Virginia Governor Seeks End to State’s Liquor Monopoly

Published August 19, 2010

The Virginia state government has held a monopoly on liquor sales in the state since the 1930s, and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (R) wants to change that.

McDonnell has introduced a proposal to privatize liquor sales, but he is running into opposition from various groups, include some police and lawmakers who express concern about alcohol-related problems possibly increasing if the state allows privatization.

However, in a study published in July by the Virginia Institute for Public Policy, Professor Donald J. Boudreaux of George Mason University found when it comes to frequency of problems related to alcohol consumption, there is virtually no difference between the 18 “control” states, where the state government sells alcohol, and “license” states, where private businesses sell it.

Virtually No Reduction
“In control states, for the years 2001-2005, an average of 33.79 persons, per 100,000 persons, died each year from alcohol-related causes,” Boudreaux wrote. “In license states, this figure is 34.64. The figure for the U.S. as a whole is 34.34.” Clearly, “government-monopoly control of spirits does not significantly reduce citizens’ risks of dying from alcohol-related causes.”

Nor would the privatization of liquor sales in a control state such as Virginia increase the chances of individuals engaging in risky behaviors such as binge drinking, the study found.

After “examining data from each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia … we find that there is no statistically significant relationship between control states and license states in the rates of binge drinking among 12-17 year olds,”the report noted. “The same is true for the rates of binge drinking among 18-25 year olds.” The study concluded, “Government monopoly of spirits does not protect against the menace of binge drinking.”

Boudreaux wrote, “Explaining the above findings is not difficult: adult alcohol consumption in control states is statistically no different than it is in license states. In other words, the data suggests that if a state shifts from being a control state to a license state (or vice-versa), that switch will not affect the amount of alcohol consumed, on average, by adults in that state.”

Governor: ‘No Difference Whatsoever’
These findings have not escaped the notice of Gov. McDonnell, who took office in January and campaigned on a promise to privatize liquor sales. On a radio call-in show in August, the governor said, “All the data shows there is no difference in drunk driving or crime whatsoever between control states and between privatized states.”

Not all Virginia lawmakers share McDonnell’s thinking. State Senator Emmett Hanger (R-Mount Solon) has expressed concerns per capita consumption of alcohol would rise if government lost control of the system, according to the Washington Post.

In addition, some Virginia law enforcement officials met with the governor’s staff in August to express worries about the potential for an increase in alcohol-related crimes.

Josh Eboch ([email protected]) is vice president for government affairs at Tertium Quids, a nonpartisan public policy organization in Gainesville, Virginia.

Internet Info

“Impaired Judgment: The Failure of Control States to Reduce Alcohol-Related Problems,” Virginia Institute for Public Policy: