Question 3: Alcohol Sales at Chain Stores

Anyone looking to sell alcohol in Massachusetts needs a license, and these licenses are tightly controlled — both by the state and by individual cities and towns.

Ballot Question 3 asks voters whether to change today’s licensing rules, giving chain stores the opportunity to sell beer and wine in more locations while limiting their ability to amass liquor licenses. Question 3 would also selectively raise the fines for violations such as selling alcohol to minors.

It’s the latest front in an ongoing battle to shape Massachusetts’ policies around alcohol sales. And as part of our mission to help voters assess the costs, benefits, and risks of all state ballot questions, we have analyzed this initiative and found that:

  • Question 3 would allow some chain stores to start selling beer and wine in more locations. But the overall impact on alcohol sales and consumption in Massachusetts would be quite limited — especially as there would be no change in licensing rules for bars and restaurants.
  • Individual cities and towns would maintain the authority to limit licenses in their juris- dictions, which could complicate efforts by chain stores to expand beer and wine sales under this initiative.
  • The new system for imposing fines would have a disproportionate effect on retailers that sell alcohol alongside other goods (like a supermarket or convenience store). This creates a powerful disincentive against illegal sales but may also raise fairness concerns.
  • Whatever voters decide on Question 3, the broader fight over alcohol sales in Massachusetts is likely to continue, with more expansive ballot questions in the years ahead.