Too early to judge impact of booze initiative

Despite predications of soaring prices, open market forces should drive down prices over time.


Did Washington voters make a mistake last year in approving Initiative 1183, which forced the state out of the liquor business today?

Folks certainly might be second guessing themselves after seeing this week's headline over a story that details how the price of booze is predicted to skyrocket when sales begin at grocery stores and other retail outlets on Friday.

The Seattle Times reported a wholesalers trade group has said retail prices could be 15 to 35 percent as wholesalers are boosting the price to increased state fees -- 10 percent distributor fee and a 17 percent retail fee -- and new investments. A bottle of Absolut Citron Vodka now sold for $22.95 is estimated to cost $33.74 after today.

We concede this is shocking and disturbing, particularly since retailers were among the strongest proponents of the I-1183. The U-B endorsed the initiative, but not merely because of an expectation that prices would be lower.

We believed that, over time, prices would decrease. More importantly, however, we wanted to get state government out of the liquor business while generating more money for the state treasury. Not having to hawk booze will allow the state to focus on the business of regulating liquor.

But despite the claims coming from the Chicken Little Society -- the sky is falling, the booze prices are soaring -- we aren't ready to call I-1183 a disaster or even a mistake. It hasn't even gone into effect yet.

Yes, it's likely prices will be higher out of the chute but over the long run we still expect competition to force prices down.

Liquor isn't a necessity for most people. If the price is too high, people aren't going to buy it or they will look a bit harder for better prices. Some might even shop out of state.

Merchants want to make a profit but they will lower the margin to get customers into their stores to buy other products.

This is new territory for Washington state. It's going to take time to adjust to a new, open-market system.

What is clear is the fees generated from liquor sales will be a boon to state and local governments as well as law enforcement.

I-1183 and the open retail market need to be given a chance to work.


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