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Grocery stores try again on alcohol

Ballot measures submitted for ’12

By Colleen Quinn
State House News Service / August 5, 2011

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The Massachusetts Food Association is taking another shot at getting beer and wine into grocery stores, filing two ballot questions for 2012 Wednesday, one which would allow food stores to sell wine and a second to allow grocery stores and supermarkets to sell beer and wine, under local control.

The group filed two questions hoping that at least one would be certified by Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office and give them an opportunity to advance it to the 2012 ballot, backers said.

In 2006, a similar ballot initiative allowing wine to be sold in food stores was defeated, with 56 percent of voters voting against it and 44 percent for it, according to results from Secretary of State William F. Galvin’s Elections Division website. Package store owners, fearing increased competition, fiercely fought the initiative, alongside a local police group, which days before the election ran commercials raising concerns about the possibility of minors getting alcohol in grocery stores.

Coakley has until early September to certify the ballot initiatives. Then backers of certified proposals must gather 68,911 signatures by mid-November.

After successful signature drives, lawmakers have until May 2012 to support the proposals, offer alternatives, or permit the questions to appear on the 2012 ballot. If lawmakers take no action, supporters must gather another 11,485 signatures to place the question on the ballot.

In the last ballot push, opponents argued that convenience stores and gas stations could be considered food stores, Eid said. So this time they included a clause that would allow local boards to retain control over the alcohol licenses and be able to define grocery stores, she said.

It is uncertain whether the proposal will make it to voters. Industry officials on both sides of the issue said they are discussing compromises on a bill pending in the Legislature that would allow more grocery stores and supermarkets to sell beer and wine.

Under current law, grocery store owners can only sell beer and wine once they receive an alcohol permit from their local communities, but they are not allowed to hold more than three permits in the state, making it difficult for chain grocery stores to sell alcohol.