Editorial: Uncap liquor license numbers

Being proud of its heritage and history is one thing, but Massachusetts needs to finally let go of a vestige from its Puritan Blue Law past: the state-mandated cap on the number of liquor licenses in a given community.

That’s why the state Legislature should go along with Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposal to let individual communities — and not the state — decide how many liquor licenses should be issued. Patrick has included lifting the cap as part of an economic development bill, one that also includes proposals for tax incentives for workforce training and housing and innovation initiatives.

Patrick’s plan has been well received by a number of communities that see such local control as removing a significant hurdle when it comes to local commerce — getting the Legislature to act on requests for additional licenses can be a slow and tedious process.

As the law now stands under the Liquor Control Act, each city and town in Massachusetts is allotted a specific number of licenses based upon population. If a community wants more it can petition the Legislature, with no guarantees as to whether additional licenses will be granted. The process can take a year or more .

Putting the licenses under local control makes sense, especially for those parts of the state where tourism and the restaurant business are seen as a large economic development engine. That would include Greenfield, which in the past has had businesses run up against the cap.

We’ve long thought that those seeking to go into the restaurant business should have the final say in whether serving alcohol should be part of their menu plan, weighing all the different factors — and not be forced to go without a liquor office because the state dictates that the allotments for Greenfield or Shelburne or Conway are all used up based on some numeric formula.

We know there will be some current license holders who will object based upon the amount of money they have invested in such licenses and who don’t necessarily want additional competition.

But the fact is that making such licenses a scarce — and valuable — commodity can lead to unsavory behavior like graft.

We’re not suggesting that the state give up all of its rules and regulations when it comes to the sale of liquor in the state. Applicants will still have to go through background checks, education programs and jump other hoops — as well as bear the expense associated with cost of a license. Giving communities the local control, however, will let them decide the right fit rather than some pre-ordained size.

The liquor license cap should be abolished.

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