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Liquor privatizers sue state regulators

Backers of an initiative to privatize liquor sales in Washington are suing state regulators for clinging to too much power in the newly opened marketplace. The Washington State Liquor Control Board has the job of interpreting provisions of the ballot measure passed last fall. But Costco, the Washington Restaurant Association and the Northwest Grocery Association say the board is using a heavy hand.

For example, if a restaurant wants to buy from a supermarket instead of a wholesaler, the board says they can’t purchase more than 24 liters of booze a day. Bruce Beckett of the Restaurant Association said the limit makes it impractical for restaurants to comparison shop.

“For most of these businesses, they can’t compare maybe what Costco can do unless they want to go once a day. So that has a huge bearing in terms of people’s ability to price shop and to see what their prices would be on a weekly basis,” Beckett said.

The liquor control board declined to comment on the lawsuit, but they’ve explained in a document that the initiative itself limits each transaction to 24 liters, and without a daily cap that limit would be meaningless. The board has said it’s simply trying to follow the new law.

The plaintiffs also accuse the board of levying an unfair fee on manufacturers who want to sell directly to retailers, and take issue with several other rules. The net effect, they say, is to stifle the competition voters endorsed.