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In symbolic move, Mills pushes to end sales of Russian-made vodka in Maine

Russian Vodka
Gene J. Puskar
This is a display of Russian Standard Vodka in a Total Wine and More store in University Park, Fla., on Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022.

Gov. Janet Mills is joining some of her counterparts around the country who are looking to show support for Ukraine by restricting sales of Russian vodka. But the process is a bit more complicated in Maine than in some other states.

On Monday, Mills called on the State Liquor and Lottery Commission to essentially block future imports of Russian-made spirits to stores or restaurants in Maine. Mills made the appeal as governors of New Hampshire, Virginia and several other states have already ordered Russian vodka to be removed from the shelves of state-owned liquor stores.

The Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations does not own or operate liquor stores but, instead, operates as the spirits wholesaler to privately owned “agency” stores. As a result, only the five-member State Liquor and Lottery Commission can decide whether to remove Russian-made vodka from the state’s list of spirits that can be sold in Maine. But Mills asked retailers and restaurants to remove bottles themselves ahead of a vote by the liquor commission, which a spokeswoman for BABLO said might happen next week.

Mills also issued a proclamation declaring solidarity with Ukraine amid the Russian invasion.

“Maine stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine in the face of this abhorrent, unprovoked assault on their country, their freedom, and their lives,” Mills said in a statement. “I ask Maine people to join with me in expressing our support for Ukraine, for its people, and especially for our fellow Mainers with Ukrainian roots who are deeply worried about the safety and welfare of their loved ones right now. As we bear witness to the escalating tensions, I support the Biden Administration’s efforts to implement aggressive sanctions that punish Russia and cripple its economy, and I call on the State Liquor and Lottery Commission to delist Russian-made vodka in Maine and ask that retailers join us in this symbolic but clear sign that Maine stands with Ukraine.”

The move to restrict sales would, indeed, be a largely symbolic show of support without major economic implications to BABLO or retailers.

Only two brands of Russian-made spirits – Russian Standard and Hammer + Sickle – are sold in Maine, and they account for a tiny share of liquor sales. Most vodka sold in Maine, including those sold under Russian brands, is manufactured in the U.S. or other countries.