Massachusetts Treasurer sets sights on alcohol reforms

By Andy Metzger January 19, 2017
 Charged under a new ballot law with assembling a marijuana regulatory body, the state's treasurer has also turned her attention to a more established intoxicant, forming a task force to review the state's liquor rules.
Treasurer Deb Goldberg on her own volition established a seven-member advisory task force to look into the wide range of post-prohibition regulations and laws governing the alcohol industry in Massachusetts.
A spokeswoman for the treasurer confirmed the treasurer has appointed Kate Cook, who was chief legal counsel to former Gov. Deval Patrick; Rachel Rollins, the former chief legal counsel to the Massachusetts Port Authority; and Lisa Wong, the former mayor of Fitchburg.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo selected John Fernandes, the former Milford state rep who was co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, for appointment to the task force, and Senate President Stan Rosenberg selected his press secretary Pete Wilson. The chair of the task force and the appointee of Gov. Charlie Baker have not yet been announced, according to Goldberg spokeswoman Chandra Allard.
The Boston Globe, which published a story about the task force on Wednesday, reported "the issues that officials and industry executives suggested could be reviewed: extending the hours for package stores, lifting caps on liquor licenses in each municipality, allowing beer-makers to switch distributors more easily, loosening restrictions on consumers bringing alcohol to restaurants or reusing growlers, boosting funding to the chronically understaffed Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, or clarifying rules about so-called pay-to-play incentives."
Some businesses fear that having more liquor licenses could come at a cost. Co-owner of Theodore's in Springfield, Keith Makarowski, told 22News, "You raise or lower your overall value of that license based on availability, so adding extra licenses would lower the value of what people have already paid for it."
In a directive provided to the News Service, Goldberg said the state's alcohol laws are due for a comprehensive review following the 1933 repeal of alcohol prohibition.
"The Commonwealth's alcohol laws have necessarily evolved since enacted in 1933, but many of those reforms have been both piecemeal and reactionary. Other changes have come by way of court decisions, although they may not be reflected in the statutes. The result is a system that lacks the cohesiveness that consumers, regulators, and businesses need to operate efficiently and safely," read the directive, dated Jan. 13.
According to the National Constitution Center, the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, repealing prohibition, became law on Dec. 5, 1933 when Utah became the 36th state to ratify it.
With voters' passage of Question 4 in November, Goldberg is directed by state law to appoint the three-member Cannabis Control Commission to eventually regulate the legalized retail sale of marijuana. Proponents of marijuana legalization said during the campaign they aimed to regulate marijuana like alcohol, which they described as a more dangerous.
The advisory task force will not be subject to the open meeting law, according to the treasurer's office, though it is directed to convene at least five public comment sessions around the state. A preliminary report is due from the task force within six months of it convening, according to the directive.