Greenwald: It's time to modernize New Jersey's outdated liquor licensing laws

March 18, 2015

It was a very different time in 1962. John F. Kennedy had been president only since the year before. "Lawrence of Arabia" was the top-grossing movie. Future football and baseball all-star Bo Jackson was born. America hadn't yet gone to the moon or explored the deep reaches of the solar system. Computers took up the entire size of massive rooms, rather than fitting in the palm of a hand. Certainly, there was no internet economy or social media bringing the entire world to our fingertips from the comfort of a living room.

As a nation, we've changed a lot since then. Over that time, we've had to adapt to emerging realities to make sure our laws address issues ushered in by technological revolutions and better position an evolving society for continued success.

Unfortunately, when it comes to New Jersey's liquor laws, we continue to be mired in the past. Since 1962, New Jersey law has prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages in the vast majority of supermarkets by imposing an overly strict cap on supermarket liquor licensing. These laws are holdovers from a bygone era, when only "mom and pop" corner stores dotted the landscape. More critically, the outdated cap was created more than 50 years ago to combat price fixing and to fight organized crime -- concerns that are clearly outdated now.

That's why I have introduced legislation to modernize New Jersey's laws in this area, to move our state's liquor licensing laws into the 21st century, create jobs and stimulate our economy. It is time for New Jersey to do away with its vintage collection of laws and embrace modern solutions. In doing so, we will join a majority of states that have adopted a new approach.

In an effort to join the 46 other states around the country that offer wine, spirits and beer sales in supermarkets, I am working with a New Jersey coalition of supermarket companies, the Retailers for Responsible Liquor Licensing, to make this policy change. My legislation, A2002, would gradually raise New Jersey's restrictive liquor license cap of two licenses per person or corporate entity over the course of 10 years. Notably, the bill would not increase the number of licenses a municipality may issue; rather, it would ease the draconian cap on New Jersey businesses, expand consumer choice and promote economic growth.

Some have argued that A2002 would harm current liquor retailers by expanding competition for a limited slice of the pie. That mindset is old-fashioned. Recent reforms of our laws regarding wineries and microbreweries have seen an explosion of economic activity in New Jersey. My legislation would take a similar approach, expanding the overall pie by modernizing outdated laws. This approach has worked: Massachusetts has seen success using this concept as a model in reforms it passed several years ago.

Ultimately, change to the current law would provide customers with greater choice and convenience when purchasing beer, wine and spirits. In many other states, one-stop shopping is the model; consumers can head to the supermarket and purchase items for dinner, as well as a bottle of wine, all at the same place. Why shouldn't we afford New Jersey consumers the same convenience?

Moreover, there's little evidence this reform would harm independent liquor store owners. In New Jersey and in other states, there are countless examples of supermarkets that sell alcoholic beverages while nearby liquor retailers thrive.

In fact, a 2011 study by Monmouth University confirmed that a substantial number of independent liquor stores co-exist in areas in New Jersey where supermarkets already have liquor licenses. The study also found that among New Jerseyans who actively purchase alcohol, 76 percent of them want the convenience of buying beer, wine and spirits in supermarkets.

In short, New Jersey's antiquated liquor laws have existed long past their shelf life. It's time to bring them into the 21st century, strengthening our economy and providing greater consumer choice in the process.

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