Oregon grocers want to sell liquor, file privatization measure

Oregon grocers want to sell liquor, file privatization measure »Play Video
Boxes of liquor travel down a conveyor belt at the state liquor warehouse, a huge distribution center run by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, in Milwaukie on Monday. Every bottle sold in Oregon must pass through this center. Click the "Play Video" button to go inside the warehouse.

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A group led by Oregon grocery stores filed initial paperwork Monday that could lead to a ballot measure asking voters whether to privatize liquor sales.

The organization called Oregonians for Competition said in a statement that it's filed five proposed initiatives and will select one to move forward with. The initiatives differ in details, but all would allow liquor sales in stores that already sell beer and wine and are at least 10,000 square feet. Existing liquor stores would be allowed to stay open, and some smaller shops like wine specialty stores would be able to sell liquor.

"The initiative will end the state's outdated liquor store monopoly system and allow distilled spirits to be sold safely and responsibly in retail stores just like they are in most other states, while at the same time strengthening our state's liquor laws," Melinda Merill, a spokeswoman for Fred Meyer Stores, said in a statement.

The grocers say their initiative would stiffen penalties for selling alcohol to minors or people who are intoxicated.

Grocers and Costco Wholesale Corp. led a successful privatization effort in Washington state two years ago. Backers of Oregon's existing liquor system have warned that privatization would either diminish state revenue or lead to higher liquor prices. They also say it would harm craft distillers.

"Personally, I'm unwilling to throw the baby out with the bathwater," said Rob Patridge, chairman of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

Oregon's liquor-regulation system was created 80 years ago after Prohibition was lifted. Liquor can be purchased from the state at only about 200 licensed stores. The OLCC sets prices and pays liquor-store owners, known as agents, a percentage of their sales.

In the last fiscal year, which ended in June, the commission distributed just over $200 million to state, county and city governments as well as treatment programs for mental health and substance abuse.

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