Vinmonopolet (Trans: The wine monopoly), like Systembolaget in Sweden, is a goverment-controlled chain of stores for selling some alchoholic products in Norway. If you want to buy any alcoholic product intended for beverage consumption, except for b33r under 3.99% (alcohol volume), you have to visit these stores. Wine is not permitted in grocery stores here, only beer.

In the beginning of the 19th century, alchol abuse was a big problem in Norway. Easier production methods and increased import led to higher consumption. The people had a referendum in 1919 and 61.2% voted for a ban on strong wine and liquor. The ban led to a range of problems like moonlighing, smuggling and international conflicts (Spain wouldn't import our fish unless they could export strong wine). Vinmonopolet was a compromise after the catastrophic prohibition (1921-1923). Organizations like IOGT felt that a total ban on alcohol would be better, but the public wanted their drinks, so if they couldn't buy them, they would smuggle them. The project was a huge success, and the goverment got the alcohol consumption down to an acceptable level and it stayed there.

Up until the nineties, the stores were quite few, bland and all sales were done over a counter. In a stunningly ironic parlament vote, Vinmonopolet was given extensive freedom to operate on their own by the christian coalition in the Storting during the mid-nineties. The KrF wanted to be more popular so they liberated the alcohol laws. Sellouts. Now the stores were popping up everywhere, they often became self-service and you could mail-order wine.

When Norway adapted their laws to fit to EU system (We had to complete the EEA treaty), the goverment was facing a serious problem. They wanted the system with goverment controlled stores, but the EU said that competition could not be restricted. The solution was to make the import of alcoholic products free, but the sale had to be done through Vinmonopolet. Voila! Free competition, and goverment control.

Vinmonopolet are not allowed to take any profit on the alcohol they sell, which they have not imported by themselves. No alcohol advertisment is allowed in Norway, this makes for one of the most objective wine catalouges in the world. No companies to brag about their products, at the Vinmonopolet website (www.vinmonopolet.no) you will find just the price list and some info on the risks on drinking too much. Thanks to the monopoly on selling the alcohol products, Vinmonopolet sells over 5000 (!) alchohol brands. They are not allowed to take any profit on their sales, just enough to make the system go around. If there's profit during a year, it goes to charity (even though the goverment is the sole owner of the stocks in Vinmonopolet).

This system may sound very bad, but the result is good. With enough stores, the supply is big enough to keep moonlighing at a minimum, while keeping control over the sale at a strict level. You are not allowed to purchase wine or beer if you are under 18, and for liqour under 20.
The price of the alcohol has to be kept outside of the discussion on Vinmonopolet. It is sky-high for high alcohol products and a bit lower on things like wine and beer, but this is not because of the monopoly but the high taxes on alcohol the goverment keeps.

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