Private sales of liquor in Washington thrown into limbo, distillers too

Mar 5, 2012

A judge’s ruling on Friday has thrown the privatization of liquor sales in Washington into question and landed the state’s craft distillers in a state of limbo.

A Cowlitz County judge on Friday upheld most of an initiative that requires the state to get out of the liquor business, but called for a trial to determine whether a provision for public safety funding violated rules for initiatives to address only one subject.

The entire measure would be nullified if the court determines that voters would have rejected the initiative without the provision.

The Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention filed suit in December, arguing that the initiative violated a rule requiring voter initiatives to address just one subject. A similar lawsuit in King County Superior Court was put on hold in January pending the Cowlitz court decision.

Steve Stone of Sound Spirits in Seattle says the timing is awful for small distillers who are just starting out. Instead, he says they need a stable system and efficient marketplace to get their businesses off the ground.