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This Group Wants More Booze in the Commissary

Shelves of alcohol at the Quantico Package Store, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. (Photo: Courtesy Semper Fit and Exchange Services Division)
Shelves of alcohol at the Quantico Package Store, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. (Photo: Courtesy Semper Fit and Exchange Services Division)

When the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) announced this year that they would soon be rolling out beer and wine at commissaries stateside, there was great rejoicing among shoppers who like to buy their beer at the same time that they score their subsidized potato chips.

Now a lobbyist group that represents the other side of the alcohol house wants in on the action, too. And they're hoping a measure included in a report accompanying the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), signed by President Donald Trump Aug. 13, will help make that happen.

The report orders the Defense Department to "conduct a study on the feasibility of expanding commissary alcohol sales to include the sale of distilled spirits ... [and] include an estimate on revenue and sales that could result from such an expansion."

The DoD is ordered to brief Congress on the idea by the end of September.

The commissary is currently newly able can sell beer and wine on behalf of the Exchange service thanks to April 27 change by the Defense Department. Just like tobacco sales, beer and wine sold at the commissary is actually sold by the Exchange but placed in commissary stores. That matters because any price increase to those items over wholesale does not benefit the commissary system or its bottom line, which is separate from that of the Exchange.

Beer, wine and other alcohol has long been available at the Exchange-run stores, including gas station shoppettes and a store known as the "Class Six."

Officials with the Distilled Spirits Council argue that separating beer and wine sales from other alcohol in commissaries and elsewhere makes it seem like beer and wine are somehow less alcoholic or fall into a different category than distilled drinks.

"Beer and wine are in commissaries and we think in the interest of sound public policy distilled spirits ought to be in commissaries as well," said David Ozgo, Distilled Spirits Council's chief economist. "It's really bad public policy to treat to spirits differently."

Ozgo said 28 states allow distilled spirits sales in grocery stores with beer and wine. He said most consumers want the convenience of being able to buy all kinds of alcohol in the grocery store, not just beer and wine.

Whether or not getting distilled beverages in commissaries, therefore making purchasing it more convenient, is likely to happen remains to be seen.

But a recent study found that a third of troops reported binge drinking, which is defined as having five or more drinks on one occasion for men and four or more drinks for women at least once in the past month. The report didn't examine military family drinking habits.

The report, by the Rand Corps and the Defense Department, says that 68.2 percent of service members perceived the military culture as "supportive of drinking." Since alcohol is often purchased on base, the report found, researchers recommended raising prices.

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