The Oregon Liquor Control Commission is pulling the plug on Portland's nearly two-year-old plan to ban sales of malt liquor and cheap wine downtown, Old Town, and in the Pearl District, citing legal concerns first reported by the Mercury last month.

In a letter (pdf) sent yesterday, and obtained by the Mercury, OLCC Executive Director Stephen Pharo told Commissioner Amanda Fritz and Mayor Sam Adams that the OLCC has been advised it doesn't have the right under state law to implement what are technically called "Alcohol Impact Areas." A lawyer for the owner of 7-Eleven at SW Fourth and Taylor in downtown Portland first pressed the issue; the OLCC later decided to ask the attorney general's office for advice.

Pharo says the only solution is to ask the Legislature, next year, to pass a bill making AIAs legal. Currently, the power is claimed only in the OLCC's rules, which obviously don't carry the same weight as state statute.


The ban, expected to be in place months ago, has had other problems. Beyond the legal issue, there's been a discussion over its borders. And the OLCC, industry lobbyists, and Portland officials had failed to reach a compromise on how the ban would be structured. OLCC commissioners were expected to vote on the ban as soon as this fall, but the lack of support from the booze and grocery industries would have made approval something of a longshot.

One upshot? Responsible drinkers who live downtown, in the Pearl, or along NW 23rd, can still buy 16-ounce sixers of their favorite beer and take 'em home to drink. We'll update with comments later this morning.