Public Health Groups File to Stop Proposed Ballot Question on Alcohol Licensing

The Massachusetts Prevention Alliance (MAPA), along with the  HYPERLINK “https://hfcm.org/” \t “_blank” Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts, has announced the filing of a brief asking the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to stop the Cumberland Farms’ proposed ballot initiative that would lift the cap on alcohol licenses in the state of Massachusetts. The organizations are raising alarm about the impact on the health of the state’s communities due to deregulation that will vastly expand alcohol outlet density and lead to significantly more addiction and social harms across the Commonwealth.

“Our sole concern is the potential impact on the health of our families and communities,” said Heidi Heilman, president of MAPA. “Limits on the number of licenses for retail sales is the cornerstone of our measured, balanced approach to alcohol regulation. It’s arguably the most critical public health standard of our alcohol system, is the template upon which our adult use marijuana law is based, and is strongly supported by the World Health Organization, United States Surgeon General and Centers for Disease Control. Alcohol is addictive and harmful when misused, and death due to alcohol poisoning is pervasive and preventable. The research makes clear that deregulation will lead to increased health inequities and social harms that will be close to impossible to reverse.”

In the brief, MAPA and the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts have asked the high court to intervene and prevent the complicated, confusing measure from being placed on the ballot in November. They cite a number of issues, including:

•Increase in Alcohol Availability: Alcohol is an addictive substance, which is why it is closely regulated at the state and federal level. Unlimited sales of beer and wine at all food stores will substantially increase the number of alcohol retail outlets in every community. 

•Public Health & Safety Concerns: Increased alcohol outlet density directly contributes to health inequity, Alcohol Use Disorders and associated harms, greater youth diversion, and disproportionately burdens socioeconomically disadvantaged communities.

•Simultaneous Increase in Retail Marijuana Outlets: A significant, though perhaps unintended, consequence of the petition is that it will increase retail marijuana outlets in communities. Currently, marijuana licenses are calibrated to the number of off-premise alcohol licenses in a municipality.

“This petition will allow 3,279 convenience stores in Massachusetts to be automatically eligible to sell beer and wine, and four years later be eligible to transition into selling hard liquor, too,” said John Scheft, the attorney who wrote the brief. “The problems are extensive and far-reaching and adequate oversight of such a system is unlikely. Although Cumberland Farms claims that the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission will receive more funding, they recently acknowledged in a court filing that there is no guarantee that increased oversight will be funded by the legislature. Furthermore, there are no plans to increase funding for the Cannabis Control Commission even if more marijuana stores open as a result.” Initiative Petition 19-14 proposes (1) unlimited licenses by a single entity for beer and wine sales (not spirits) by retail establishments that sell food; (2) unlimited licenses by a single entity for beer, wine and spirit sales in any municipality and across the Commonwealth; (3) a point-of-sale ID checking requirement for all off-premises alcohol retailers (not on-premises bars and restaurants); and (4) diversion of alcohol excise taxes to fund the Alcohol Beverages Control Commission (ABCC) and a ratio of one inspector for every 250 licenses.

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