NC lawmakers examine privatizing liquor sales, ‘modernizing’ system

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – State lawmakers took a closer look Monday at the impacts of privatizing liquor sales as well as “modernizing” the existing system of sales, with the possibility of allowing liquor stores to open on Sundays.

A new report by the Program Evaluation Division of the North Carolina General Assembly estimates liquor prices would increase by almost 16 percent if the state shifted to a system in which it licensed private wholesalers and retailers to sell liquor, assuming state and local governments continued to bring in revenue at current levels.

The report assumes the existence of about 1,000 stores under that model. The ABC Commission says there are 410 ABC stores currently statewide.

The report notes that following a similar report a decade ago that made a variety of recommendations for the ABC system, the overall profit percentage increased from 8.5 percent to 11.2 percent.

In addition, the percentage of ABC boards with profit margins of 5 percent or more increased from 44 percent to 72 percent.

North Carolina is among 17 states known as “control states,” which control liquor sales and distribution.

The recent Program Evaluation Division report mentions among states in the southeast, North Carolina “collects the most public revenue per gallon of liquor sold, has the lowest liquor outlet density, and has the second lowest adult per capita liquor consumption.”

“We think that privatization would be a terrible mistake, especially as how it pertains to public health,” said Rev. Mark Creech, of the Christian Action League of North Carolina.

The closure of ABC stores could result in the loss of 2,870 full- and part-time jobs, according to the report.

Some ABC customers who spoke with CBS 17 Monday pointed to aspects of the state’s control of liquor sales that they feel are antiquated or could be improved.

“It’s really just getting caught up with a lot of the other more progressive states as far as liquor goes,” said Gregory Martinez of Raleigh. “I’m a bartender by trade. So, it’s really frustrating to have to drive to South Carolina to get spirits that I want to experiment with.”

Max Gaskins, of Raleigh, added, “I don’t know if you necessarily need to do away with the ABC stores per se, but you should definitely be able to come into the ABC store on Sunday.”

The legislative committee examining the issue focused Monday on recommendations to “modernize” the existing system including: allowing local governments to authorize ABC stores to open on Sundays, allow liquor tastings in ABC stores, requiring communities with more than one ABC board to merge them, directing the ABC system to report on obtaining a new contract to operate the ABC warehouse and allowing customers to special order products in quantities smaller than an entire case.

Rep. Pat Hurley (R-Randolph) spoke against merging ABC boards within counties, saying different communities should retain control if they choose. Ten counties have four or more ABC boards, according to the PED report.

The committee voted to advance a bill that would implement the recommendations in the report but not privatize the state’s liquor sales.

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