Effort to allow liquor sales in Oregon grocery stores dead, at least for now

By Sam Stites (OPB)
May 18, 2022 10:34 p.m.

The group pushing a November ballot measure says the pandemic and legal fights make it impossible to gain a spot on the ballot.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has banned alcoholic drinks infused with the inactive ingredient of cannabis, CBD.

The Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission's headquarters located in Milwaukie.

Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB

The group backing a proposed ballot measure to privatize liquor sales in Oregon — allowing for sales in local grocery stores — has pulled the plug on the initiative.


Proponents of Initiative Petition 35 say the pandemic and court delays in getting their measure certified by the state elections division posed too great a challenge to make the November 2022 ballot.

Amanda Dalton, president and CEO of the Northwest Grocery Association, said that despite the setback, her group remains committed to changing Oregon law to allow liquor to be sold in grocery stores. Dalton said that “Oregonians firmly believe” they should be able to buy liquor along with beer and wine at groceries.

Currently in Oregon, liquor must be purchased at stores operated by independent contractors overseen by the state’s retail services division of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission.

Stores in urban areas are typically “exclusive,” meaning they sell only liquor and beverage-related products. In rural communities, some stores have “non-exclusive” licenses where they offer liquor in addition to other products; that includes some rural hardware or convenience stores.


The system is vastly different from Washington and California where liquor is offered in a variety of settings.

In a statement released Wednesday, the Northwest Grocery Association criticized the state’s “out-of-date” system, saying it costs Oregon taxpayers time and money.

“It is clear that voters believe that the OLCC should focus on ensuring liquor is sold legally and safely, not building a $180 million new state liquor warehouse and headquarters next year at taxpayer expense,” the statement said. “Grocery stores already have effective, convenient ways to move products to people without needless bureaucracy.”

The “warehouse” in the group’s statement refers to OLCC’s plan to build a new warehouse in Canby, from which essentially all the liquor sold in the state would be distributed. The new building will replace the current state warehouse in Milwaukie.

According to Willamette Week, the price tag for the project has risen dramatically due to inflation over the past three years, from an initial price of around $62 million in 2019 to now upwards of $145 million.

Opponents of the proposed ballot measure lauded the decision by the Northwest Grocery Association to cease efforts.

Big box retailers tend to work closely with larger distributors, opponents of the privatizing liquor sales say. The current system, they argue, helps ensure that smaller, independent and locally sourced businesses have access to the marketplace.

“This is now the third time that large, out-of-state retailers have failed to move forward with their unpopular, unnecessary and misguided proposal to dismantle the system of liquor sales that works for Oregon businesses, consumers and communities,” a statement from a group calling itself the “Keep It Local” coalition said.

“Oregonians can clearly see through their scheme. The retailers realized after a month and more than a hundred thousand dollars spent toward attempting to gather signatures that it was best to avoid an expensive, contentious and ultimately unsuccessful campaign.”