Gov. Patrick Signs Law Expanding Off-Premises Liquor Licenses

After alcohol industry insiders struck a deal to permit supermarkets and other large retailers to gradually acquire more alcoholic beverage licenses, their proposal sailed through the Legislature this month and Gov. Deval Patrick agreed to it this week, signing the new legislation.

Under the new law, sponsored by Sen. Michael Rodrigues, D-Westport, the cap on licenses per corporation would be lifted from three to five in 2012, up to seven in 2016, and to nine in 2020. The bill also would assess applicants $5,000 for every license in they obtain in excess of three. This enables supermarkets and liquor stores to increase the number of licenses that each company can hold.

In 2006, Massachusetts voters by a 53-41 margin rejected a ballot question permitting sales of wine at food stores. That question divided the electorate, drawing opposition from package stores and others fearful of increased underage drinking and increased drunk driving.

But the latest proposal spurred no debate or controversy on Beacon Hill. John Stasiowski, president of the Beer Distributors of Massachusetts, which opposed the 2006 ballot question, told the News Service in October that the bill does not create a new category of licenses, stays within the existing quota system and preserves the authority of local officials to approve licenses.

Rodrigues says the idea is to give consumers for buying alcoholic beverages.

“Consumers want choice and consumer want convenience,” he said last month. “In most states beer and wine are available anywhere, anyplace.”

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