Alcohol is big business in New Hampshire. Last year, profits from state-owned liquor stores added about 150 million dollars to the general fund. But it’s rare that this important industry meets together as a whole.
You might think with an industry so important to public and private interests; the different players would get together every once in a while to chat.
“I think the last time this happened was just before prohibition was announced, probably people got together to figure out how they were going to deal with it.”
Scott Schaier is with Brew New Hampshire, a non-profit that promotes brewers. He and about 80 others are here in a large conference room at the Mt. Washington hotel to have that chat.
The event was led by New Hampshire Listens, a program out of the UNH Carsey School of Public Policy. Bruce Mallory teaches education at UNH and helped run the event.
“It’s a really interesting cross-section. I mentioned the various industry reps from the wineries in the state, the brew-pubs, the nano-breweries, the micro-breweries, the state liquor stores.”
Add to that list a few state reps and senators as well as people from alcohol addiction recovery groups.
The idea was to get these various and sometimes competing interests on alcohol into one room in the hopes they might find opportunities to work together.
“Many of them said this is the first time we’ve ever done this. This is unique. We don’t get a chance to really listen to each other and understand each other’s challenges.”
One issue: how the money from state liquor sales should be spent. Kate Frey is with the drug and alcohol advocacy group New Futures.
“I’ve been banging the drum about prevention and that we have to keep in mind that we have very high rates of substance use disorder in this state. And that we have an alcohol fund that is supposed to be funded at five percent of gross profits that has not met that level.”
For industry reps like Scott Schaier with Brew New Hampshire, modernizing the licensing process was a priority.
“So if you have a new brand from Rhode Island and you want to bring it to New Hampshire, you have to go through a process that involves a lot of paperwork. If we could digitize that somehow and have user interface entry on an iPhone, it would make things easier for that small business owner.”
At the end of the day while there were few specifics on next steps, everyone seemed pleased that the conversation had happened at all.