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Monday, October 3, 2011

Downtown Malt Liquor Ban Might Spread to Pearl, NW 23rd

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Mon, Oct 3, 2011 at 2:44 PM

Who wants to go in on an Eastside liquor store with me?
  • Who wants to go in on an Eastside liquor store with me?
On Friday, I posted an update about Portland officials' plans for a malt liquor/fortified wine ban in Goose Hollow, downtown, and Old Town. The news was that the effort, which must be approved by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, wouldn't be completed this fall, as expected.

Today, city officials finally fill in some of the specifics behind the delay. First off? The OLCC really does want to expand the boundaries of the ban—technically an "alcohol impact area." Except instead of pushing the zone across the river, as suggested by OLCC commissioners and other advocates year, OLCC staffers now tell the city they'd like to dramatically expand it the other way: as far west as Forest Park and as far north as Vaughn. Which probably makes this a good time to open a liquor store somewhere off a MAX line in Northeast.

Second? City officials also confirm that the OLCC "pretty strongly" wants to change the city's preferred mechanism for deciding which cans of beer and bottles of wine to ban.

Right now, the city's proposal targets all beer (well, all beer, that is, except for microbrews) with at least 5.75 percent alcohol, any beer (no matter how potent) sold in cans 16 ounces or larger, any beer (again, no matter how potent) sold in packs of four or less, boxed wine, large jugs of wine, and wines that have been "fortified" with extra spirits (unless it's a fancy fortified wine like vermouth, or madeira).

Liquor and grocery lobbyists, however, are still calling for a continuously curated forbidden list of the most "troublesome" products. The concern—especially with the extension of the ban into parts of Portland that traditionally see far fewer drunk arrests (save for some hotspots around NW 23rd and Lovejoy)—is that the ban would punish so-called responsible drinkers.

That push doesn't appear to be sitting all that well with the city—not that it has much choice.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see some of the language that initially comes out to the advisory committee participants for review," says Theresa Marchetti, Portland's liquor license manager. "They want to protect as much of their ability to sell products and it's understandable. "But these products do target a specific kind of drinker, regardless of the brand or label on them."

One reason the city is wary of this this approach: It hasn't worked that well in other cities that have tried it, like Seattle, Marchetti argues. Distributors, she says, quickly learned to sub in new brands and products faster than Washington officials could formally ban them. Hence, Portland officials say, they're willing to accept some "overlap" when it comes to banning beer brands that aren't causing trouble.

Marchetti hints at one compromise that may emerge: Creating a list of products exempt from any ban. If a store owner or distributor can show, for instance, that PBR tallboys aren't what street drunks are fueling up on, then they can go ahead and sell them with impunity.

"I think it's going to be hashed out," Marchetti says. "They seemed initially receptive."

As for the long process? Marchetti says she didn't know off hand how much all the staff time spent on the project, sometimes at the expense of other projects, has cost the city. But it's "not a small number."

And with the public still weeks from getting a more formal look at what the OLCC is exploring, a final set of rules remains months away.

Yes, she acknowledged, "it's a longer process than we anticipated."

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