Colorado’s new state motto: Have a drink on me

Craig Hall, Publisher
Craig Hall, Publisher

That’s the gist of the advertisements I hear on the radio from folks who want the state to grant grocery and convenience stores the “right” to sell liquor and full-strength beers. I mean, I feel sorry for the poor woman in the ad who’s so busy she simply can’t make time to go to the liquor store and, therefore, must have this law enacted based on her inalienable right to the convenience to get hammered.

I have news for her as the single dad with two young daughters: On a lot of days I’d rather skip the grocery store. Not that I’m promoting drunken parenting, but I’m just saying.

I’m trying to understand when all of s sudden our state’s “liquor deserts” became such a problem this poor woman can’t get her Moscato fix. Isn’t one of the reasons we have liquor licenses controlled by the government is to spread them out so as to not over populate one area while keeping it convenient for everyone? So once again we’re looking to the government to solve an imaginary problem the government is already in control of solving. I wonder why that is? The fact is, this isn’t some new phenomena. These folks have been trying this every year since 2008.

And once again, the reasons are the same: It’s about money and control. After all, next to the mob, no one runs a protection racket better than government. Think not? Just look at gambling, pot sales, prescription drugs, cigarettes, horse racing … and the list goes on and on. Once you get government regulation of an industry, you get the next worst thing from big businesses: lobbyists. Why? Because with government control comes guaranteed profits for the companies that can afford to buy legislation along with something these companies desire even more — the government limiting and eliminating competition.

And that is exactly what passing this measure would do. Yes, it would double our convenience to buy booze to more than 3,000 outlets. But is that a good thing? Are you telling me the state would double its liquor and full-strength beer sales? Do you think this is a good idea to have that much more exposure of alcohol products to kids, that much more opportunity for underage kids to buy booze — all of which will increase law violations? And while my thoughts on the “sting” operations the government runs by sending in beautiful 20-year-old kids who look 28 are apparent by the wording I used, for a small business the fine and penalty can be a death knell, not so much for a chain just cutting a check. I fully expect underage buying and drinking will indeed go up.

I also know what the state will double, and that would be licensing fees. So it’s a no-lose situation for state governments that need more tax and fee money in a tough economy made worse by more unfunded mandates dictated by the federal government. So the decision won’t be made by our legislature based on convenience. It will based on revenues. That’s why the grocery and convenience store owners are lobbying the government. They know the government needs the money and that by enacting this law, they’ll both make a ton. And now for small businesses there will be the worst-case scenario: We just made alcohol sales a crony capitalist endeavor.

Now you might ask, “Hey Craig, I thought you were a free-market guy?”
I would counter with this simple fact: Alcohol is sold in anything but a free market. And passing this measure would make it even less free. For more than 80 years, folks who own liquor stores have been obeying unfair laws while building businesses and creating jobs. They have done an awfully good job of it, and one should assume the state has managed the industry in a good manner as well. So why change an unfair system the market and entrepreneurs have adapted to in making it work the best it can? Simple. Big business wants a cut of the action. And when it comes to big business, no one is a more willing accomplice than your government.

Here’s what I see happening if this measure passes. In the first few years, you’ll see price wars for business because you’ve got double the outlets going after maybe an extra 10 percent or 15 percent increase in business. Of course, the larger stores and chains have a huge advantage in purchasing power. This even occurs today when liquor wholesalers go to larger stores or store groups when needing a volume sale to keep up with quotas. So they can naturally sell at lower prices than your local liquor store. We’ll lose businesses and employees from the small stores soon enough. Selection will go down. While grocery stores want to sell alcohol products, they can’t give it the space. And I doubt this helps our microbrew industry. Overall, our economy and employment will suffer.

As the old saying goes, alcohol, tobacco and firearms should be the name of our favorite store, not a government agency. But since a harried mom and I can’t shop there due to the government protection racket in the industry, is there really a good reason to make things worse?

I need a drink. Luckily, there’s a store I know of for that.