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Considering New Liquor Laws

Filed by Michael Cross in Feature, Local News, News, Politics.
September 20, 2011
 

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A task force of lawmakers and business leaders held their first task force Monday on to look at the possibility of allowing grocery stores to carry wine and high-point beer.

The move would require changes in statutory and constitutional law and faces major opposition from liquor retailers.

The first task force on wine and high-point beer sales in grocery stores began with the co-Chair Senator Clark Jolley holding up a stack of 300 pages.

That represented all the laws, both statutory and constitutional which would be affected by any changes to the sale of alcohol anywhere but liquor stores.

A majority of the members were retail liquor store owners who say any change would result in a reduction in the selection of beer and wine for the consumer.

Not so says Jeff Reasor with Reasor’s Foods.

“I think the better operators just like anything else when you open the competition up I think they’re going to survive and actually thrive because we will bring in a few items that they didn’t carry for whatever reason.”

Reasor says he hears many customers ask for the wine section in the stores.

JP Richard owns Cache Road Discount Liquor in Lawton and says the customer complaints he gets are about how restrictive the stores are.

“That’s probably nine out of ten of the complaints is convenience. “I can’t take my kids in.” “It’s unapproachable.” “They won’t let my children come in.” “I have to get my husband to go back and shop for wine.”

Richard says liquor stores would lose 20% to 30% of the only thing they are allowed to sell.

John Woods the President and CEO of the Norman Chamber of Commerce says if grocery stores are allowed to carry wine and strong beer than lawmakers might have to consider new regulations for the liquor package stores.

“Would package store be allowed to be open on Sundays and holidays? Would they be allowed to sell refrigerated products in competition to those who are now allowed to sell their exclusive products? Would our package retailers be allowed to sell low-point beer?”

Woods says another consideration is a state law requiring individuals to only be allowed to own one liquor store.

Currently there are about 640 liquor stores in the state of Oklahoma, but there are about 5,000 convenience stores which would be allowed to sell high-point beer and wine if the law is changed.

During the meeting, the Commissioner of Mental Health and Substance Abuse told members she’s personally scared to death about expanding alcohol sales.

Terri White says an increase in outlet density, or the number of stores selling alcohol, has a major social impact on neighborhoods.

“In terms of medical emergencies, injuries, car accidents, DUIs, those types of things crime and violence, in fact, this isn’t new news. In 1995, a study found that for every additional outlet you can expect to see an increase of about three or four assaults per year.”

A Sooner Poll released last month shows more than 66% of Oklahomans oppose changes in the law to allow wine, strong beer and malt liquors to be sold in grocery stores.

Wine retailers also say that in the past 25 years no state has opted to put wine in grocery stores.

In fact, some states like Massachusetts, New York, Colorado and Kansas have defeated legislation to change their laws.

The next meeting will be held on October 20th.

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