by Goldy, 06/28/2010, 11:19 AM

At it’s convention this weekend, Washington State Democrats voted overwhelmingly both to endorse Initiative 1068, which would legalize the sale and use of marijuana, and to oppose initiatives 1100 and 1105, which would privatize liquor sales, shuttering Washington’s profitable State Store monopoly.

And while Slog’s Dominic Holden might find it “weird” for Dems to support liberalizing the sale of pot while opposing the same for liquor, I don’t. In fact, as I wrote last year, our State Store system actually provides our fast and surest path toward rationalizing marijuana laws in Washington state:

Other states may be further along the political path toward de facto legalization, but no other state, with the exception of my native Pennsylvania, has a more robust system already in place for effectively executing it. Washington already heavily regulates the in-state manufacture of wine, beer and distilled spirits, and maintains an extensive statewide network of retail stores and distribution centers for the sole purpose of operating its exclusive monopoly on the retail sale of liquor. A similar monopoly on the legal sale of marijuana would not only be easily implemented, but highly profitable for taxpayers and state farmers alike.

At an estimated street value of over $1 billion a year, marijuana is already Washington’s number two cash crop, second only to apples, and consistently ranking us among the top five pot-producing states.  By legalizing and regulating a crop that is already being grown, the state could impose standards of consistency and quality on the product, and by setting prices as the only legal buyer for the crop, farmers could be assured a stable, legal income for their efforts.

And considering the existing federal ban on marijuana, and the federal government’s constitutional authority over interstate commerce, Washington’s State Stores, by necessity, would initially only be able to buy and sell state-grown product, thus nurturing a nascent hemp industry that would eventually produce a valuable export commodity once the ban is lifted nationally, perhaps even dominating the market.

As for retail and consumption, the same restrictions that apply to the sale and use of liquor would apply to the sale and use of marijuana, with the state likely maintaining prices at or near current street levels. The result would be hundreds of millions of dollars a year in additional state revenues, plus hundreds of millions of dollars in savings from law enforcement and incarceration (not to mention the elimination of the incalculable human suffering caused by our current prohibition.) Distribution to minors, for profit or otherwise, would be strictly prohibited and harshly punished, as would driving under the influence of marijuana. And just as consumers may already legally make their own beer and wine for their own consumption, the current guidelines on medical marijuana could be easily adapted to apply to all home growers.

This isn’t some half-cocked, pot-induced fantasy (I don’t personally use the stuff) but rather a pragmatic, rational, working model for legalization. I don’t know what Dominic is smoking or drinking when he says he’ll vote for both the marijuana and the liquor privatization initiatives (you’d think that hundreds of millions of dollars in state revenues would be enough to offset the inconvenience of not being able to buy a bottle of Maker’s Mark at 3AM), but given the self-destructive failure of marijuana prohibition, and the way its widespread illicit use undermines respect for the law by normalizing its violation, now is exactly the wrong time to dismantle our best path toward legalization by rashly dismantling our State Store system.

No state is better positioned to move our nation’s marijuana laws forward. Let’s not blow it.

UPDATE:
Dominic points out via email that in pursuit of a springboard I quoted the word “weird” out of context:

Sure it seems weird, but this comes down to cash.

So yeah, Dominic was actually explaining why it’s not all that “weird.”  My bad.

That said, I still find it weird that somebody like Dominic, who understands the budget impact of liquor privatization, would vote for it regardless.

41 Responses to “It’s time to expand, not shutter, our State Store system”

1. rhp6033 spews:

Having come from an all-private liquor store state, I’ve been very happy to see the much better environment here caused by the State liquor stores.

Back hom, some areas had liquor stores on every block, with ugly neon signs and barred windows and doors, with a security guard armed with a shotgun sitting at the door. Every newspaper was filled with reports of 2:00 a.m. robberies of the stores, often with violent shoot-outs between the robbers and the security guards/clerks. The police were often hired as part-time security guards, creating an uncomfortable situation where the same police who were supposed to be enforcing the laws with respect to liquor sales were looking to the same storeowners for employment on the next shift. I was able to easily purchase hard liquor at age 16, as the store clerks were directed by the store owners to not ask any questions, but deny any involvement once the store clerks got caught.

So somebody might get their booze a couple of bucks cheaper a bottle if it were privatized? I think that’s a cost worth paying to keep the sale of hard liquor under state control.

2. It's the Economy, Stupid. spews:

@1. Sounds like unfettered capitalism to me. What could possibly be wrong with that?

3. I Got Nuthin' spews:

Privatizing alcohol sales is an issue that the Dems are way out of step with the mainstream populace. I predict that either–or both– initiatives will pass in every county in the state, which to my knowledge has only happened once, with the ban on smoking in places of business.

4. Daddy Love spews:

I look forward to large signs at the state stores saying “BEER WINE DOPE”*

* or pot, herb, grass, weed, Mary Jane, reefer, Aunt Mary, skunk, boom, gangster, kif, ganja, doobie, green, herbonium (really, it’s in the periodic table, man, I swear to God!)

5. YLB spews:

I look forward to large signs at the state stores saying “BEER WINE DOPE”*

I like the signs as they are – State Liquor Store or whatever they say. Unobtrusive, low key. I don’t drink anything stronger than wine myself. People who like that stuff and really want it will know where to get it.

No need to promote it on radio/tv either. As a community we can say we value a clear head – but for consenting adults – to each his own.

Community control of the distribution, sale and taxation of stronger intoxicants. I’m all for it.

6. JL spews:

@2: If I have to pay a few dollars more to ensure that the state has enough money to keep running, I’m actually okay with that. Unless you’re advocating for reducing the overall sales tax and instituting a straight state income tax to supplement the lost income from the state store (which, as I understand it, wouldn’t be recouped by sales tax revenue from privatized liquor sales).

7. Alki Postings spews:

Won’t happen. We have to keep marijuana illegal! Sure cigarettes are more carcinogenic (by orders of magnitude), and alcohol causes more driving deaths (by orders of magnitude)…but marijuana is just “bad”. We can’t show how scientifically it’s worse than tobacco or alcohol, it’s just magically bad and it makes baby Jesus sad.
(sarcasm)

As for reality, I understand the concern about “liquor store” on every corner. Fine. Can’t we just regulate them like any other liquor license? Just allow SO many with certain conditions? Why does it have to be this nutty ALL OR NOTHING debate…we can’t have ANY private liquor sales, or there must be a liquor store on every corner. Isn’t there a sensible in between?

8. elenchos spews:

Isn’t most of that “hundreds of millions of dollars” in revenue from wine and beer, not liquor? And the minor fraction that comes from liquor can still be collected via tax, just like wine and beer.

I get that some people think liquor is scary and the state stores speak well to that fear. And so people who think pot is scary might be less fearful if it was sold in a state store. But really, do we need a whole layer of government because of a little irrational fear?

9. proud leftist spews:

I think our state liquor store system works just fine. I see no reason for a change. Surely, the burden of proof should be on the initiative proponents to show how privatization would be beneficial.

10. YLB spews:

But really, do we need a whole layer of government because of a little irrational fear?

I think it makes this state a better place to live.

I came from a liquor store on every corner state just like rhp.

It’s ugly. It sucks.

If I’m afraid of anything it’s this state turning into a place just like other states. As it is this state is a model for the legalization of mj. I wish the whole country could adopt our model.

11. Goldy spews:

elenchos @8,

Hundreds of millions of dollars a year in profits from the sale of liquor go into state coffers. The state stores are profitable, beyond the actual excise tax.

As for irrational fear, there are societal costs due to the abuse of alcohol and marijuana, like all physically and behaviorally addictive substances and activities. Privatizing liquor sales will increase consumption. Increased consumption will increase abuse. And beyond the obvious human suffering from increased alcohol abuse (illness, injury, domestic violence, etc.) there will also be increased cost to government to deal with the consequences.

As for marijuana… do you want it truly legalized, or would you prefer to maintain the fantasy of it someday being legalized, because the State Store model is a proven model for making the sale of a controlled substance acceptable.

12. elenchos spews:

I remember there used to be billboards saying the alcohol content of a shot, a beer and a glass of wine was equal. They were talking about drunk driving, I believe, but it applies more generally. Do they still have those?

I also know that you can be falling down drunk on beer or wine just as with liquor, and there are plenty of alcoholics who never touch the hard stuff. “I only drink beer” or “I only drink wine” does not mean you aren’t a lush.

And if restricting access to the hard stuff protected kids, well, where’s the data on that? Washington’s teens get drunk as much or more as in states with private liquor stores.

What is the real difference between hard liquor, and wine and beer? Fear and mythology makes liquor different.

And of course nobody is trying to repeal the laws that require neighbor buy-in to sell liquor. Same as wine and beer, if you remember right. So you’ll only see booze sold on every corner if that’s what people on every block are asking for.

13. czechsaaz spews:

“you’d think that hundreds of millions of dollars in state revenues would be enough to offset the inconvenience of not being able to buy a bottle of Maker’s Mark at 3AM”

That’s the brightest of red colored herrings.

I also dispute the “wild, wild, west!” atmosphere described here in privatized liquor states. Annecdotal evidence doesn’t really fly. Are there stores I’ve seen in South Central L.A. that have armed guards? Yes. Are there Jewelry stores in Seattle that have armed guards? Yes. Risk assesment crosses all business types. Been in a gun store in the last 20 years. Every employee is carrying, for a good reason.

Why would the revenue go away? The tax rate on Liquor would remain the same. How would the “profit” generated by state stores be replaced? Simple. Massive reduction in overhead. (Yes, I recognize that employees of state stores would temporarily be unemployed.) Add in the licensing fee that would be charged to every retail outlet that wants to sell booze. If that fee were pegged around the rate of a “tavern”, $2,000 per year, every Safeway, QFC, Albertsons, PCC, Rite Aid, Bartell’s, Costco, WallMart, ad nauseum would pony up and really overwhelm any economic loss to the state.

As for the 3am crap, California sets limits on times alcohol can be sold. The potential loss of the revenue stream (yanked license) keeps stores in line.

14. czechsaaz spews:

@12.

Some still push that a drink is a drink philosophy. That was more or less true in the days of 12 oz macro beer = 4%, 4 oz wine = 10%, one ounce of 40 proof.

It’s not a good model anymore as most craft beer is over 5% (there’s one in my cellar that 17%.) Wine has crept up to 12% or higher. Beer is now served in pints more often than not. Wine is 4 glasses per bottle in most places which makes 5oz and change. Booze is now often servend in massive martini glasses with 1.5-2oz per cocktail.

15. Alki Postings spews:

I’m not sure I buy the argument that consumption would go up one way or the other. Is there REALLY anyone who wants to drink vodka but just can’t GET IT right now? Really? We have to be talking a tiny percentage of the public. Even if a wholesale vodka store opened up NEXT DOOR to me, I wouldn’t drink one ounce more. I can buy ice cream 24/7 all over town, but I don’t just sit in my living room eating gallons a day. This idea is used to control marijuana too, and the argument behind alcohol prohibition as well. If you make alcohol legal, mom & dad will just sit home and get drunk all day (cause that’s what we ALL secretly want to do) and no one will take care of the kids and they’ll starve to death. Same with pot, make it legal and everyone will start using it. Nonsense. Wasn’t true with alcohol and isn’t true of any other drug. Truly addictive drugs like cigarettes or heroin, perhaps there are issues with ANY availability, but beer or pot aren’t THAT addictive (unless you have a gene for addiction) and availability won’t drive demand in a statistically significant proportion.

16. Steve spews:

“I get that some people think liquor is scary and the state stores speak well to that fear.”

Less today’s fear, I think, than yesterday’s. I recall that not that many years ago this state was closed up pretty much tighter than a drum on Sundays.

When I saw my first liquor supermarket in Colorado, I was like, “Holy shit!” Living in California, I appreciated the convenience of one-stop shopping.

17. czechsaaz spews:

One other note…

Privatisation and competition isn’t just about price. My apartment in Southern California was 10 blocks from a liquor store that carried over 200 bottles of scotch. $25 cheapies to a $6,000 single barrel 50 year-old. Tourists from Japan would make a point to go.

There’s nothing like it in Washington. There is no incentive for the State store to cater to someone like me who would buy a high end bottle every two years. There is no competition among the stores so no one to fill the niche. If you can get it at every store in the state (or special order it from their small approved list) it really isn’t rare, is it?

18. K spews:

I haven’t seen nearly enough discussion about the usefulness of state liquor stores for acquiring free moving boxes. Now where will I go?

19. bj spews:

The state probably wouldn’t be in the position of losing this easy revenue if they’d just left the post-prohibition dark ages and changed their rules to accommodate Costco. After losing in court, I think Costco then decided that privatization was their only option to negotiate lower prices. (I WAS against privatization, until Costco came out for it.)

20. YLB spews:

What is the real difference between hard liquor, and wine and beer?

Alcohol concentration, raw materials and manufacture – but that’s hardly the point.

The point is what do WE want as a community.

If a majority of the community wants things the way they are they will stay that way period. I hope that’s the case.

If you don’t like it, there’s other states in the union that might be more to your liking.

21. CC "Bud" Baxter spews:

That money-pit of a “Distribution Center” is always going to be a ball and chain for the Liquor Board. What a horribly designed, horribly underfunded money pit it turned out to be. They went high tech and then spent about one third of what it would really cost to do it right. They are constantly moving one ton pallets of booze out of 45 foot high storage racks, only to have one case taken off, then it goes back to storage for a few hours. The computerized picking system have the attention span of a fruit fly, which means they are constantly bringing the same product out multiple times in one day. And this doesn’t even talk about the horribly designed carousel system which is supposed to store the next days shipment.

This horrible building is bad for the employees because the job is never finished and it doesn’t even give you the courtesy of letting you know when or if you will ever be finished.

It is a building designed to be run by robots. To make matters worse, they have been pissing on the Warehouse employees for years. While every other classification has gotten huge range increases in recent years, the security people sitting at a desk monitoring computer screens, just got a massive 20% increase in pay, the warehouse operators have been treated like garbage. If anyone complains, management goes after them with single minded desperation. Total CYA management.

22. N in Seattle spews:

I think we need to move to a real LCB approach instead of the half-assed way Washington does it. We should adopt the full Pennsylvania method…

Hey, let’s hop over to 7-11 or QFC for a six-pack…
Sorry, you won’t find any beer in a grocery or convenience store. You’ll have to go to a bar for that Bud. Not just any bar, though. It has to be one that also takes in at least a specified proportion of its gross from food sales.

What if I want a case of beer?
No, you can’t get a case at the bar; they can sell you no more than two six-packs. For your case, you must go to a beer distributor, of which there are relatively few. No one can own more than a few (3?, 5?) distributorships, so don’t expect to see one attached to your neighborhood Costco.

No wine at QFC?
Nope, no alcohol at all. You’ll have to go to a State Store for wine, just like Washingtonians do for hard liquor. In the smaller ones, you’ll have to order from a listing, and the clerk will fetch it for you.

We need cups, ice, mixer, and munchies with that wine…
Sorry, those aren’t available at a State Store. You’ll have to go to a grocery store, or maybe back to the beer distributor for such accoutrements. As I recall, you can’t even buy a corkscrew at a PA State Store.

Hey, why can’t I find a wine cooler here at the State Store?
Its alcohol level is too low to be sold in State Stores, so you’ll need to head back to the beer distributor for your wine coolers.

——-

Now, I’m not really in favor of the Pennsylvania LCB system. It’s just that I think Washington has actually set up a pretty reasonable hybrid approach to alcohol sales.

23. YLB spews:

Sounds like unfettered capitalism to me.

You don’t know the first thing about capitalism. Capitalism is about pooling various individual’s or organization’s social surplus to create greater economies of scale. Capitalism done right increases production of various goods and services while driving down unit costs. We’ve all seen the miracles of computer/cell phone gear and services like the internet. Things we could hardly dream of 40,50 years ago.

A liquor license is rent. You pay for the franchise to sell alcohol. Just like the East India Company was granted a franchise from the monarchy to profit from the empire.

Alcohol is a commodity that in many cases causes negative social ills. Everything in moderation is perfectly fine and I’m by no means a prohibitionist but unfettered promotion and sale of such a substance as was the case in days gone by with cigarettes and nicotine should NOT BE OK in anyone’s book.

24. Kirk Prindle spews:

Thanks for the great post, Goldy. I really appreciate it.

There are many routes to success with I-1068. You provide a practical vision for how Washington State can effectively make use of some of the many benefits of ending prohibition.

Keep up the good work.
Thanks again.

Kirk Prindle
I-1068 West Seattle Coordinator

25. howie in seattle spews:

Wouldn’t privatization of liquor sales increase the number of outlets and boost the amount of underage drinking? On the other hand, legalizing MJ would provide the opportunity to regulate use and purchase by minors under 18.

26. Steve spews:

Utah has both state stores and private.

http://www.alcbev.state.ut.us/Stores/about_stores.html

27. Politically Incorrect spews:

I fully support total legalization of marijuana – it’s time to finally end Prohibition. As far as the liquor stores go, I agree with Goldy (surprise, surprise!) that the state’s system of alcohol distribution is perfect for the controlled marketing of legal marijuana.

Now the hard part: convincing those who grew up believing “Reefer Madness” was a legit movie that marijuana is not evil on a stick and should be legal for adults to enjoy.

28. elenchos spews:

You all got me thinking about this vis a vis pot.

Since the data tell us that states with private liquor sales don’t have worse problems with alcoholism or underage drinking than Washington — and California has less underage drinking — then the whole mission of state run liquor stores is a failure isn’t it?

Doesn’t that mean that state run marijuana stores would also fail to prevent marijuana abuse any better than private marijuana stores?

As far as a model for how to go about selling pot, well, it looks like with booze you get the same outcomes whether you have a big government apparatus or not. Seems like the path of least resistance is to not bother with all the offices and paperwork and a big state-owned pot warehouse.

Also, shouldn’t cigarettes be sold only by the state too? If that’s so great.

29. Jesse spews:

Screw the state store system – I signed petitions for both liquor privatization and marijuana legalization, and if they make it onto the ballot, I’ll be voting for both.

I’m a night person. There’s only one liquor store around here that’s open past 8:00. I can buy anything else at any time of day, any day of the week — I can buy a goddamn TV at Wal-Mart at midnight, or drive to a bar and drink until 2 AM with no way to legally drive home — but if I want to buy liquor, I have to plan my schedule around a trip to the liquor store? If I want liquor on Sunday, the state tells me “no, you should be at church today”? Screw that.

Give me liquor stores on every block with neon signs and armed guards if you must. Hell, you could even keep the taxes in place. I just want stores with reasonable business hours.

And the same should be true of pot. How do you expect to put street dealers out of business with a pot store that’s only open 60 hours a week?

30. God spews:

@ 7. Alki Postings spews:

Won’t happen. We have to keep marijuana illegal! Sure cigarettes are more carcinogenic (by orders of magnitude),

This is utter BS.

and alcohol causes more driving deaths (by orders of magnitude)…but marijuana is just “bad”. We can’t show how scientifically it’s worse than tobacco or alcohol, it’s just magically bad and it makes baby Jesus sad.

(sarcasm)

Leaving baby Jews out of it, this is true .. ther eis no evidence that MJ is a significant issue for driving;. I would bhet that in any rational loist of tobacco, coffee, beer, antihistamines and fighte with your spouse .. MJ would be the least dangerous.

As for reality, I understand the concern about “liquor store” on every corner. Fine. Can’t we just regulate them like any other liquor license? Just allow SO many with certain conditions? Why does it have to be this nutty ALL OR NOTHING debate…we can’t have ANY private liquor sales, or there must be a liquor store on every corner. Isn’t there a sensible in between?

I agree .. why must dems be asses?

IF it is a cash issue, then set the tax on a per bottle basis to mak eup the difference.

If anyone is worried about too many stores, then make zoning laws that are restrictive and set onerous licensing policies.

The only ratiohnal arguement I have heard is that the liquor stores mean a loss of state jobs.If that is a problem, we could guarantee these workers jobsworking ofr the state as town criers, lighters of the gas lamps, and cerfmonial mourners at all funerals.

31. YLB spews:

I just want stores with reasonable business hours.

I want nice neighborhoods and attractive business districts without magnets for crime.

It’s a free country. If you want something else then you don’t have to live here.

32. foo spews:

It’s a free country. If you want something else then you don’t have to live here.

Are you planning on relocating when this overwhelmingly passes?

33. czechsaaz spews:

Another hmmmmmm….

I’m not generally one to point out that my arguements go unrefuted but…

Goldy, you’ve posted this topic twice as far as I know. Both times I’ve posted the same rebutal to your “economic” defense of the state stores. And it goes uncommented?

There are 52 Bartells outlets just in the Puget Sound. That’s a potential $100k+. in revenue by licensing to Washington with near zero overhead. Now factor in every grocery chain outlet etc. and see where your claim to huge losses to privatization breaks down?

I have much respect, but your silence is deafening.

34. eridani spews:

Spot on! I favor legal marijuana, but I think there should only be three options
1. Grow your own.
2. Buy it from the State Liquor store or medical marijuana dispensary.
3. Do without.

Since when should “legal” mean “unregulated”?

35. duh spews:

How would the “profit” generated by state stores be replaced? Simple. Massive reduction in overhead.

I don’t think you understand the word “profit”. As in, “profit” is the net income after you have paid for your overhead.

36. czechsaaz spews:

Actually, I do. In this case the state is making “profit” from sales of alcohol. If you replaced “profit” with a new revenue stream ,”licensing fee,” and removed nearly all overhead that Washington encounters through the management of state stores, the net result is the same.

Profit gets replaced as a value in dollars by licensing.

Or were you simply being obtuse for the sake of nitpicking?

37. YLB sez I'm not in the junk-shot bullshit support bidness. spews:

Are you planning on relocating when this overwhelmingly passes?

Not at this time. Just like all these other folks who kvetch and moan not having their favorite intoxicants at their beck and call.

No I’ll be here for a while at least to say I told you so when somebody is gunned down by some addict desperate for drug money. Now there’s some irony for you.

38. Downrigger spews:

I can’t begin to imagine what kind of mega-farm grown schwag we’d see in state run weed stores … no thanks, I’ll continue to seek the services of the boutique level gurus

39. Jesse spews:

I want nice neighborhoods and attractive business districts without magnets for crime.

I grew up in California and still visit regularly. You can buy liquor at every drug store and grocery store, yet somehow they don’t become magnets for crime — just like selling beer and wine hasn’t made Washington’s grocery stores magnets for crime — and the business districts are still attractive. Funny how that works.

40. YLB spews:

39 – I grew up in the same place. I remember dirty, sleazy stores with lurid posters. They were EVERYWHERE.

Even the more the slick professional chain outfits had little to nothing to recommend them.

I remember stories everyday of liquor store holdups.

I came here to Washington State and it’s like night and day. I was afraid to raise a family down in Southern California. I couldn’t be happier up here. It isn’t perfect by any means but it might as well be compared to down there.

41. Jesse spews:

40 – No, that wasn’t the same place.

Look, if you go to areas with high crime, you’ll find crime. The liquor stores don’t cause it: if different stores were there, *those* would be held up instead.

As for dirty, sleazy stores… you can find those in Washington too. It’s hard to take the sleaze out of a store whose sole purpose is to sell alcohol. For instance, the state-operated liquor store in downtown Spokane is not a place I’d want to hang around at night.

That’s another advantage of liquor privatization: when Costco and Safeway can sell liquor, you don’t *need* a lot of dedicated liquor stores. None of the grocery stores I’ve visited in California have been as sleazy as the aforementioned state-run liquor store.