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CPSA News: A Liquor Battle is Being Waged to the North

Sean Hughes, Account Director, Connecticut Package Stores Association.

By Sean Hughes, Connecticut Package Stores Association

Just north of Connecticut, a liquor battle is set to take place this November at the ballot box in Massachusetts. If the Massachusetts Package Store Association (MPSA) is successful in garnering another 13,374 signatures to advance their ballot initiative, then they will have successfully beaten back repeated attacks from larger retail chains. The ballot initiative, which is being led by the MPSA, would make a few changes to the structure of Massachusetts’ current liquor laws.

The changes would include: increasing the number of retail wine and beer permits that could be held by any one entity from nine to 18 licenses (this change would happen in increments, with 18 licenses being granted in 2031); decreasing the number of full liquor retail licenses from nine to seven that one entity can hold (grandfathering in any entities currently holding nine licenses); allowing Massachusetts package stores to accept out-of-state identification cards from customers; and prohibiting self-checkout for alcohol while also increasing the fine for selling to a minor, depending on the gross sales of the business. All of these changes would become law if the ballot initiative achieves the required number of signatures to be placed on the ballot for November and is approved by the voters.

This initiative is being brought forth by the MPSA and other locally owned liquor stores because of the constant pressure they receive at the state Capitol in Boston to change the liquor laws due to the constant lobbying by convenience store giant Cumberland Farms and other corporate retail chains. It has been called an “olive branch” by MPSA Executive Director Rob Mellion, because of the increase in the number of licenses.

In Massachusetts, Cumberland Farms and others have fought to remove any cap on licenses and allow the number of alcohol retail licenses that an entity owns to be limitless. The current number of package store permits that one person or entity is allowed to hold is six permits.

A ballot initiative allows citizens to propose or repeal state laws by getting a required number of signatures to have the proposal placed on the ballot for the voters to decide. Massachusetts, unlike Connecticut, does not have a definition for “grocery store” when it comes to their liquor statutes, so grocery stores and convenience stores have the ability to sell wine and beer.

Connecticut does not have a ballot initiative. Because of this, it makes lobbying the Connecticut General Assembly that much more important. There have been many proposed bills that have been filed over the years in Hartford to expand the number of package store permits that one entity can hold.

The Connecticut Package Store Association (CPSA) has been successful in lobbying against any removal of the cap on permit numbers one entity can possess or large increases in the number of permits. Connecticut also still prohibits the sale of wine in grocery stores, while still only allowing grocery beer permits to permittees that sell 50% or more of grocery items; this threshold is what prevents “big box” stores and gas stations from selling beer.

While we hope for a victory in November in Massachusetts for our package store colleagues, we will continue to prepare for our next battles at the legislature in Hartford. With an election in November, there are already 30 open seats due to legislators retiring in 2022.

With at least 30 new legislators being sworn in for the 2023 legislative session, there are bound to be many new ideas that will be proposed in January. While the rumor that the proposal to allow wine to be sold in grocery stores is a very real possibility, CPSA prepares for another busy session advocating on behalf of the last small business left on Main Street.

CPSA is always monitoring for developments affecting the industry within and outside of the legislative session. Our association in Connecticut is fighting every day for the rights of locally owned package stores across Connecticut. Support these efforts by joining CPSA today at CTPSA.com/join-cpsa/.

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