Wednesday November 14, 2007
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Wine Sales in Weston Is the Wait Almost Over?

Kara Kardon has lived in Weston for 14 years and currently works at Nine Acre Wines in Concord.

it was 1920 when the Volstead Act, instituting the federal prohibition of the manufacture or sale of alcoholic beverages across the land, became law. Conservative lobbyists and lawmakers hoped that prohibiting the sale of alcohol would improve the lives of those negatively affected by the consumption of alcohol. The constitutional amendment remained in place until 1933, when it was repealed due to enforcement difficulties, increased criminal behavior and growing public opposition. At that time, the federal government returned the power to the states to regulate the sale of alcoholic beverages within their state. Massachusetts, in turn, gave some of that power to the cities and towns that comprise the Commonwealth. Fast forward almost 75 years to 2007. The very large majority of the greater Boston area towns has worked out the scope and scale of alcohol sales that makes sense for their communities. They have, over time and with careful consideration, abandoned prohibition to allow for the sale of alcohol, either by the glass to be consumed on premises, or by the bottle to be consumed off premises. Weston remains one of only a handful of area towns that has never abandoned prohibition, but is soon to be faced with an opportunity to do just that.

In May of 2004, I partnered with Omni foods in Weston Center to put forth legislation allowing the sale of beer and wine at two locations for off premise consumption. The article was discussed extensively at town meeting and the vote was approximately 60 percent against the legislation. Residents acknowledged the incremental convenience that local beer and wine sales would bring to the town. On the other hand, the meeting discussion illustrated the fears and emotional involvement of a small number of residents, and emphasized issues such as alcoholism, litter, shoplifting, public drinking, unruly behavior, and underage drinking. These issues are very serious and can be legitimate concerns regarding alcohol abuse, though, in my opinion, are not related to wine sales at Omni or an independent fine wine retailer in town.

This past May, Omni Foods, motivated by the positive response in Weston to November’s state ballot question 1 in favor of permitting the sale of wine in food stores, decided to re-address the issue with voters at town meeting. The revised article allowed for one license, to sell wine for off-premise consumption, and only in a shop that sold many foods. The differences between the ’04 proposition and the ’07 proposition were the elimination of beer, the reduction of licenses from two to one, and the provision for only a full grocer. This article passed with approximately 60 percent in favor. The article is now at the State House, where legislators will likely approve the inclusion of the article on the Weston town ballot to be considered by all voters in May of 2008. If those in favor form a simple majority, then the law goes into effect and the selectmen are granted the power to issue the license.

At the town meeting this year, there was very little of the same emotional discussion that took place in ’04. There were still concerns around underage drinking. As the mother of three teens, I am keenly aware of and concerned about this issue. I have never seen any statistics indicating that the presence of convenient wine sales has any impact on underage drinking. I also would find it hard to believe that Weston teens trying to purchase wine would go to the in-town grocer where it is likely that their parents, neighbors, and friends do their shopping. Retailers have a lot to lose by selling alcohol to underage customers. Not only is it bad business, but it is illegal.

The proposal is not about permitting the drinking of wine. Weston residents are of course free to drink wine, and many do so with relish. Weston residents are also already able to purchase wine in nearby Waltham, Wayland, and Newton. This proposal, though framed by some as an emotional or moral issue, is simply about incremental convenience. It is more convenient and important for many Weston residents to have the choice to purchase wine in the center of town where they do their grocery shopping.

Larry Summers, former President of Harvard University said, “I think one has to be prepared to accept long causal chains. That is, if you’re trying to think about a problem and propose a solution, it does not happen the next day. But it affects the climate of opinion, and things go from being inconceivable to being inevitable.”

Once the State House authorizes the question on the May 2008 ballot, residents have the opportunity to vote the sale of wine in a food market in Weston into law. I believe and hope that this proposition has traveled the distance from inconceivable to inevitable for them.

 

 

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