OLCC proposes allowing large grocery chains to sell liquor

Half-gallon bottles of Kirkland Signature Vodka@@ will hit the shelves in Costco Wholesale stores in Washington next year after voters approved an initiative last Tuesday to dismantle the state’s monopoly on liquor sales. Now that Washington joined 32 other states with privatized liquor sales, some state officials are beginning to question whether Oregon should follow suit.

For the first time since prohibition, stores larger than 10,000 square feet @@[email protected]@— such as Trader Joe’s and Safeway@@names [email protected]@ — will be permitted to sell liquor in Washington as of June 1. Washington-based Costco spent a record $22.5 million promoting the initiative. But President of the Northwest Grocery Association Joe Gilliam@@[email protected]@, who represented Costco in the measure, said the association does not plan to pursue a similar initiative in Oregon.

In a statement to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission@@, Gilliam said an initiative may not be necessary in Oregon because lawmakers might have a better chance of passing a bill to privatize liquor sales if the same strong public support for the issue in Washington is also present in Oregon.

Gilliam’s statements were in response to an OLCC proposal drafted in January of this year that will come before the OLCC’s Board of Commissioners next month. The proposal, if accepted, will not only allow individuals to sell liquor but will also let large grocery chains such as Safeway, Albertsons and Costco sell liquor.

“It would be like a store within a store,” OLCC spokeswoman Christie Scott said@@[email protected]@, who compared it to how some Fred Meyer locations sell jewelry from Fred Meyer Jewelers.

The OLCC would still set the price of liquor and distribute it from the OLCC warehouse, which is a step in Washington’s initiative eliminated. Scott feels that the proposal reflects the OLCC’s work to keep its liquor system “fresh and innovative.” But Gilliam argues that the proposal does not encourage a competitive marketplace where liquor manufacturers determine liquor prices.

Still, the OLCC proposal presents big changes for liquor sales in Oregon. Instead of making separate trips to buy liquor, consumers could just go to Safeway or Fred Meyer.

“That’d be great,” University sophomore Amy McCasker said. “I wouldn’t have to drive far to get liquor.”@@[email protected]@

University senior Nick Ray@@[email protected]@ said he wouldn’t have a problem with the proposal as long as grocery chains checked identification.

“It’d be more convenient because I wouldn’t have to make two trips,” Ray said.

Although the Washington initiative provoked the concern among voters that liquor consumption and sales to minors would increase, Jennifer Summers@@[email protected]@, director of substance abuse at the University, does not think the proposal would be a problem for University students.

Summers explained the University works with the OLCC, along with community organizations, to help determine alcohol laws that ensure campus safety. Summers also said only a small percentage of University students show signs of alcohol abuse, pointing out that statistics for alcohol use among University students are the same as most campuses in the nation.

“The reality is a big chunk of students here don’t drink and don’t participate in activities that involve alcohol,” Summers said. She cited an American College Health Association@@ survey that reported 23 percent of University students do not drink at all.

The University will continue to monitor rates of alcohol use and continue educating students about substance abuse no matter where liquor is available, Summers said.

“As long as the OLCC does a great job with liquor laws, increased liquor consumption shouldn’t be an issue on campus, as it hasn’t been an issue in other states with privatized liquor sales,” she said.

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