Supreme Court hears challenge to Costco-backed liquor privatization

May 22, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Opponents of liquor privatization urged state Supreme Court justices May 17 to overturn Initiative 1183, less than a month before the switch from a state-run liquor system to private entrepreneurs.

If the high court overturns the Costco-backed measure, state-run liquor stores could remain open and retailers could not sell spirits. The changeover is scheduled to occur June 1, and a ruling is expected before then.

Opponents said I-1183 violates the single subject rule for statewide ballot initiatives.

In addition to the liquor privatization language, I-1183 included a section directing $10 million to public safety, in addition to the liquor-privatization language.

In a March ruling, a Cowlitz County Superior Court judge upheld the measure. The main opponent of liquor privatization, the Washington Association for Substance & Violence Prevention, joined a landlord for a state-run liquor store in Longview to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

Issaquah-based Costco — the largest employer in the city — led the push to pass I-1183 last year. Statewide, almost 60 percent of voters supported the liquor-privatization measure.

The measure requires state-run liquor stores to close and for the state to get out of the liquor business. The measure also calls for the state to license private enterprises to sell and distribute hard liquor, set license fees based on sales and regulate licensees.

I-1183 limits hard liquor sales to stores of at least 10,000 square feet.

Major grocery stores and big-box retailers in Issaquah have received licenses to sell spirits starting June 1. The state also auctioned the rights to entrepreneurs to sell liquor at the state-run store in Town & Country Square along Northwest Gilman Boulevard and a store under construction in the Klahanie Shopping Center.

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