BOSTON (SHNS) – Go to www.foodstoresma.org. You won’t find anything. Neither will you if you check the bank account of Food Stores for Consumer Choice, the ballot committee formed to oppose Question 3.
That’s because after losing a Supreme Judicial Court case where companies, including Cumberland Farms, sought to have Question 3 disqualified from the ballot, the stores are not fighting passage of the question that will remake the rules around alcohol sales and licensing in Massachusetts.
Question 3 proposes to increase the combined number of licenses a retailer can hold for the sale of all alcoholic beverages and beer and wine from nine to 18 by 2031, but will reduce the cap on licenses for the sale of all alcoholic beverages from nine to seven. It will also prohibit self check-out of alcoholic beverages, make out-of-state licenses an acceptable form of ID for alcohol purchasing, and change the formula under which fines for selling to minors are calculated (something food stores opposed).
The question was proposed and is backed by independent package stores. It was pitched as a compromise with the food stores to avoid a fight over simply lifting the cap on licenses altogether. While Cumberland Farms and other chains didn’t necessarily see it that way, Louis Rizoli – former counsel to the House and the chair and attorney for the Food Stores for Consumer Choice – said there will be no last minute infusion of corporate cash to fight the measure. “There’s no coordinated opposition to this ballot question,” Rizoli said. “Some food stores like certain provisions of question three and oppose others.”
A statement of opposition was printed in the “Information for Voters” guide mailed to homes, but Rizoli said food stores like Cumberland Farms and Stop & Shop are “more interested in obtaining a separate license,” which was proposed in a bill (H 318) this session and will be refiled next year.
In 2020, Cumberland Farms pursued a ballot question that proposed to create a new food store license for the sale of alcohol and eventually lift all license caps, but it ultimately dropped its campaign amidst the pandemic and chose to fight for a legislative solution this cycle instead. That bill did not gain traction with lawmakers as an alternative to the ballot question, but depending on what happens in November a new bill cycle begins in January.
Meanwhile, the 21st Century Alcohol Retail Reform Committee has raised $823,450 over the past two years in support of its ballot measure, mostly from the Massachusetts Package Store Association, and spent $723,565 to make its case to voters. In its Sept. 20 report to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, it reported having $99,884 left in the bank. Probably more than enough when no one’s spending to fight you on the other side.