Liquor License Quota and Crime

liquor license and crimeThere are two sides to the liquor license quota argument in Massachusetts, and there are also two sides to the impact of crime in matters of obtaining or retaining a liquor license.

The liquor license system in Massachusetts dates back a century and places a cap on the number of liquor licenses that can be issued based on a city’s or town’s population. If a city wants additional licenses, the state Legislature must pass a law allowing it.

Liquor Licenses and Corruption

As it stands, current license holders have a lot to lose if the quota system is abolished. Those that paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for a license could see the value of their licenses drop dramatically. Lobbying against the change is in their best interest. Unfortunately, political bribes are not a novel concept, and such lobbying has led to a certain degree of corruption… or at least actions that would raise an eyebrow.

In 2009, state senator Dianne Wilkerson was convicted of bribery stemming from an undercover operation in which she took cash payments to secure a liquor license for a nightclub in Roxbury. (Boston.com’sWilkerson admits she took $23,500.”) Also swept up in the same corruption case was Boston city councilor Chuck Turner, who was sentenced to three years in prison for accepting a $1,000 bribe.

The Other Side of the Crime Argument

John P. Connell, P.C. points out the other side of the crime argument and its connection to liquor licenses in his blog, “The Case for Maintaining the Liquor License Cap in Massachusetts.” Although the quota system and the subsequent proclaimed shortage of liquor licenses may have driven small, local establishments out of business, their closures also eliminated the crime scene that sometimes accompanied them.

Establishments that catered to illegal activities including drug dealing and gambling under the guise of operating a bar have become a thing of the past. Connell states, “Liquor licenses have simply become too valuable an asset for them to be left to a dark and dingy ‘gin-mill’ with no significant business other than serving those who used the establishment as a cover to sell drugs or engage in another criminality. Liquor licenses have certainly become too valuable an asset to existing establishments to run the risk of losing its license to regulators if criminal conduct is allowed to exist on its premises. In short, it can be argued that a shortage of liquor licenses has simply driven the criminal element out of bars and caused the quality of service to increase.”

There are clearly two sides to the story regarding the liquor license quota and crime no matter which side of the argument you may be on.