State Supreme Court upholds liquor privatization initiative

May 31, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

NEW — 10:15 a.m. May 31, 2012

The state Supreme Court upheld a liquor privatization initiative Thursday, a day before the measure goes into effect and liquor sales expand statewide.

In a 5-4 ruling, justices upheld Initiative 1183, a Costco-backed measure to end the state-run liquor system. Voters approved the measure in November and, in April, the state auctioned the rights to private entrepreneurs to sell liquor at former state-run stores.

Opponents said I-1183 violated 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.

“The challenged portion of I-1183’s ballot title is not palpably misleading or false,” justices wrote.

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 Friday.

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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