Oct 11, 2022 - News

Mass. voters to decide who can sell beer and wine

Fall beers on display at a local Wegmans. Photo: Lindsey Nicholson/Getty Images

Massachusetts voters will be asked a simple question on this year's ballot: whether to expand the number of locations where retail, grocery and convenience store chains are allowed to sell alcohol.

  • But Question 3, as it's known, and the money-making motivations behind it are a bit more complicated than that.

Details: A "yes" vote would expand the number of beer and wine licenses any chain could hold "from 9 to 12 licenses in 2023; to 15 licenses in 2027; and to 18 licenses in 2031."

  • The current limit prevents every grocery or convenience store in a chain from selling beer and wine.

Yes, but: An affirmative vote would also reduce how many locations could sell hard liquor plus beer and wine from nine to just seven per chain.

  • It would increase fines on sellers for violating laws such as selling to minors or drinking on premises, with larger supermarkets facing harsher penalties: Fines would be based on the gross profits of all retail sales, not just on the sale of alcoholic beverages.

What they're saying: "Any effect on alcohol sales, consumption, and consumer convenience would likely be limited, given that the question only deals with retail chains (rather than bars or restaurants) and would still allow municipalities to control local licenses," Evan Horowitz, executive director of the Center for State Policy Analysis at Tufts University wrote in an analysis of the ballot question.

The intrigue: The groups supporting the ballot question aren't the businesses likely to immediately benefit.

  • Instead, it's the businesses likely to be harmed if the number of alcohol licenses in play increases. A powerful coalition of smaller liquor stores wants to stem the further growth of their chain competitors by offering this ballot question as a compromise.
  • They hope this will prevent any attempt from large retailers to convince lawmakers to increase limits even more or abolish license limits entirely.

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