By Bob Katzen

QUESTION 3 – The third question on the November ballot asks voters if they support a law that would increase the statewide limits on the combined number of licenses that one retailer could control for the sale of alcoholic beverages and beer and wine for off-premises (non-restaurant and bar) consumption. Off-premises includes package stores, supermarkets and other venues where alcohol can be purchased but not consumed. The law would increase the number from the current nine to 12 licenses in 2023; 15 licenses in 2027 and 18 licenses in 2031.

Other provisions would prohibit retailers from allowing customers to self-checkout and would allow only face-to-face checkout between a customer and a cashier; allow retailers to accept an out-of-state drivers’ license as proof of age of customers; and change the current system of calculating the fine that the state is allowed to accept instead of suspending a license because of a violation of the law. Current law bases the fine on the gross profits of the sale of alcoholic beverages. The ballot question would base the fine on the gross profits of all retail sales.

The proposal is sponsored by the 21st Century Alcohol Retail Reform Committee. Chief opposition to the proposal is listed as the Food Stores for Consumer Choice.

“Locally owned and managed retailers of beer, wine and spirits from across the state are asking Massachusetts voters to vote ‘Yes’ on Question 3,” Rob Mellion, a spokesperson for the ‘Yes on 3’ campaign told Beacon Hill Roll Call. “Question 3 expands consumer convenience, supports tourism and strengthens public safety. Question 3 is a win-win for Massachusetts consumers because it responsibly expands off premises alcohol licenses in a way that also supports local businesses and the communities that they serve.”

Mellion continued, “The campaign is going well. This has been a grass roots effort where local retailers from across the state are banding together in marshalling resources to educate voters on why Question 3 must pass. With their backs against the wall these small businesses are putting everything on the line because a ‘Yes’ vote helps to preserve the future of ‘Main Street’ Massachusetts.”

The “No on 3” campaign did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call to answer questions about its campaign and published reports that the campaign has essentially disbanded its efforts to defeat Question 3. The link to the campaign’s website does not work and phone calls went to voicemail.

Mellion told Beacon Hill Roll Call that the rumor that the opposition has disbanded is false. “The opposition are saying this to appear sympathetic but in reality, surrogates are using false advertising in television ads to make it appear that small businesses are against Question 3,” said Mellion. “Question 3 was filed by locally owned stores across the state. The ads currently airing on multiple stations were produced by Massachusetts Fine Wine and Spirits, LLC, which is the legal name in Massachusetts for Total Wine. There is nothing small business about these ads which are intended to mislead voters … Needless to say, this is a David v. Goliath contest where local stores are fighting for their existence. The big money from the mostly out-of-state headquartered opposition is coming.”

Here are the official arguments of the supporters and opponents as they appear in the Redbook—the book, distributed by the Secretary of State to households across the state, which provides Information to voters on ballot questions.

Written by Rob Mellion
21st Century Alcohol Retail Reform Committee

“A ‘Yes’ vote fulfills consumer desire for expanded convenience in a reasonable and balanced manner that also protects against illegal sales.

A ‘Yes’ vote expands convenience by gradually increasing the total number of alcoholic beverage licenses that any person or company can own. Package stores, convenience stores, supermarkets, superstore retailers, and others will be able to apply for additional licenses for their existing locations that do not currently sell alcohol and for new locations they open.

A ‘Yes’ vote simultaneously enhances public safety and encourages vigilance by retailers through prohibiting self-checkout of alcohol beverages and basing the fine for selling to a minor on a store’s total sales and not just its alcohol sales.

A ‘Yes’ vote also supports state tourism and brings Massachusetts in line with every other state in the country by allowing for valid out of state IDs to be relied upon by alcohol beverage retailers.”

The name of the author is not revealed
Food Stores for Consumer Choice (as noted earlier, the link to this website does not work).

“Our alcohol licensing laws do need serious reforms, but this ballot measure is not the answer. It offers an incomplete solution to a complex problem, doing little to promote competition or expand consumer choice.
Despite some superficially popular provisions designed to entice voters, it fails to lift outdated restrictions on local decision-making, while in fact moving Massachusetts backwards in several significant ways: imposing unfair penalties against retailers who sell more than just alcohol, like grocers and other food stores; outlawing convenient and reliable point-of-sale technologies already in widespread use by retailers across the state; and decreasing the number of full liquor licenses that retailers can own.
This flawed approach favors special interests in the alcohol industry, at the expense of cash-strapped consumers and their favorite local retailers.
We deserve more. Vote ‘No’ on this question, and instead ask your state lawmakers to support comprehensive legislation that will actually make a difference.”

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