Liquor is a magnet for politics. When that much money is at stake, there is money to be made in handling the arrangements that surround liquor sales. Washington voters are reaping the harvest of the liquor ballot intuitive they passed in 2011. Many Washingtonians are unhappy with the outcome, which has included higher prices and less variety.
Disillusionment among our neighbors has not deterred the Northwest Grocery Association from exploring a run at ending Oregon’s state-run system of liquor stores. As Jeff Mapes of The Oregonian reported Saturday, the grocers and Oregon beer and wine distributors are at odds on this proposal. The beer and wine distributors have polled Oregon voters and say they are aware of the buyer’s remorse in Washington.
Tangible evidence of unhappiness up north is profoundly increased liquor sales in stores that border the Columbia River. Willamette Week on Dec. 12 reported that, “Sales at OLCC stores in towns along the Washington border have exploded – jumping 33 percent from June through October, compared to the same period last year, according to records examined by WW.” Those jumps included 26 percent in Warrenton, 63 percent in Rainier and 43 percent in Portland’s Jantzen Beach.
All privatization is not equal or wise, even though politicians reliably will use that word as a crowd-pleaser. For instance, privatization of jails and prisons has led to some very strange outcomes. Before the Oregon Legislature or Oregon voters consider privatization of state-run liquor stores, we should give Washington’s experiment time to play out.
The initial outcome is not worth imitating.