Monday, March 19, 2012

Liquor Control Board Public Health & Safety Forum

On Tuesday, March 13, the Liquor Control Board hosted a Public Health & Safety Forum about the implementation of I-1183, the initiative that privatizes the sale of liquor and further deregulates marketing wine and liquor in Washington.  The forum was well attended not only by public health and safety advocates but by representatives of the businesses that will benefit from I-1183 including Costco, Target and the Grocers Association. 

Following are some notes that I took during the hearing. 

Trade Area
The initiative states that stores selling liquor must be 10,000 square feet or larger.  Exceptions will be made if such a store does not exist in a "trade area".  Trade area is not defined.  The Liquor Control Board (LCB) will look at defining trade area after June 1, 2012.  Previously, the LCB determined if a new liquor store should be opened if (1) there was significant population growth in an area, (2) if travel time for customers was more than 15 minutes, and (3) customer satisfaction surveys indicated that people were unhappy about how far they had to travel to get to a store. 

It is estimated that the number of stores selling liquor in Washington will increase from 340 to about 1300-1400 once I-1183 is implemented. 

Alcohol Impact Areas
In NE Seattle, the University District is considered an Alcohol Impact Area (AIA).  This designation means:

- Seattle is given more time to review liquor license applications and renewals for businesses inside the AIA.

- Seattle may also request that the Liquor Control Board restrict grocery and convenience stores in the University District from selling certain types of beers and wines that are linked to local chronic public inebriation problems (such as high alcohol content, low-cost products), or restrict the hours that retailers can sell to-go.

The AIA designation does not preclude grocery stores in the area from selling liquor once I-1183 is fully implemented. 

Hours of Sale
Currently, most liquor stores close at 10:00 p.m.  I-1183 does not contain a provision limiting the hours of sale of liquor -- grocery and other large stores may sell liquor as long as they are open for business.

Responsible Vendor Program
The LCB is instituting a Responsible Vendor Program that encourages liquor licensees to put in place store policies meant to prevent the sale of liquor to minors.  The program is free, voluntary and self-monitoring.  The LCB will only check compliance with the program if they receive complaints about the business.  Of the more than 1,000 businesses that have applied for liquor licenses around the state as of the beginning of the month, only about 30 have applied to be a part of the Responsible Vendor Program.

No additional funds have been allocated to the Liquor Control Board to provide increased enforcement.  Currently, there are 300 liquor licensees per LCB officer.  They will focus their efforts on licensees near schools and colleges and those about which they receive complaints.   

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