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Massachusetts Gears Up For Next Licensing Battle With Cumberland Farms

July 2, 2020

Convenience store chain Cumberland Farms threw in the towel on this year’s proposed ballot question to allow itself unlimited licenses to sell beer and wine in Massachusetts, but the fight is far from over. The Massachusetts Package Store Association (MPSA) is already preparing to thwart the c-store giant’s new plan to reintroduce the proposal in 2022, as ballot questions can be introduced every other year in the state. “We’re already fundraising, and we know something will probably get filed next year around August,” says Rob Mellion, executive director and general counsel of the Massachusetts Package Store Association. “This time around, I’m sure they won’t make the same mistakes.”

This year, the maximum number of retail beverage alcohol licenses a single entity can own in Massachusetts increased from seven to nine. Cumberland Farms, which has seven licenses and is seeking two more, wants to eliminate the cap on beer and wine licenses for food stores. The cap on licenses for other retail beverage alcohol retailers would increase each year but wouldn’t be fully lifted until 2024, under the store’s proposal. Since Cumberland Farms, which has 206 stores in Massachusetts, didn’t use the language from the attorney general on its petition to collect signatures, the MPSA was preparing to challenge the validity of the signatures.

Cumberland Farms head of policy Matt Durand has expressed confidence that Massachusetts voters will eventually approve the proposal. Preparing for the next battle, the MPSA plans to communicate with the media and lawmakers about unlimited retail beer and wine licenses. The MPSA also sponsors The Beer, Wine & Spirits weekly radio show, which Mellion hosts on 1480 AM and 95.9 FM. “We’re going to do some market research and find out what voters really want,” Mellion says. “That will help us educate the electorate and elected officials. We’re fighting for brick and mortar.”

In addition to Cumberland Farms, there are other industry partners interested in unlimited beer and wine retail licenses. “We will probably have difficult conversations with wholesalers and other associations who we work with like the Massachusetts Food Association and see where we can all come to terms,” Mellion says.—Kevin Barry

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