Initiative 1183 is a dangerous profit grab

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You've probably seen the TV ads. You may have read a postcard in your mailbox. Given that Costco has spent a record-shattering $22.5 million to repeal our alcohol safety laws, it's hard to escape the debate about whether one company should take over the state's liquor control system.

But when it comes to this and all initiatives, we should ask some simple questions:

Does it make Washington a better place?

Does it make our communities safer and our families stronger?

Initiative 1183, Costco's second effort in two years to privatize the state's liquor system, fails this basic test.

The I-1183 campaign is not a groundswell or a citizens' movement to right a government wrong.

It's a profit grab by Costco, pure and simple. By the most conservative estimates, it would increase in the number of liquor stores from 328 to more than 1,420, according to the state Office of Financial Management.

And although supporters of I-1183 argue that only stores over 10,000 square feet could sell booze, a loophole in the poorly written initiative gives mini-marts and gas stations the same opportunity.

In Section 103, it states the Liquor Control Board "shall not deny" a liquor license to any store less than 10,000 square feet if there is no other liquor store in the "trade area."

But the initiative never defines trade area, and the Liquor Control Board says it doesn't know how many outlets would be able to sell hard alcohol under I-1183.

I have no idea why the corporate authors of I-1183 chose such vague language. You'd think these folks would know how to write a contract.

But the reality is the loophole is large enough to encompass every corner of the state. And that will obviously increase the likelihood that teens will get access to liquor.

We know that teens don't drink for the taste. They drink for the buzz. And grocery stores, even large ones, have a dismal record of keeping alcohol out of the hands of minors.

In compliance tests by the Liquor Control Board, grocery stores sell alcohol to teens an average of one out of every four attempts. Supporters of I-1183 say it will increase enforcement and penalties.

But who is going to do the enforcement? The Liquor Control Board has about 50 compliance officers throughout the state.

Under I-1183, there would still be about 50 officers, but more than four times the number of outlets selling liquor.

Earlier this year, a Centers for Disease Control task force recommended against further liquor privatization. It determined that adding liquor outlets increased consumption and that meant more problem drinking.

The costs are high: more time off work, teen drinking, traffic accidents.

No one knows this more than our first responders.

The campaign against I-1183 includes the Washington State Council of Firefighters, along with sheriffs, police chiefs and prosecutors across the state.

It includes faith leaders and people like me, who have spent their careers helping communities stay safe from substance abuse and violence.

I hope you will join us and other concerned citizens across the state and reject I-1183.

Jim Cooper is president of the Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention.

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