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Liquor privatization effort shelved this year

Advocates: Too late to circulate preferred version; foes say status quo OK.


Advocates announced Wednesday they will abandon their effort to end the state monopoly on liquor sales in Oregon.

Although they had an already-approved version for circulation among voters, advocates said they ran into delays in getting approval to proceed with a preferred revision. The Supreme Court issued a decision last week on a ballot title, the official summary of a measure, but it still awaited approval for circulation.

July 3 is the deadline for filing signatures for initiatives for the Nov. 4 ballot. The measure would have required 87,213 valid signatures.

But a chief sponsor said advocates aren't giving up on the effort to get the state out of retail liquor sales, which it has controlled since the end of Prohibition in 1933.

"We still believe Oregonians are ready to end our state's Prohibition-era monopoly on liquor sales and allow Oregon consumers to buy liquor at qualified grocery and retail stores — just like consumers do in most other states," said Lynn Gust, division president of retailer Fred Meyer.

The Oregon Beer & Wine Distributors Association was among the groups likely to oppose any change.

"Oregonians are satisifed with our current system of liquor sales," said a statement by Paul and Danelle Romain, who spoke for the group. "They don't want to pay more for a new tax and they want to support our growing craft distilling industry, which this measure would have hurt.

"This was a solution in search of a problem to benefit big grocers. With it over, we can turn our attention back to creating opportunities" for craft distillers, brewers and wine growers.

Oregon is one of 18 states where liquor sales remain in state hands. Washington state voters approved a privatization measure in 2011.

The other sponsor was Lauren Johnson, chief executive of Newport Avenue Market in Bend, who said the state should concentrate on education, compliance and enforcement of liquor laws.

The initiative would have drawn opposition from an array of groups.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission had prepared a plan for "modernization," under which the state would continue to own liquor stocks but allow retail sales by stores larger than 10,000 square feet. But lawmakers did not advance it in their 2014 session.

"As we have in the past, this is a dialogue that continues with policy-makers, including legislators," said Pat McCormick, a spokesman for Oregonians for Competition. "But if we are not successful in achieving privatization through the legislative process, we will be back in 2016."

peterwong@portlandtribune.com

(503) 364-4431 ext. 326

twitter.com/capitolwong

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