The Tulsa Chamber, QuikTrip, Reasor’s and some other groups want to liberalize Oklahoma’s liquor laws through an amendment to the State Constitution.
Opponents of the proposal say it will increase drinking and the social problems that accompany increased accessibility of strong beer and wine.
Jeff Reasor, president and CEO of Reasor’s, is the chairman of a group, “Yes on 792,” that wants passage on State Question 792 on November 8, Former State Senate Pro Temp Glenn Coffee is treasurer of the group.
If the amendment passes, QuikTrip, Reasor’s and other convenience stores and groceries will be able to sell refrigerated wine and strong beer – items now only sold in liquor stores (and unrefrigerated).
“My father started Reasor’s in 1963 with one fundamental idea, ‘sell the customer items they want to buy, not what we want to sell,’” said Reasor, president and CEO of Reasor’s, an employee-owned grocery store with 19 locations in northeastern Oklahoma. “We’ve heard countless requests over the years for wine and regular-strength beer to be sold in our stores, and this November Oklahomans will have the opportunity to make these requests a reality. However, this vote isn’t just about our stores, but also a positive statewide image and consumer choice.”
Craft brewers and grape growers are also supporting the amendment to liberalize liquor laws.
“Oklahoma grape growers, vineyards and wineries all celebrate this opportunity. A “yes” vote means we can grow our businesses and share our love for wine,” said Chelsea Dye, spokesperson for the Oklahoma Grape Industry Council.
If it passes, liquor stores will be able to sell refrigerated alcohol products and items like mixers, ice, corkscrews and other products.
Oklahoma and only four other states restrict grocery store sales to 3.2 percent alcohol content beer.
Senate Joint Resolution 68 (SJR68) was authored by Sen. Clark Jolley and Rep. Glen Mulready, R-Tulsa. Co-authors were Sen. Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa; and Sen. Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City. SJR passed in the last week of the legislative session with 64-30 vote in the House and a 30-14 vote in the Oklahoma Senate.
The amendment is supported by Kiley Raper with the Oklahoma Retail Merchants Association. Some of the other supporters include:
7-Eleven Stores; Beer Distributors of Oklahoma; Country Mart; Doc’s Food Stores, Inc.; Greater Oklahoma City Chamber; Oklahoma Beer Alliance; Oklahoma Grape Industry Council; Oklahoma Grocers Association; Oklahoma Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association (OPMCA); and Wal-Mart Stores.
SQ792 is opposed by the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma because of its potential economic impact and the social implications.
According to a RLAO website, “State Question 792 takes Oklahoma’s safer, more competitive system and turns into one that is similar to that of our neighbor to the south. In Texas, they have only 1 liquor store for every 10,800 people. In Oklahoma, we have 1 for every 5,600 people. Simple math shows us that overlaying the Texas model in Oklahoma results in nearly half of all local retail package stores going out of business. That would be a loss of more than 300 locally owned businesses and the jobs they support. These businesses and jobs would be replaced by a couple of shelves at Wal-Mart.”
In Bexar County, Texas, with the county seat of San Antonio, there are 159 retail package stores for a nearby population of 1.8 million. Oklahoma County, which has less than half that population (766,000) but has 164 separate locally owned liquor stores. Rural Jim Hogg County, Texas, has just over 5,000 residents and one liquor store whereas Dewey County, Oklahoma, has just under 5,000 residents and three liquor stores.
According to the RLAO website, “Studies show that local businesses put 48 percent of their revenue back into the local economies whereas chain stores give back less than 14 percent. Local business owners support local charities, hire local contractors, use local bookkeepers, attorneys and other professionals, eat at local restaurants and understand that their very existence depends on the support of those they live and work with.”
The association said passage would raise the cost of alcohol because it will “concentrate more power in the hands of fewer corporate owners and reduce competition.” A 1.75-liter of Jack Daniel’s Black costs $41.99 in Dallas but $38.43 in Oklahoma City, a savings of 8.48 percent. The same size bottle of Crown Royal in Oklahoma City is $41.99 in Oklahoma City and $52.52 in Dallas, a difference of 20.05 percent.
The RLAO argues that putting stronger alcohol in thousands of new outlets will increase the misuse of alcohol and increase underage access, drunk driving and domestic violence. Government can affect these problems by decreasing the density of outlets, restricting hours of operation and the price of alcohol.
“Simply put, the more places that sell strong alcohol in any given neighborhood, town or city, the more issues you have with the abuse of alcohol and resulting crimes from that abuse,” according to the website. “We have already seen issues in Dallas, Omaha, Spokane and even Tulsa from having too many outlets too close together. Amplifying that by allowing thousands of grocery and convenience stores to sell alcohol more than four times stronger than is currently permissible is just asking for more problems in more places.”
Oklahoma state law requires that anyone selling strong alcohol must be 21. More than 70 percent of alcohol-related traffic accidents in Oklahoma are attributed to alcohol purchased or stolen from a grocery or convenience store.
Oklahoma law restricts sales of stronger alcohol to 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week.
“The additional hours of availability, particularly at convenience stores between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. would result in more drunk drivers and a host of other negatives associated with the misuse of a potentially dangerous product,” according to the website.