One of two proposals to close state-operated liquor stores and turn sales and distribution of liquor over to the private sector and allow sales in most places that currently sell beer and wine. Sometimes called the “Costco initiative” because the discount giant contributed employee time to gather signatures, it would allow some large retailers to set up their own distribution systems.
Since the end of federal Prohibition, most states have gotten out of the business of selling booze, but Washington has not. We still have special state-run stores for “spirits,” which is alcohol that isn’t beer and wine. In pondering the two Washington state initiatives about hard liquor sales, it’s worth asking why the state wants control in the first place. The traditional response is to minimize the social costs of drinking. Without state controls, proponents say, underage drinking, drunken driving and other negative outcomes will increase. But the data are inconclusive. The Common Wealth Foundation in 2009 compared “control” states such as ours with other states and concluded: “Evidence from 48 states over time shows no link between market controls and these social goals.”