Voters will decide on four ballot questions in the 2022 Massachusetts elections on Nov. 8. Here is what you need to know about Question 3, regarding alcohol sales.
What is this ballot question about?
Question 3 would gradually increase the number of locations where a single company can sell beer or wine, from nine to 18. It would also reduce the cap on all-alcohol licenses, or the number of locations where a company can sell hard alcohol, from nine to seven. The proposal includes a grandfather clause for any company that already holds eight or nine all-alcohol licenses.
The ballot measure also includes three additional rules changes: It would require retailers to accept out-of-state driver’s licenses for age verification, ban alcohol sales through self-checkout machines, and change the formula for calculating fines for stores that sell to minors or intoxicated people so that it is based on all retail sales, including food and gasoline, and not just alcohol sales.
A yes vote would double the number of licenses for one company to sell beer or wine; lower the cap on all-alcohol licenses; require retailers to accept out-of-state driver’s licenses; ban self-checkout alcohol sales; and change how fines are calculated.
A no vote would make no changes to the existing laws around retail alcohol sales.
Who is backing each side?
The ballot measure is the latest round in a long fight between small, independent liquor stores and larger retail chains over who should be allowed to sell alcohol at what volume. In 2011, both sides worked out a compromise in the state Legislature that gradually hiked the limit on liquor licenses from three to nine.
Then in 2019, convenience store chain Cumberland Farms announced plans for a ballot measure that would lift the cap on alcohol licenses entirely for food stores, an effort derailed by the pandemic but which was broadly expected to resurface this year.
Before that could happen, the Massachusetts Package Stores Association defensively came up with a compromise in the form of Question 3. If the ballot measure is approved and Cumberland Farms or another large retailer tries to expand alcohol sales again with another ballot question, MassPack could file a legal challenge, arguing that six years need to pass before voters are asked to decide on a ballot question that is substantially the same.
Cumberland Farms has not been active in opposing Question 3, but retail giant Total Wine & More has been funding a campaign to oppose it.
What do those in favor say?
MassPack argues this ballot measure would expand convenience for alcohol consumers because retailers will be able to apply for additional licenses for their existing locations that don’t currently sell alcohol or for any new locations.
The group also says that Question 3 could help curb illegal alcohol sales by prohibiting self-checkout use and basing fines for selling to minors on a store’s total sales rather than just alcohol sales, and that accepting out-of-state driver’s licenses would bring Massachusetts in line with other states.
What do those opposed say?
Total Wine has argued the ballot question is an attempt at stifling competition.
Food Stores for Consumer Choice, representing retailers, stated in written arguments that Question 3 was not the answer to a complex problem around alcohol licenses.
“Despite some superficially popular provisions designed to entice voters, it fails to lift outdated restrictions on local decision-making, while in fact moving Massachusetts backwards in several significant ways,” the group wrote.
It argued against the change to how fines are calculated, saying it penalizes stores that sell more than just alcohol and opposed outlawing “convenient and reliable” automated checkout technologies.