State takes another look at its liquor monopoly

For decades, the Herald has maintained on its editorial page that the state should get out of the business of selling liquor.

Yet this year we recommended against both initiatives on the ballot, 1100 and 1105, that would have privatized liquor sales.

Both initiatives failed statewide. We think that was a good thing.

Now the idea of some kind of reform of the state's system is making its way through the legislative process.

That, too, we believe is a good thing.

Although the conversations so far seem aimed toward refining the state's role rather than eliminating it, conversations in the Legislature itself are the place to start.

Initiatives 1100 and 1105 were written by special interest lobbyists who looked for some kind of financial gain from a change.

Legislators will -- or should -- try to meld the public's interest in making availability for adults easier while maintaining the state's strict oversight over minors trying to buy a drink.

And we agree with the sponsors of I-1100 and I-1105 that private businesses should be afforded the opportunity to sell liquor, but only under strict controls.

In other words, the plan we, and we believe most Washingtonians, would like to see is privatization of the sales system while maintaining the Liquor Control Board as a sinewy overseer of the state's liquor laws.

And the taxes on liquor would continue to be under the sole jurisdiction of the state.

Such a far-reaching change, hammered out in the Legislature, would provide customers with the convenience they want, private enterprise with the profit opportunity it craves and the citizens with the protections they demand.

As we said in recommending against the two initiatives, "We are still very much in favor of Washington closing down its liquor monopoly and getting out of selling liquor entirely.

"But the way to do that is through the legislative process. Let the competing sides have their say, let the legislators earn their money and justify the public's trust by reasoning together."

Messy as legislative battles usually are, the public is likely to get a better law out of that process than by initiatives written and financed by special interests.

Legislative hearings also will allow local governments to have their say.

Prohibition is over.

A system designed to thwart rum-runners coming down across the Canadian border is no longer a major worry for most of us.

But teens with driver's licenses and too-ready alcohol are.

The state has a legitimate interest in how alcohol is being consumed -- and by whom -- and like most states, ours puts its heaviest taxes on so-called sinful things such as alcohol and tobacco.

We're glad the Legislature is taking up this matter.

There's a better chance of creating a system that is fair all around.