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Cumbies bests packies in bid for ballot question that would let every market get a license to sell beer and wine

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that voters this fall will get to decide whether to give all food stores the right to get a license to sell beer and wine, through a ballot question proposed by convenience-store giant Cumberland Farms, which has the maximum seven licenses allowed by current state law.

The proposal would eliminate the current limits on how many beer-and-wine licenses each city and town can issue, at least for food stores and - crucial to Cumberland Farms - eliminate the total number of beer-and-wine licenses any one person or company can own, as well as increase the total number of licenses one could own to sell hard liquor. It would also mandate the use of computerized license scanners to try to keep kiddies from buying booze and would create a fund to be used by the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission to enforce the new measure, specifically to hire at least one investigator for every 250 of the new licenses cumulatively approved by cities and towns.

After state Attorney General Maura Healey certified the question was acceptable under the state constitution, the Massachusetts Package Stores Association sued, arguing the question was, in fact, unconstitutional, because it contained too many unrelated conditions and would violate a constitutional clause that prohibits voters from appropriating specific sums of money.

After filing the suit, the package-store association wrote:

Cumberland Farms currently has 7 licenses, which is the same amount that all other chains are allowed. Cumberland Farms introduced its ballot question to circumvent the legislative process by confusing voters into giving this single company unprecedented control of the retail alcohol marketplace with a potential 200-store network. Cumberland Farms’ objectives are accomplished by the provisions within the Cumberland Farms Initiative that immediately create a new unlimited food store alcohol license classification outside the existing Massachusetts system, while also removing the cap on how many stores a licensee can own. In 2024, Cumberland Farms would allow their competition to catch up by eventually terminating the entire statewide and local limits on sole control over Section 15 licenses. Establishing a virtual monopoly for Cumberland Farms is clearly the intended outcome.

But the state's highest court completely rejected the packies' case, saying that four of the parts of the ballot question were very much related to each other, agreeing with Healey that they would play a specific role in "the lifting of restrictions on the number and allocation of licenses for the retail sale of alcoholic beverages to be consumed off the premises."

The court acknowledged that creating new requirements for checking IDs and a new fund for hiring inspectors were not directly connected to the question of lifting restrictions on the number of alcohol licenses in the state, but said they were still valid for inclusion because they deal with "a potential consequence" of that action, and so were valid for inclusion in the question - similar to measures in the ballot question voters approved to legalize recreational marijuana.

One might reasonably be concerned that granting retail licenses to food stores, a class of business having less experience than existing package stores in the sale of alcoholic beverages, would result in more unlawful purchases of alcohol by underage persons. Requiring age verification before every such purchase might mitigate this danger. Similarly, the expansion of available off-premises licenses would likely necessitate greater enforcement efforts by the commission, requiring additional resources as provided in section 8 of Initiative Petition 19-14. The age-verification and enforcement provisions are thus operationally related to the other provisions of the measure. We are persuaded that Initiative Petition 19-14 sets forth a unified statement of policy and is sufficiently coherent to permit a "yes" or "no" vote.

The court also rejected the argument that the measure's proposed creation of a new state fund to hire investigators violates a constitutional requirement that ballot questions not include specific appropriations, because that's the legislature's job to figure out. The measure doesn't set a specific amount of money to be used for enforcing the new law, and, in any case, conditions that by saying actual money for the fund "would be subject to appropriation" by the legislature.

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Comments

I, for one, find myself for the very first time siding with Cumbies and will be voting in support of this measure in the fall.

It may even be possible that having to make room for beer and wine inside their stores, they'll come to the [obvious] conclusion that the 'coffee' they sell is utterly disgusting and remove it from their offerings.

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Voting closed 38

Oh, excuse me, I find the coffee at Cumberland Farms delicious. It’s make your own cup, perhaps you should take issue with the person who pours it.

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Voting closed 12

but I kind of like having a max number of licenses per company to help keep smaller stores in business.

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Voting closed 10

Who doesn't like a friendly local grocery store? This will help them (if they want) increase sales while proving a vital service to their neighborhood.

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Voting closed 19

I'm just talking about the 7 license limit, not the other parts.

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Voting closed 9

A friendly local grocery store can already get a license. They just can't get more than 7.

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Voting closed 2

Why just alcohol limitations to promote smaller stores? If these laws should be kept in place to help keep smaller stores in place, why not additionally limit the number of stores that can sell bread (independent bakeries would do a lot better if every grocery store and mini mart didn't sell bread), cigarettes, etc. Why not limit the # of stores that can sell prescriptions? Instead of being overrun with CVS/Duane Reade and Walgreens we would have more independent pharmacies (I use one and love it)
The arbitrary nature of saying we must limit the number of stores that sell alcohol to help subsidize the corner alcohol store is ridiculous. Of all the types of stores, liquor stores are the one type we are going to use the government to promote?

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Voting closed 45

I don’t know about you but I won’t miss any of the run-down hole in the wall peddlers of overpriced natty ice, cigs, nips and scratchies. Heck, I’d be delighted if every last one of them goes out of business.

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Voting closed 11

Let's check in with the CDC and see if there's a difference in teen drunk driving deaths between MA and NH (where you can buy beer at grocery stores)

https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/impaired_driving/states-data-tabl...

Tied at 0 per 100k. In comparison, MS and SC have rates over 2.

MA has a higher drunk driving fatality rate for 21-30 so perhaps we can save lives by moving to selling through grocery stores?

Expand beer/wine sales, end nip sales, increase the gas tax. Writing good policies is easy!

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Voting closed 28

The percentage of people reporting that they drive while drunk is way more concerning than the death rate. (because winding city roads, higher population of students, more cyclists and pedestrians, more clubs and other night life)

If a 25 year old drives from NH to MA, drinks, then on the drive home hits a pedestrian crossing the road. What is the actual policy fix there?

More data is needed to know why things happen (causation) not just statistical noise that could be correlated with tons of things.

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Voting closed 10

My point is the people fighting to keep the packie monopoly are claiming that it's a public safety issue related to teen drinking but the basic data doesn't support that.

Maybe NH teens do drink more than in MA , but that's not a safety issue if they aren't dying any real numbers.

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Voting closed 8

is to limit driving as much as possible, and not just to solve drunk driving. That NH 25year old wouldn't have any problems if they could leave their car at home and take a train into Boston. The bonus is that the pedestrian also wont have to worry about getting hit by a sober driver who "just didn't see them".

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Voting closed 6

and was shocked that you couldn't buy beer and wine in any old grocery store. At the time I lived in WA, you could only buy hard liquor at state-run liquor stores (this has since changed), but you could buy regular beer and wine at almost any grocery.
I remember when I moved to HI from OR, and was shocked that you could buy hard liquor in grocery stores :). I guess the moral of my story is that I get shocked a lot when I move to a different state.

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Voting closed 31

I love our small indie wine/beer/liquor shop -- which probably would be put out of business if all grocery chains large and small suddenly got liquor licenses. Sorry kiddo, but I'm in favor of local small shops over corporate chains.

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Voting closed 24

There are still plenty of small indie wine/beer/liquor stores in states where you can buy beer/wine at grocery stores. Shaw's isn't going to stock hipster microbrews or handle specialty wine orders - they're just going to take some of the "30 rack of adjunct lager" or "handle of Jack Daniels" market.

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Voting closed 30

Actually you're wrong: Stop and Shop and Shaws do sell hipster microbrews. The Star Market across from Mt. Auburn Cemetery has a HUGE hipster craft beer selection; most of the large corprorate grocery chains expanded their craft beer stock well over 5 years ago in their city locations. Unlike the person I live with who is more if a beer guy, I'm a wine and scotch drinker myself. Many of the single malt scotches I drink are cheaper at the big grocery chains, but I choose to support my neighborhood shop that we've been going to for about 15-20 years now. The wine selection on the other hand is hands down better at the smaller wine shops. I can get a decent recommended $11 bottle of wine at my local small shop that I would never be able to find/ nor would they carry /or be able to point me to at a grocery chain.
Still ALAWYS going to support my neighborhood small shops -- keeps the city vibrant and less cookie-cutter homogenous. You of course are free to do otherwise as is everyone.

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Voting closed 18

I'm delighted to go to my neighborhood shops for all my regular alcohol needs. But I'm also going to enjoy the prospect of being able to quickly snag a bottle of cheap red wine along with the other ingredients for my pasta sauce, or a quick 6-pack of 'Gansett while buying snacks for the game. Luckily we can have both, again as evidenced by the many states that already allow for this and still have small neighborhood shops as well.

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Voting closed 13

If maybe not quite as bad as a state like PA where the state owns all the stores.

Hopefully the voters side with common sense and remove limits on licenses, so we can have more shops selling more conveniently to everyone (as well as lower prices over time)

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Voting closed 12

The worst part of PA's laws is trying to find the stores that do sell beer & wine- its usually arbitrary and not a supermarket/ 7-11/Wawa-type store- was in Philadelphia last summer and had to get directions to a bodega from hotel bellman when we couldn't find anything in regular stores near Center City at 8 PM on a Friday night

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Voting closed 8

You didn't want to pay $30 for a 6 pack of Bud Light from the bar?

I think that's still legal there...

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Voting closed 4

what's so complicated abut Pennsylvania's liquor laws. You can only buy beer in a deli, but the deli has to have a restaurant attached, and it must be Tuesday, Friday, or Saturday, unless it is Monday. The beer MUST be consumed on premises, unless within 500 feet of a deli, in which case, beer may not be consumed. It is legal to name the beer, but ONLY if it is named Charles.

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Voting closed 8

I thought the limit already increased to 9 at the beginning of 2020.

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Voting closed 6

But we are in Massachusetts so if it passes it will be delayed for a study, then a panel to investigate how it will be enacted will delay it even more then it will end up being legally challenged by owners of ridiculously overpriced liquor licenses...blah blah blah.

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Voting closed 31

I grew up in NY state where CVS sells beer, so I have seen this in action. Notice how any indie convenience store that gets a beer/wine license suddenly becomes basically a liquor store (sans actual hard liquor)? Get ready for that. Plus, the glut of chains selling beer/wine - nothing interesting, just Bud Light and cheap reds and whites - will increase competition for the mom and pops who actually know their clientele and carry a broad range of brands instead of only what sells best. This is great for chains and terrible for local shops.

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Voting closed 22

On being the first consumer I’ve ever met who dislikes competition.

The local packie will accept donations from you to stay in business. You can raise the funds by purchasing stock in CVS. Say yes to voluntary acts, and no to forcing your beliefs onto others.

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Voting closed 18

Hey I love to shop at Lowes, but inviting one into my area would probably break the back of my local hardware store. Inviting every chain store to sell beer does the same to my local packie.

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Voting closed 18

Should donate to the hardware store too.

I hear GoFundMe is popular.

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Voting closed 6

Sounds like you're describing a great opportunity for niche stores to really focus on premium, pricey beers and wines and leave the case of Corona sales to a different seller. In Roslindale, Solera Wine seems to do OK in spite of the liquor store around the corner.

Also I'm not here for policies to benefit 'indie convenience stores' over consumers. In WR, Marino's would fit the profile of an indie convenience store and they stock a ton of Irish foods - it's up to businesses to figure out how to thrive, not for the state to hand out golden tickets to legacy businesses.

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Voting closed 22

This would be excellent. Market Basket always advertises beer in their flyer ....but only allowed in ME & NH.

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Voting closed 8

Has a beer and wine store that is separate but attached.

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Voting closed 9

Just like the last time this was on the ballot a decade ago. I didn’t ask government to restrict where I can buy beer.

I also don’t intend to stop shopping at Oak Square Liquors.

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Voting closed 13

I will be voting yes. However, I do hope that our local craft brewers will primarily only sell to our locally owned package stores.

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Voting closed 6

I hope you are aware of the mess of MA franchise law for beer distribution.

Unless they only sell out of their taprooms (trillium), breweries really don’t have enough control over who ultimately sells their beer.

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Voting closed 15

For those asking about electronic signatures, the digital petition for the beer-and-wine-in-food-stores ballot campaign is https://petition.foodstores2020.org and the other ballot campaigns have been approved to collect e-signatures as well due to the impacts of Covid-19

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Voting closed 8

This is obvious rent-seeking by Cumberland Farms. Yet, it's in a pro-freedom direction for citizens in general so it's a good thing.

The liquor stores' lawsuit is of course the same thing, rent-seeking. Protect the current licensing regime because it limits competition. Screw them.

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Voting closed 5