Tuesday, August 17, 2010

No, Virginia, the Washington state stores' compliance rate is NOT the "best in the nation"

The Washington Liquor Control Board's primary claim for itself is that its no-sales-to-minors compliance rate is "among the highest rates in the nation at 94 percent". [2009 Annual Report, p. 10] Give the LCB the benefit of the doubt that its compliance rate (determined by the LCB's own inspectors) really is 94%.  As far as we know, the LCB has never produced any documentation comparing its compliance rate to that of any other state. Then again "among the highest" is a completely meaningless claim. Is Washington among the top 3 states, or among the top 30? Do they even have any idea how high they rank?

Nevertheless, the LCB's defenders, including the beer distributors' "Protect Our Communities Shelf Space" NO on 1100 campaign, one-up the LCB itself and claim that its compliance rate is "the highest in the nation". (e.g. here, here and here) Except that it's not the "highest in the nation". Not even close.

Virginia, which also has a state liquor monopoly, reports that its compliance rate is 97% [2009 Annual Report, p. 9]. Give both states equal benefit of the doubt reporting their own success rates.  The difference between 94% and 97% is the difference between a 3% and a 6% failure rate. Washington state stores serve minors twice as often as Virginia's do. And a 6% failure rate is not very good given that the state store system costs $100 million a year to operate and its single most important mission is to prevent minors from buying liquor.

There are a couple of lessons here: First, the folks behind the "Protect Our Communities Shelf Space" campaign invent "facts" for dramatic effect. They've given us plenty of material to debunk. Keep checking this blog for updates.  Responsible journalists should be careful about repeating their claims without verifying them first.

The second lesson is that the Liquor Control Board is squandering its resources running  an ineffecient store system, while failing to put enough resources into effective enforcement. The proof is in the pudding. Washington's underage drinking rate is worse than the national average, no matter how many times certain people say "best in the nation".  In recent years, the LCB's enforcement budget has actually declined, while sales expenses have ballooned.  If I-1100 passes, it will increase the LCB's education and enforcement budget by 20%.  This will enable more "best practices", such as more frequent compliance checks, which have been shown to be effective at reducing underage sales in other states.

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