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This staff editorial is part of The Crimson Editorial Board’s 2022 Massachusetts Election Guide. See the full guide here.
Have you ever wondered why drinking in Massachusetts feels like it takes more effort than it should? If yes, you’re not alone — in 2013, Time Magazine even ranked Massachusetts as one of the worst states to drink in, second only to Utah.
By supporting ballot question three, bay staters can help remedy our state-wide alcohol supply issues — which is why we urge voters to vote yes on Ballot Question Three.
Understanding what's at stake with question three is understanding the complex nature of alcohol licensing in our state. Currently, Massachusetts permits small and large businesses alike to hold at most nine licenses for the sale of alcoholic beverages, with the rationale of protecting small liquor “package” stores and, presumably, preventing our citizens from becoming too frequently intoxicated out of concern for public safety. Ballot Question Three would expand the maximum number from nine to 18, with the caveat that the increase will be gradual in character, with progressive increases over the course of the next decade.
At first glance, big corporations may seem poised to benefit the most from the measure: Large retailers tend to control more alcohol-selling locations and could take advantage of owning more licenses. Yet the changes included in question three, conceived as a compromise reform, could also help endearing package stores and support our local economies.
As of today, our state offers two kinds of licenses — one that allows for the sale of all liquor, and one that allows for the sale of beer and wine only. Businesses can own as many of either as they like, provided that they don’t exceed a total of nine. If Ballot Question Three were to pass, however, only seven of those licenses would be eligible for the “all liquor” status, with the rest required to be beer and wine only. The change would shift the balance of economic power towards local small businesses — packies — like C’est Bon in Harvard Square, which occupy a neighborhood niche and are not large chains.
Small local businesses writ large are essential to the social and economic fabric of their communities: They create local jobs, keep taxes close to home, and give back to the community in times of prosperity. Question three would support them by limiting large corporate market intrusions in one of their main sources of income.
Ballot Question Three also includes several other measures intended to protect packies and consumers alike. The amendment would ban the use of self-checkout systems for the purchase of alcohol, shift fine calculations for license misuse so that they are based on total retail profits rather than just liquor sales, and increase the number of legally acceptable IDs when purchasing alcohol to include out-of-state drivers’ licenses.
These measures, if passed, may also significantly improve nightlife for college students. As we have previously opined, attempts to aggressively and unrealistically limit access to alcohol — such as the current federal legal drinking age — often fail to achieve their intended effect of making alcohol consumption safer. When denied legal and supervised access to alcohol, young adults like ourselves or our peers are likely to resort to binge drinking in unsupervised environments, out of the eye of those who could help in the event of alcohol poisoning. Massachusetts, especially Cambridge and Boston given their particularly large populations of college students, should have a vibrant nightlife. For college students who are otherwise bombarded with academic and external responsibilities, a vibrant and safe nightlife can provide much-needed relief and promote wellness — which, in our opinion, should not be policed.
Expanding liquor licenses to more stores and permitting out-of-state IDs as a form of legal identification will improve college students’ legal access to alcohol, removing barriers against safe consumption while protecting local suppliers. In doing so, these intermediary measures can help ensure a safer, more fun college experience — not just at Harvard, but at every college across Massachusetts.
If passed, Ballot Question Three could be a win for packies over big corporations (albeit one born out of compromise!) and those in favor of a more safe and more fun nightlife involving responsible alcohol consumption. Our state can do better than second-to-Utah; our local stores deserve protection and our consumers deserve the ability to buy low-grade alcohol at more locations. For those reasons, we urge voters to vote yes on Ballot Question Three.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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