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Editorial: Who wins from privatizing liquor? Not us

Oregon has a habit of going its own way, even in the face of a nation going in an entirely different direction.

Oregon was — and still is — years ahead of most of the nation on the medical marijuana issue and death with dignity. It pioneered the bottle bill that many states now take for granted.

But it also is not afraid of hanging onto more traditional practices, when its citizens think they make sense: Oregon is one of only two states in the nation that still requires attendants to pump gas. Why? Some people need the help and it keeps others employed.

In the same vein, while many states have long had private liquor sales — indeed some have had little else — we’re not sure that’s the direction Oregon should be headed.

A consortium of big grocery chains thinks so, though. They’re shopping around five potential initiatives for next November’s ballot.

If they have their way, Oregon shoppers will be able to drop their fifth of Cuervo into the shopping cart along with the catfood and Captain Crunch.

That may sound good to folks who want a little more convenient way to imbibe, but it comes at a heavy price.

If it’s passed, the biggest profiters would be the big box chains like Costco, Safeway and Fred Meyer. The losers would be the 249 privately — and locally — owned state liquor franchises and their 1,200 employees, whose livelihoods would likely go the way of the dinosaurs. For a state that thrives on the productivity of small business, that’s just not the right direction.

It’s hard to see where more people would be employed, as the Grocery Association claims. It’s unlikely the big chains will need to employ many, if any, more people if they get the right to sell booze.

And it’s unlikely many new small businesses will be able to compete with the industry giants buying in bulk.

We’ve seen over and over the effect of big chain store monopolies on small, mom-and-pop businesses — the businesses, mind you, that help keep the soccer teams, community centers, private schools, among others, solvent. Have you been to your locally owned pharmacy lately? How about the card shop? Do we really want to see other private businesses run out?

Sobriety advocates, on behalf of youths and adults alike, have equal reason to be concerned.

While a glass of wine, a bottle of beer and a shot of whiskey each have equal amounts of alcohol per normal serving — and the same risk of addiction —liquor is a concentrated, tempting package to put on daily display before the general public.

Keeping it in separate stores assures it is for adult eyes only. That’s the same approach we would advocate for recreational marijuana sales, if it were to be approved in Oregon during the next general election. It’s just a little safer.

Economically, it’s hard to tell whether the Oregon measure authors have done any better job than their Washington counterparts.

Remember, after Washington implemented its measure passed in 2012, liquor prices shot up astronomically. Washington government, though no longer restricting the commodity, kept charging taxes.

Oregon’s authors claim to have solved that problem with a 75-cent container fee and a one-time 71.7 percent tax — which would still provide state government its pound of flesh. But who pays that tax, aka the “holder” is vaguely described and could be either the wholesaler or the retailer, resulting in a vastly different cost outcome.

Privatizing liquor sales sounds like one more way to help big corporations profit at the expense of workers, small business and the whole public.


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