Thursday, May 31, 2012

WA Supreme Court opinions affirm link between liquor and public safety risks

The Washington State Supreme Court today ruled, 5-4, that Initiative 1183 is constitutional.  Starting tomorrow, liquor (spirits, hard alcohol) will be for sale in grocery and other stores that are at least 10,000 square feet.

Both the majority and dissenting Supreme Court opinions affirm what substance abuse prevention advocates have been saying all along: increased access to alcohol means increased public safety risks.  

The justices that voted to uphold I-1183 wrote:
. . . liquor has an obvious connection to broader pubic safety concerns . . . As local government officials assert in their amici brief, the burden of enforcing liquor sales laws and prosecuting offenders falls heavily on local governments.   

It would be improper to overlook the impact that changes to liquor regulation could have on general public safety expenditures by local governments.   

The justices that found I-1183 unconstitutional wrote:
First, respondents (Costco, State) argue that “public safety is rationally connected to liquor.  On a theoretical level, this is undoubtably true.  The consumption of liquor increases public safety risks; drunk driving and alcoholism come quickly to mind.  Thus, the State contends that funneling liquor tax money into public safety ameliorates the damage done by the initiative or is a hedge against the increased public safety risk that would come along with higher liquor consumption and easier access to liquor. 

 . . . proponents of I-1183 (Costco) never acknowledged (during the campaign) that privatizing liquor would lead to increased consumption or public safety risk.   

During the lawsuit hearings, proponents of I-1183 contested that increased access to liquor will increase public safety risks.  This is different from what they claimed during the campaign last fall.  We substance abuse prevention advocates would do well to remember this as the alcohol industry, including businesses that sell alcohol, continue to try to chip away at alcohol regulations.   

The majority opinion specifically states that those of us who work to prevent substance abuse have an interest in regulating alcohol:  Indeed, intervenors (Costco, State) stress the established relationship between public safety and liquor . . . such as the increase in liquor availability would injure WASAVP’s (Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention -- the substance abuse prevention community’s) goals. 

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