A bill before the Oregon Legislature is SB 1559, which would allow grocers in Oregon to sell distilled spirits. The Northwest Grocers say the bill doesn’t go far enough. The Oregon Distillers Guild says the bill will kill the Oregon craft distilling industry. Here, Oregon Liquor Control Commission chairman Rob Patridge debates Alex Duarte of Oregonians for Competition on privatizing liquor sales in Oregon.
illustration by Paul Harris
62 1859 OREGON’S MAGAZINE MARCH | APRIL 2014 LOCAL HABIT sound off OREGONIANS CAN walk into any of the 248 liquor stores and buy anything off the shelf, including more than 400 Oregon-made products. Oregonians have more than 2,000 choices for distilled spirits—more than almost any state in the nation because of our distribution system. If a store doesn’t have a product, they can order it. Just ask one of the more than 1,000 employees of these small businesses.
Today, OLCC and the Oregon Legislature are engaged in modernizing. As of 2013, all liquor stores can carry beer, wine and other non-alcoholic items. All interests have been at the table as we collaboratively work to modernize Oregon’s liquor systems.
The question on many Oregonians minds today is: Should we put distilled spirits in grocery stores? The OLCC and the Oregon Legislature are actively working to craft solutions for customer access including grocery stores. The grocers, however, are not content to participate in a discussion about distilled spirits. They have filed eight ballot measures and are trying to revamp the entire liquor system in Oregon so that they control it.
Want to know what is going to happen? Just look to Washington, where a 2012 grocer-led privatization initiative resulted in a huge spike in prices, and the lack of consumer choice, putting many craft distillers out of business or leaving them in a tough spot.
Craft distilling is taking off in Oregon. We have aligned our laws and distribution system here in Oregon to help them succeed and to create jobs. Twelve percent of liquor revenue in the state comes from craft distilling. If all consumers wanted were the top liquor brands, they should side with the grocers to kill craft distilling and choice.
Let the OLCC and State Legislature continue to work to craft a modern liquor control system that meets the needs of consumers and distillers, without letting the grocers ruin a good thing.
illustration by Paul Harris
SELLING LIQUOR IS not a core function of government.
It’s time for state government to get out of the business of marketing and selling liquor, and focus state resources on alcohol law enforcement. That’s why I support an initiative to end the state’s Prohibition-era monopoly on the wholesale and retail sales of liquor.
The initiative protects taxpayers by preserving current revenues the state nets from its liquor business, while increasing funding for local public safety.
When I served on the board of the OLCC, I was struck by the conflicting goals in OLCC’s mission. On one hand, OLCC’s role is to protect public safety by regulating alcohol sales, preventing underage drinking and ensuring responsible alcohol consumption by adults. But OLCC is also in the business of promoting, selling and distributing liquor across the state.
These two roles are in conflict. As the father of two teenage boys, I strongly value OLCC’s role as a regulator, but I don’t believe it serves the public interest to maintain a state-run liquor sales system. Indeed, most other states have gotten out of the liquor sales business, focusing instead on regulation and enforcement.
In November, Oregon voters will consider a proposal to allow the sale of liquor in larger retail stores that already hold licenses in good standing to sell beer and wine. These stores also must meet training and compliance standards set by OLCC’s Responsible Vendor Program and comply with other safety regulations.
The initiative toughens alcohol control laws and doubles fines and penalties for selling liquor to minors or intoxicated individuals. It maintains funding for state and local programs currently funded through state liquor sales revenues, and provides new funding to enhance local law enforcement.
I urge Oregon voters to join me in voting yes.