Liberate your libations!

It’s only 15 days until the campaign of spin stops and you can vote on that decisive electoral issue. You might think I am talking about foreign or economic policy. I’m actually talking about wine.

As I have written previously, Massachusetts has a state-wide ballot initiative taking place on November 7 that would allow wine sales in food stores. It’s a no-brainer from a wine lover’s perspective: buying wine where you buy your food makes it easier to have wine with your dinner. It’s such a novel concept that 34 states already allow the practice. People in Massachusetts should vote yes and make it 35 states.

But the issue makes people say funny things. Is it the wine talking? Or the campaign contributions?

“A dramatic expansion of alcohol sales as proposed in Question 1 would undermine the system as a whole and make meaningful enforcement nearly impossible,” Eddie J. Jenkins, the chairman of the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, said last week.

“I am opposed to Question 1 because it would make alcohol more accessible to underage persons and will dramatically increase the availability of alcohol in Massachusetts,” said Ted Mahony, the agency’s chief investigator.

Not only are these positions laughable–ever heard of carding?–but these unelected officials are now having their statements reviewed by an Ethics Commission since they are not supposed to “engage in political activities” while on the job. Their boss, State Treasurer Timothy Cahill, an opponent of the measure, gave them the green light to speak out according to the Boston Globe. He received $22,000 last year from distributors in campaign contributions.

In an unusual coalition against the measure, package store owners have been joined by some distributors and 28 local police chiefs. Since the measure is backed by Stop & Shop and Shaw’s, two supermarket chains, the distributors who are opposed must fear that retailer consolidation would be a significant counterweight to their market power. The cops’ demagoguery about drunken driving I just don’t understand.

Supermarkets do not have reputations for selling high quality wine. And they don’t always deliver wine at the best price. But there’s always the chance that they will try. Certainly Whole Foods does a good job though you pay a premium for the convenience. And Trader Joe’s has solid offerings at reasonable prices. Maybe they will serve as guiding lights for the bigger chains in Massachusetts.

Both sides have raised $7.6 million thus far according to the Boston Globe. And the irony is that if the measure passed, as polls suggest, November 8 would not bring cases of Kendall-Jackson to Stop & Shops. It would simply allow the right for municipalities to set their own rules.

I would vote yes to make wine one step more convenient and more like a normal, enjoyable consumer product, a part of everyday life.

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