Massachusetts Ballot Item Would Permit Wine Sales in Food Stores

Voters in Massachusetts this November could decide to allow food stores to sell wine, and groups on both sides of the issue are locked in battle. Liquor distributors are running an aggressive ad campaign claiming that the measure would lead to an increase in drunk driving fatalities. The scare tactics even say the fatality rate could double.

Massachusetts currently has a relatively low drunk-driving fatality rate. Statistics show 2.34 deaths per 100,000 drivers, compared to 5.31 deaths per 100,000 drivers in states where wine and beer are sold by food stores.

The ad campaign initiated by liquor wholesalers and package stores implies that the current law prohibiting wine sales at food stores is the reason for the low fatality rates. The liquor industry effort has the support of more than 25 police chiefs and the State Police
Association of Massachusetts.

Supermarkets have countered that the existing law limits the number of liquor licenses thus giving liquor stores a virtual monopoly.

There is no evidence that the selling of wine at food stores contributes to an increase in drunk driving fatalities. National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration
statistics show that Arkansas, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Tennessee, which prohibit wine sales in food stores, have a higher drunk-driving fatality rate than the average of the 34 states that do permit wine sales.

The 34 states with wine sales also allow food stores to sell beer and sometimes even hard liquor, which are more likely to contribute to alcohol related accidents. Mothers Against Drunk Driving points out that beer and hard liquor are more likely to be abused by drivers than wine.

MADD prefers not to take a position on alcohol licensing legislation and it has remained neutral on the ballot issue. The organization
states that the low fatality rate in Massachusetts can be attributed to reasons other than whether food stores sell wine. They cite the fact that drivers in the state tend to drive slower and that they receive better emergency response and health care when involved in an accident. Studies also show that higher education levels and financial status result in fewer drunk drivers.

Approval of the ballot issue would authorize the creation of a new ‘wine-at-food-store’ license. Each municipality would have the option of awarding five licenses, and towns with more than 5,000 residents could award another license for each additional 5,000 residents.

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