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Oregon Grocers Will Gather Signatures for Liquor Sales on Grocery Shelves

One ballot initiative would allow grocers to sell craft spirits—locally distilled booze—and another would permit grocery sales of all hard liquor.

Oregon grocers are ready for another round of attempting to persuade the public to let them sell hard liquor on grocery shelves.

The owners of two local grocers filed petitions with the state and will soon begin gathering signatures for two ballot initiatives that would expand the sales of hard spirits to grocery stores statewide. It’s the third such effort since 2014—the previous two campaigns didn’t make the ballot, most recently because the grocery lobby directed its resources to defeating tax increases.

This time, the proprietors of two Oregon grocery chains, Lauren Johnson of Newport Avenue Market and Bill Caldwell of McKay’s Markets, are jointly gathering signatures for two distinct initiatives. One would allow grocers to sell craft spirits—locally distilled booze—and another would permit grocery sales of all hard liquor.

The Northwest Grocery Association, which is backing the initiative, says it will decide which ballot measure to pursue after gathering signatures for both. (Backers only need to gather 1,000 signatures statewide.)

In a press release, grocers pitched the idea as a way to increase tax dollars for the state. “Our measures allow local, independent, and chain grocers that have safely marketed and sold beer and wine for over 80 years to sell distilled spirits, while creating a new and sustainable state revenue stream for addiction and treatment service,” said Johnson.

Oregon’s sales of hard spirits are mostly restricted to liquor stores licensed by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission—a sharp difference from California and Washington, which allow grocery sales. But the state agency has recently started loosening that restriction a little—including by allowing several Portland-area Walmarts to sell the chain’s house brands of booze.

“I don’t think Oregonians want a liquor store on every corner,” OLCC Chair Rob Patridge told KATU-TV in 2016, even as he approved Walmart’s application. “I don’t think they want every gas station and convenience store to have bottles of liquor—that’s not what I hear from Oregonians.”

A survey earlier this year by Portland pollster DHM Research found widespread support across the state for grocery sales of liquor: 65% percent of people surveyed said they wanted booze on grocery shelves.

But such expansion of liquor sales would likely face opposition from addiction services advocates, like Oregon Recovers, who this year successfully hiked the price of well whisky in an effort to mitigate alcoholism.