The privatization of liquor sales could mean a greater availability for everyone, less product monitoring and less oversight, said Mary Segawa, the Alcohol Awareness Program Manager for the Washington State Liquor Control Board.
Segawa was part of a town hall panel Tuesday that discussed the possible public safety implications of Initiative 1183 on the WSU community.
Last November, Washington state voters approved I-1183, which will privatize liquor sales. As a result, state liquor stores will all close on May 31, Segawa said. The state has already received 1,200 new application licenses to sell liquor and private retailers can start selling spirits on June 1.
In Pullman, Safeway, Rite-Aid and Walmart have also applied for liquor licenses, Pullman Mayor and moderator of the discussion Glenn Johnson said.
The discussion, hosted by Murrow Center for Media and Health Promotion, included representatives from the Pullman Police Department, the WSU Greek community and the Washington State Liquor Control Board.
Segawa said the only positives of alcohol being privatized are that people are discussing the negative consequences of alcohol.
“It takes a community to say we have had enough and change social norms,” Segawa said.
The panel also included Pullman Chief Police Gary Jenkins. He said alcohol in the community poses some serious risks, and that student safety is the police department’s ultimate goal. This involves a three-part program to work with fraternities, sororities and student groups about prevention, education and enforcement concerning alcohol, he said.
“We are looking at compliance with end users and sellers,” Jenkins said.
Erica Austin, communication professor and director of the Murrow Center for Media and Health Promotion, conducted a study of 351 WSU students to figure out how alcohol behaviors might be affected. In the report, 41 percent of the students said it would be easier for underage drinkers to get hard liquor, but 45 percent disagreed with this statement.
Community Outreach and Prevention coordinator for Palouse River Counseling and panelist Sigrid Gauger said there could be an increase in mortality rates and DUI crashes. She said discussing I-1183 is a wake-up call that alcohol has an impact on our community.
Other states that are discussing the possibility of privatizing liquor sales include Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina, Segawa said.
“Prevention is worth a ton,” she said. “There could be more consumptive issues with underage drinkers.”
WSU Interfraternity Council President John McMullan said the WSU Greek system has a door-to-door approach to educate their members and chapters on alcohol abuse. He said they have to diagnose the real problem, not just the symptoms.
“Arrests rates have skyrocketed and it is a challenge to the Greek community and our peers,” he said. “Communication is the key.”