some drinkers would like.
So far in Washington, privatization has been a mixed bag. Initially, higher prices sent Washingtonians scrambling to Oregon for cheaper booze. Advocates of privatization have promised greater convenience—i.e. consumers can buy their Jack Daniels and their groceries in the same place.
There are deep-pocketed interests on both sides of this fight, however, so Oregonians can look forward to plenty of advocacy from both sides.
Updated at 2:20 pm with a statement from proponents of privatization, who call themselves Oregonians for Competition, and include chief petitioners Lynn Gust, Division President of Portland-based Fred Meyer Stores, and Lauren Johnson, Chief Operating Officer of Newport Avenue Market in Bend.
“It’s appropriate for the state to regulate and license the sale of alcoholic beverages and to enforce state laws related to liquor,” said Melinda Merrill, spokesperson for Fred Meyer Stores. “But state monopolies on liquor sales -- like Oregon’s system -- are costly to taxpayers as well as consumers. The initiative will end the state’s outdated liquor store monopoly system and allow distilled spirits to be sold safely and responsibly in retail stores just like they are in most other states, while at the same time strengthening our state’s liquor laws.”