October 12, 2006
A Referendum on Wine

Californians, we often are reminded by non-Californians, are spoiled. They may have in mind our climate or our scenery, but they also could be talking of our easy access to wine, and not just because of the proximity of fine-wine regions to so many cities. Wine can be bought in California just about anywhere people gather except movie complexes and high-school football games.

Not so in a lot of other states, including Massachusetts, often pictured as one of the more liberal members of the union. In California, we're able to buy wine at most any grocery store, a logical recognition of wine's traditional role at the dinner table. Not so in Massachusetts, where the sale of wine is largely restricted to liquor stores.

When Massachusetts voters go to the polls next month, however, they will be asked to pass judgment on "Ballot Question One," a proposal to create a new class of liquor license that would permit the sale of wine at grocery stores.

Proponents say the measure will give consumers more convenience and choice. Opponents argue that easier access to wine would increase alcohol consumption, underage drinking, drunk driving and binge drinking.

To Californians, this initiative might seem a minor issue, but in Massachusetts it could be the hottest topic on the ballot, pitting two major industries against each other. On one hand, there are grocery stores who would like to expand their sales opportunities. On the other, there are liquor stores who control most alcohol sales and fear the competition.

As a measure of just how intensely the issue is being debated, the Boston Globe reported yesterday that spending by proponents and opponents could shatter the $9 million record for ballot questions in Massachusetts. So far, $7.6 million has been spent. The $9 million record was set in 1988. The initiative then was a bit more profound than whether wine should be sold in grocery stores. The question before voters was whether Massachusetts should close its nuclear power plants. No was the answer.

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