Battle rages over state liquor laws

State Rep. David Derby has introduced a measure that he says will allow voters to modernize Oklahoma’s liquor laws.

House Joint Resolution 1052, if approved by voters in the form of a state question, would simplify the marketing and sales of alcoholic beverages in the state by creating a three-tier system of manufacturers, wholesale distributors and liquor retailers.

“We have a very outdated system that was created in the Prohibition era, but never properly adjusted to reflect modern times,” said Derby, R-Owasso. “This bill does not really relax liquor laws so much as it removes some unnecessary hoops that breweries, for example, have to jump through. People have been clamoring for changes to these laws and I think it’s about time we gave them an opportunity to make those changes.”

The measure gives state legislators time to correct the many statutes involved if the state question is approved, Derby said. If they fail to make the necessary corrections, statutes in conflict with the new constitutional law would be rendered null and void. Last week, the Oklahoma Retail Liquor Association (RLAO) filed paperwork with the Oklahoma Secretary of State that would place a question on the ballot in November to allow full-strength beer in grocery stores and convenience stores, but virtually eliminate grocery stores’ ability to obtain wine licenses. In addition, wine would not be sold in convenience stores under their proposal.

“Unfortunately, SQ 785 doesn’t fully encompass the issues most important to consumers,” said Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond. “With no provision for wine to be sold in convenience stores and substantial limits on licensing of grocery stores, this measure is exclusionary and protectionist. By restricting a new wine license from being issued within 2,500 feet of an existing liquor store, it virtually guarantees no metropolitan grocery stores would be allowed to carry wine, which is clearly something Oklahomans are demanding.”

“As legislators, our goal in modernizing the laws dealing with Oklahoma alcohol sales is to include all invested parties in the discussion, which is why we’re addressing the issue by working through the legislative process and not through a single voice at the table,” said Sen. Stephanie Bice, R-Edmond. “RLAO has been included in the modernization discussions, but doesn’t approve of the direction, so they have chosen to try and limit the options of Oklahomans. We believe the two bills currently under consideration by the Legislature this session, SJR 68 and SB383, provide the best opportunity to establish true and meaningful reform. To exclude one component such as the availability of wine in convenience stores and place limits on grocery stores undermines the modern, comprehensive approach we are committed to uphold through this process.”