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Mass. governor calls for end to three-tier system.

Massachusetts Governor William Weld wants to gut the regulation of alcoholic beverages in Massachusetts in a plan to lower state prices for beer and liquor. At present, he said, Massachusetts residents pay some the highest prices in the country for alcoholic beverages, causing many to cross the border into New Hampshire to buy it more cheaply.

Weld's proposals include removal of a three-license cap that has prevented chain stores from selling liquor at more than a few of their locations; abolishment of the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission (ABCC). Most alarming, Weld has stated that he wants an end to the three-tier system.

The Brewers Association of America (BAA) has launched an "Action Alert" for its membership to oppose Weld's initiative.

Governor Weld has already dangled lower beer prices before voters in his state of the union address. In this speech, Weld stated he wants to eliminate the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverage Commission. Now, Weld said, state regulations add 75 cents to the cost of a six-pack of beer.

So Weld wants to abolish posted liquor prices, and the state's three-tier system requiring a wholesaler between the supplier and liquor store, and state licensing requirements.

To justify the proposal, Weld said he wants to draw buyers away from New Hampshire and into Massachusetts, and has suggested liquor sales in his state should be deregulated to let package stores, better compete against New Hampshire's state-run liquor stores. "When you look at New Hampshire, what hurts them helps us," Nancy Merrick, general counsel for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Consumer Affairs, told the Boston Sunday Globe.

For example, a bottle of Jack Daniels bourbon is on sale for $9.99 this month at New Hampshire's state-run stores. Just south of the border, the same bottle costs $15.45 at a small package store in Methuen, the Globe reported.

"People say it may cut back jobs, but maybe it will create jobs in Massachusetts," Merrick said.

Almost all of Weld's plans, including his motion to abolish the ABCC and eliminate the laws that control alcohol, will require legislative approval. Weld will submit the proposal later this month, along with the state's 1997 budget.

Beer wholesalers are already working to fight the proposal. "Alcoholic beverages are not cheese, bread or milk," said John Stasiowski, president of the Massachusetts Association of Malt Beverage Wholesalers. "They are a product that is different and should be controlled differently."

Wholesalers are also concerned with the plan to do away with the ABCC, which administers the price laws requiring wholesalers to publicly announce their prices every month. After the prices are announced, wholesalers can meet, but not beat, the prices of competitors. Wholesalers say the system maintains a level playing field, and allows small retail stores to buy products at the same prices as larger stores.

Ex-ABCC commissioner Lew Cassis noted, "Every state has some kind of regulation of alcoholic beverages. Alcohol can be dangerous and needs proper oversight."
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Title Annotation:Massachusetts governor William F. Weld
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Date:Jan 29, 1996
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