Local town legislation loosens alcohol laws but restricts tobacco sales
Published: Thursday, April 12, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 14:04
Recent legislation has brought good news for those who might want to enjoy a glass of wine at one of the smaller restaurants in Wellesley but bad news for those who might want to buy a pack of cigarettes at a local CVS pharmacy.
Following suit with Boston and several other towns and cities in Massachusetts, the Wellesley Board of Health approved a ban last year to force pharmacies to remove tobacco products from their shelves. Now, neighboring towns Milford, Northborough, Shrewsbury and Westborough are also considering implementing the pharmacy ban, and various advocacy groups are even pushing for a statewide ban.
Meanwhile, at the annual Town election on March 13, Wellesley residents voted 2,749 to 457 in favor of giving smaller restaurants with 50 to 99 seats the opportunity to obtain a license to serve alcohol, which is a significant adjustment to the current town law that states that only restaurants with 100 seats or more—like Blue Ginger, for example—are able to obtain a license to serve alcohol.
One of the major organizations that have pushed for a statewide ban on the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies is the Massachusetts Public Health Council, an appointed panel of doctors, consumer advocates, and professors. According to the Boston Globe, the council voted unanimously two weeks ago to mail letters to the state’s Board of Registration in Pharmacy asking it to take “all appropriate actions” to end the sale of tobacco in pharmacies.
While to some it may seem counterintuitive that Wellesley officials have passed legislation that grants easier access to alcohol while simultaneously approving a ban to limit residents’ access to tobacco products, according to Barbara Searle, the Chair of the Wellesley Board of Selectmen, the new alcohol legislation was initiated for entirely different reasons than the reasons behind the tobacco ban.
“The [alcohol] legislation was first initiated about a year ago,” Searle said. “We were concerned about the empty storefronts in Wellesley Square, so the Board got together to talk about what the town could do to revitalize the area. We spent a lot of time during the summer talking to merchants and asking what they thought would help, and one of the things that we kept hearing from property owners is that they had inquiries from small restaurant owners who had wanted to open up restaurants but couldn’t because of the liquor licensing laws. All of the merchants agreed that [granting smaller restaurants a liquor license] would bring more traffic into Wellesley and would therefore restore vitality in the area.”
And for Hans Larsen, executive director to the Town of Wellesley, reviving the Wellesley Square area is exactly what he hopes will come from the new alcohol law.
“I think it’s a good change,” Larsen said. “There are a number of vacant spots in the downtown area that could potentially be filled by smaller restaurants and it will also make some of the smaller restaurants in town more competitive.”
According to Searle, a potential benefit to Wellesley College students is that new restaurants that come into town as a result of the new law might be more within the price range of typical college students than are the current restaurants that are allowed to serve alcohol.
For many Wellesley students, the new alcohol legislation is a step in the right direction toward loosening what they believe are overly-restrictive alcohol regulations, while the push to ban tobacco in pharmacies has been met with mixed reactions.
“I think it should be a matter of choice—both drinking and smoking,” Christina Lee ’15 said.
“Smoking, though not a healthy choice, particularly for students, is a choice that adults can and sometimes will make,” Kaley Haskell ’14 said. “In this sense, not selling cigarettes makes them more desirable; they become the forbidden fruit. [But] ...I think [the new town alcohol legislation] makes sense. Tax on alcohol will get the businesses more money, and there is nothing wrong with a little wine with dinner.”
While it is the Board of Selectmen, the executive arm of New England town councils, ultimately decides the outcome of any pending legislation, Larson also stated that he personally would not mind if some of Wellesley’s stringent alcohol laws were amended, including the law that prohibits the retail sale of alcohol.
“I’d be very content to go to Roche Brothers and be able to buy a bottle of wine,” Larsen said. “It strikes me as unnecessary and a bit old-fashioned that grocery stores in Wellesley can’t sell beer or wine, but that’s not really in my jurisdiction.”
Both Larsen and Searle said that, aside from the push to allow smaller restaurants in Wellesley to serve alcohol, they haven’t seen any forceful initiations to change other alcohol laws. Searle said that there have been a few restaurants in town such as The Cottage and Blue Ginger that have asked to be allowed to serve alcohol without also needing to serve food (which is the current law), but very few people have advocated for allowing the retail sale of alcohol.
According to Larsen, this lack of initiation to pass new alcohol laws stems largely from apathy.
“I think there’s some reluctance to make changes,” Larsen said. “And I guess that is maybe because people haven’t really felt a compelling need to make any changes.”
But according to Searle, just because there haven’t been any major initiations to change other alcohol laws, that does not mean that the Wellesley Board of Selectmen is not open to amending such laws. In fact, Searle even said that all Wellesley students—just like all Wellesley residents—are more than welcome to voice their desires to revise any current town laws by contacting the Board of Selectmen directly or by attending the weekly town meetings on Monday evenings.