AG Healey’s Ruling for Falmouth ‘Nip’ Ban Bodes Well for Chelsea

A ruling last week from Attorney General Maura Healey regarding a ban on nip liquor bottles in Falmouth may not be directly related to Chelsea, but leaders in the community here are interpreting it as another win for the effort to rid the City of the small annoyances that lead to litter and public alcohol issues.

In a March 22 ruling regarding a challenge to Falmouth’s ban, which came as a direct result to the ban Chelsea instituted two years ago – and which so far has survived all challenges – Healey said such bans do not conflict with state law.

“Under Article 34 the Town voted to ban the sale of alcoholic beverages in containers less than or equal to 100 milliliters, commonly referred to as ‘nips,’” read the decision. “As explained in more detail below, we approve Article 34 because we conclude that it is not in conflict with state law.

“Towns have used their home rule power to prohibit, within their borders, certain commercial activities that state statutes generally recognize as lawful and that are widely accepted in the remainder of the Commonwealth,” it continued. “For example, this Office has approved by-laws banning the sale of plastic water bottles; plastic straws; Styrofoam containers; plastic bags; soft drinks; and balloons.”

The decision also cited the May 2020 victory for Chelsea’s ban at the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC), where several liquor stores in Chelsea challenged the ban with the ABCC. In the end, the ABCC ruled that they did not have jurisdiction and didn’t find the ban in conflict.

The liquor store group in Chelsea has never furthered their appeal of the matter in Suffolk Superior Court – which the ABCC said had jurisdiction – and that ruling led to the ban enacted in June 2020 in Falmouth.

“No one appealed the ABCC decision nor the ban to Court in Chelsea,” said City Attorney Cheryl Fisher Watson. “Our ban is in effect. We were sent the Falmouth decision earlier this week and it’s a win-win. Other cities and towns have asked us how to enact a similar ban for the past two years.”

The ban came first from Council President Roy Avellaneda, who said he interpreted the decision as further proof that Chelsea’s ban will stick and so too will the improvements that have been brought on by the ban.

“This wasn’t about what we are doing, but it’s a similar case,” he said. “Whoever opposed their ban took it to the AG and the AG said ‘no.’…I can’t imagine with Falmouth’s win and the AG supporting the ban and Chelsea win with the ABCC on jurisdiction last year that this won’t stick. Now that there are two communities and the support of the AG, I would expect many communities looking to do this too could do it without the fear of it being overruled. It’s going to be a fight purely over business. In Attleboro it was the package stores out in front saying it would hurt them. I haven’t seen any liquor stores in Chelsea close yet. The last I heard, in fact, during the pandemic liquor stores were booming.”

He said the main reason for the ban wasn’t litter, but actually to address alcoholism. When the City was addressing the opiate issues in the downtown, Avellaneda said he was shocked to see that there were seven times as many alcoholism issues downtown than opiate issues. He said he felt this was a good response to address those long-standing issues, and early evidence has shown it has improved things.

“Here we are three or four years later and we’ve improved and have less problems with liquor,” he said. “I would hate to regress because I know these stores would immediately go back to their old ways in selling to those with the weakest will.”

The ban in Falmouth goes into effect on Oct. 1, 2021.

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