When Initiative 1183 takes effect this summer, communities like Pullman can expect alcohol consumption to increase 44 percent, said members of a panel discussing the topic Tuesday at Washington State University.
I-1183 was approved by Washington voters in November 2011 and authorizes the privatization of liquor sales in the state.
During Tuesday's discussion, Mary Segawa, alcohol awareness program manager for the Washington State Liquor Control Board, cited a study released last week by the Task Force on Community Preventive Services that forecast the 44 percent increase in alcohol consumption as a result of the initiative.
Segawa said the change also will lead to the deregulation of alcohol sales in Washington. On June 1, state liquor stores will stop selling their products and private businesses will take over. With more than 1,200 new license applications already submitted to the state, Segawa said, I-1183 will likely bring more purchasing options to cities and counties in Washington.
"There are no specifications on the type of stores that can sell," she said. "It could be a hardware store. We had a flower shop that applied."
She speculated shoppers would be likely to buy alcohol while running other errands.
Segawa said that ease of access could contribute to the 44 percent increase in alcohol consumption after I-1183 goes into effect.
"There's also a concern about how easy it might be to shoplift," she added. "It's easier to slip a pint of liquor in your jacket than a 12-pack of beer."
Other panelists pointed out that state liquor stores are not open 24 hours a day, but businesses like Walmart will be able to supply liquor to consumers at any hour if they receive state licenses. Pullman Mayor Glenn Johnson, who served as moderator for the panel discussion, said three local establishments have applied for the permit thus far: Safeway, Walmart and Rite Aid Pharmacy.
Employees of each establishment are required to undergo training prior to selling liquor, but Segawa said no curriculum exists for the classes, which are designed to be "voluntary, free and self-monitoring."
"I'm not sure what kind of teeth that will have," she said.
Other changes include the repeal of a ban on quantity discounts for liquor. Segawa said the repeal means retailers who buy liquor in large quantities may be able to negotiate lower prices from their distributors.
"The initiative also removed a prohibition on advertising," she continued. "State liquor stores couldn't advertise alcohol, but other stores now will be able to."
Segawa said the deregulation does not include additional funding for her board or for law enforcement agencies, which spend a lot of time addressing alcohol-related issues.
Pullman Police Chief Gary Jenkins said alcohol plays a "major factor" in most injuries, assaults and sexual assaults his officers respond to in town. He plans to increase local efforts to ensure liquor retailers comply with state laws, but Jenkins said his team also will work on education in the community to prevent underage and binge drinking. Last year, he said, a group of officers hosted a workshop for liquor license holders in town to show them how to train employees to sell responsibly.
"We intend to that again this fall," he said. "We want to give them that training because we're going to do compliance checks throughout the year."
Pullman police also work with campus groups to talk with students about underage drinking. John McMullan, president of the WSU Interfraternity Council, said that can be challenging.
He acknowledged arrest rates due to alcohol have gone up in the past few years, and they are likely to increase under I-1183. But he encouraged officials and student groups to focus on the "real problem" rather than just those symptoms.
"We're facing a lack of accountability in our community," McMullan said. "We no longer hold each other accountable for the decisions we make. ... Education to our peers will be absolutely instrumental in letting people know the dangers of alcohol."
He plans to visit fraternities and sororities next semester to inform them about the changes brought by I-1183. Other panelists agreed peers would have the power when it comes to decreasing substance abuse.
"Your influence is really important," said Erica Austin, professor and director of the Murrow Center for Media and Health Promotion.
She encouraged students to set a good example by not overindulging in alcohol. "(Tell them) it's not OK to overconsume or drink and drive," Austin said. "When people realize that others disapprove, it means a lot to them. And when you set a good example it really can make a difference. Be good friends to your friends."
Katie Roenigk can be reached at (208) 882-5561, ext. 301, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.