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Better budget more time for your booze buys

California will no longer allow alcohol sales through self-checkouts, under a bill signed into law late Sunday by Gov. Jerry Brown.

self-checkoutAB 183 by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, requires that alcohol sales be a face-to-face transaction in which a clerk checks a person’s ID and can check for sobriety.

Ma cited a a 2009 UCLA study that showed 20 percent of young adults were able to override a self-service checkout by scanning other items and/or swiping credit cards. She also noted underage drinkers consumed nearly 14 percent of all alcohol sold in California in 2007, totaling $3.6 billion in sales. The bill was sponsored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the California Police Chiefs Association and the California Professional Firefighters.

“AB 183 garnered wide-spread support from law enforcement because it closes a door for minors wanting to obtain alcohol,” Ma said Monday. “The Governor’s signature will ensure that alcohol is treated no differently than tobacco and spray paint.”

The bill’s opponents – including the California Grocers Association and the Fresh & Easy grocery chain, which relies on self-checkouts as a key part of its business model – said self-checkout stations already have lock-out mechanisms preventing customers from buying alcohol without a clerk verifying the buyer’s age and finalizing the purchase, making this bill a fix in search of a problem. They said it’s just a sop to labor unions that don’t want people replaced by bar-code scanners.

“We are disappointed that politics has prevailed over solid judgment,” Fresh & Easy spokesman Brendan Wonnacott said Monday. “Despite the intentions of the UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers) and its allies in the Legislature, this bill will not stop Fresh & Easy’s efforts to bring fresh, wholesome and affordable food to more Californians. We are continuing our expansion and look forward to creating more jobs in neighborhoods throughout the state.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • RR, Senile Columnist

    Savvy teen drinkers won’t let this law interfere with their pleasure. Then again, the Guv wants the votes of grocery clerks, not teen drinkers.

  • John W

    It’s true that this won’t stop determined teens from getting their hands on booze. But we don’t need to make it easier for them. I would no more allow self-checkout for buying booze than I would for buying firearms or ammo at Billy Bob’s Guns, Bait and Lingerie Mart.

  • Truthclubber

    What a dumb analogy.

    I buy all kinds of ammo with no one looking into my face (it’s called “the Internets”) and I don’t have to get my ID checked online either (a valid credit card number is all I need, regardless of my age).

    This is purely aimed at trying to prevent us from replacing semi-literate, union checkout clerks (who dropped out of high school because…it was boring!) with machines that are faster and only have to take a break when they break…

  • John W

    Re: #3

    I honestly didn’t know you could buy ammo online. Yikes! While it’s true the legislation was pushed by labor, that doesn’t invalidate the concerns about under-age people buying booze using self-checkout.