Cumberland Farms Suspending Beer & Wine Ballot Question

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Cumberland Farms Suspending Beer & Wine Ballot Question

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WESTBOROUGH, Mass. — Massachusetts voters will not get to decide the issue of alcohol license limits for retailers this year.

Cumberland Farms, which was spearheading the efforts to bring the question to the voters this November, decided to pause its pursuit. On June 26, the convenience store chain said it was dropping its bid as retailers continue to deal with the impact of COVID-19 and Cumberland Farms' need to focus on the health and safety of its employees and customers, according to WBUR.

"They deserve our undivided attention as we fulfill our ongoing commitment to safely providing essential services in cities and towns across Massachusetts. To that end, it's become clear that leading an eight-figure ballot measure campaign is not a prudent course of action at this particular moment in history," said Matt Durand, chairman of the ballot question committee and the head of public policy at Cumberland Farms.

"Make no mistake: The issue of safe and fair competition in the beverage alcohol marketplace remains a top legislative priority for Cumberland Farms and other food stores, just as it remains an important question of public policy for this Commonwealth," he added. "As we've said from the beginning, we're prepared to take this effort all the way to the voters if necessary. That position has not changed, and I look forward to the next biennial election cycle."

Cumberland Farms began its push to lift the state restrictions on the number of alcohol licenses a food retailer can have this past summer. Under a 2011 deal between packaged stores and supermarket chains, current state law states that the number of alcohol sales licenses per retailer would go up, gradually rising from three to nine in January 2020. Both sides agreed to not push any further changes, at least until after the final increase took effect next year. However, c-stores weren't a part of the 2011 deal.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey had previously ruled that the ballot question passed constitutional muster, but critics — including liquor store owners, who could experience greater competition if it is approved — went to court to challenge Healey's ruling, saying the question violated some of the prohibitions.

Last month, the Supreme Judicial Court sided with Healey, as Convenience Store News previously reported.

The proposed question, according to the attorney general's summary, would "create a license allowing food stores to sell wine and beer for off-premises consumption, progressively increase and then eliminate the limit on the number of licenses for the sale of alcoholic beverages consumed off-premises that any one retailer could own or control."

Though the ballot question will not been decided this year, Durand said Cumberland Farms and its supporters "remain open to a negotiated resolution," according to WBUR.

"While some entrenched special interests in the liquor industry seem willing to gamble at the ballot box, I firmly believe the average package store owner would support a reasonable compromise. With our foundational concern for safety and fairness, we know there's common ground to be found here, even if we have to bring that message directly to every licensed retailer in the state," he said.

With the campaigns efforts now focused on the 2022 statewide ballot, Durand added in his statement, "Based on the data I've seen, if this does go to the ballot, we will win."