Liquor deliveries, Sunday sales could come to NC, but don't look for state to give up control of alcohol business

Posted February 11, 2019 5:44 p.m. EST
Updated February 11, 2019 6:17 p.m. EST

— North Carolina has had a monopoly on liquor sales in the state since Prohibition ended more than 85 years ago.

Although lawmakers have talked for years about getting out of the business and turning sales over to the private sector, a new report by the legislature's Program Evaluation Division stopped short of recommending that path.

Virginia and Pennsylvania are the only other two states in the country where state and local governments control all wholesale and retail alcohol sales. The goal of control is to create revenue and reduce consumption of liquor, and it's working pretty well, according to the PED report released Monday.

North Carolina makes more revenue per gallon than any other Southeast state, despite having the fewest liquor stores per capita – just 428 stores statewide. It also has the second-lowest consumption of liquor in the region.

Privatizing the system would most likely mean more sales in more places, which likely would mean more consumption, according to the report. It's possible the state could make more money taxing it, but it would also make liquor more expensive because the state doesn't make a profit from sales whereas private business would need to.

The switch would entail a massive change that would likely take years to complete, and evaluators said modernizing the existing system would be the better option for now. Some of those relatively minor changes include offering more customer services, such as delivery and special orders, and allowing county Alcoholic Beverage Control boards to decide whether to sell liquor on Sunday.

A legislative oversight committee approved the report, meaning lawmakers might consider the recommendations later this session.

Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, called privatizing liquor sales a bad idea.

"We think that privatization would be a terrible mistake, especially as it pertains to public health and safety," Creech said. "It does make consumption rates go up. It does injure public health and safety, and with that regard, that's something that all of us pay for."

But Andy Ellen, president of the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association, noted that the state already allows unlimited private sales of mixed drinks.

"There's no difference really between a restaurant being able to sell you a mixed drink and being able to buy that same product at a retail establishment just like 44 other states let you do in this country," Ellen said. "We believe it's time to make that move."

Two public opinion polls were included in the PED report. Both found about half the state wants private sales of liquor.