(link to article from WBUR with audio)
Liquor stores say they have cleared a key hurdle to launching a ballot measure aimed at countering efforts by big chains to eliminate limits on the number of stores that can sell alcohol in Massachusetts.
The Massachusetts Package Stores Association says it has gathered far more than the roughly 80,000 signatures needed by Dec. 1 to put a question on next year's ballot. The group's proposed measure would gradually double the number of licenses a single company could own in the state to 18, instead of removing the caps altogether. And only seven of those permits would be good for hard liquor.
The package store trade association says the limits are needed to protect small local stores from major grocery and pharmacy chains.
"They can't compete in that type of a marketplace where you've got these super companies that are discounting through cumulative quantity purchasing," said Rob Mellion, executive director of the package stores association. "You can't compete against that as a mom and pop."
The ballot measure is intended to block efforts by Cumberland Farms and other chains to eliminate the license caps entirely.
"The best thing to do is just to take the caps off, period," said Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. "Leave some local controls but just allow the marketplace to work and determine who is serving the consumer the best."
The proposed ballot measure also would change how the state calculates fines for violations, such as selling to underage drinkers. Grocers and convenience stores would pay much heftier penalties if voters or lawmakers approve the measure.
Mellion, the package association executive director, said the group already has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the measure, though financial reports are not yet available from the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance. Major retailers are expected to spend money to oppose the measure.
Next year's ballot also could include other notable questions, including a petition to solidify the status of drivers for Uber and other app-based companies as independent contractors, rather than employees.
Organizers must file at least 80,239 valid signatures with the secretary of state's office by Dec. 1 to move the ballot measures forward. The Legislature will first have the opportunity to turn the measures into law. And if lawmakers fail to act, organizations must submit an additional 13,374 signatures by July 6 to place the questions on the state ballot in November 2022.
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Massachusetts Package Stores Association, Inc.
30 Lyman St., Suite 2 / Westborough, MA 01581
Phone: (508) 366-1100 / Fax: (508) 366-1104