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A short history and future of liquor laws in Oklahoma


Scott Cooper March 11th, 2010

Everyone in Oklahoma knows you can't buy liquor in grocery stores. But how did these laws come about in the first place?Pending alcohol legislationSome think Oklahoma is still in the dry ages when it ...

Everyone in Oklahoma knows you can't buy liquor in grocery stores. But how did these laws come about in the first place?

Pending alcohol legislation


Some think Oklahoma is still in the dry ages when it comes to liquor laws, like the group Oklahomans for Alcohol Law Reform. And there are those who think this state's gone far enough with intoxicating liquids, like preachers. But Oklahoma is unique in many ways on this topic.

Ask Randy Burleson of OFALR how this state is different from the rest, and a list will come at you: No wine sales in grocery stores; high-point beer must be sold non-refrigerated; a person can only own one liquor store in state; and no liquor stores in towns of less than 200 people.
This is on top of some of the laws most Oklahomans are familiar with, like liquor stores cannot be open on Sunday or election days.

How did we get this way? Last fall, John A. Maisch, general counsel for the Oklahoma ABLE Commission, presented a brief to the Oklahoma Bar Association on that very question to mark the 50th anniversary of Oklahoma formally ending the state's prohibition.

Oklahoma never ratified the 21st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, like most states to end nationwide Prohibition, but the state did pass its own amendment to the state Constitution that permitted the lawful consumption of alcohol in 1959.

Nearly 25 years later, another milestone was achieved when liquor-by-the-drink was passed via a statewide vote.

The 21st century has already provided some interesting laws and controversies mixing Oklahoma and the drink. In 2004, voters gave the right to local wineries to sell directly to stores and restaurants. But a case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court caused Oklahoma to alter its law and allow out-of-state shipments as well in 2008.

"Proponents of direct shipping may have cheered at the constitutional amendment, but their gains did not come without a cost," Maisch wrote in the brief.

Severe restrictions were also handed down. Winemakers are now restricted from selling their wine in quantities smaller than the case lot; they cannot use common carriers to deliver their wine and can no longer sell their wine through licensed wholesalers.

Maisch noted that none of those changes have been challenged.

One of the bigger pushes on changing state laws in the last few years has been to allow for the sale of wine and alcohol in grocery stores. But Maisch wrote that for those who support the move, it isn't just a matter a getting a bill passed in the Legislature.

"Oklahoma has numerous constitutional and statutory provisions that would have the practical effect of prohibiting wine sales in grocery stores," he wrote.

This includes a provision that prohibits a retailer who sells alcohol from selling anything else. This is one of the laws that drives Burleson crazy, because it means a grocery store can sell corkscrews but not wine, and liquor stores can sell wine but not corkscrews.

"How does this make sense?" Burleson asked.

And there are those who oppose such a move.

During the current Oklahoma legislative session, Sen. Andrew Rice, D-Oklahoma City, introduced a bill to pave the way for grocers to start selling wine. Rice's measure failed to get out of a committee hearing.

One group happy about the result was the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma.
"Texas passed laws a number of years ago allowing wine and strong beer sales in grocery stores," said association president J.P. Richard. "The result was that within 18 months, 40 percent of Texas package store retailers went out of business, wine and beer selection went down and liquor prices went up because the package stores had to rely on increased margins on the remaining spirit and reduced beer and wine products available to them."

In his brief, Maisch pointed out a study done in Europe over its relaxed liquor laws regarding wine and liquor sales in grocery stores.

"According to the study, the United Kingdom has experienced significant increases in the number of deaths, serious illnesses such as liver cirrhosis, violence related to alcohol and teen alcohol consumption, have occurred since deregulation of its liquor laws began in the 1960s," Maisch wrote.

Still, those like Burleson believe some laws still need a second look, such as breweries not being able to sell their product or even allow taste samples on site.

Pending alcohol legislationSenate Bill 1762 " Would prohibit bus or limousine drivers from transporting minors in possession of alcohol or low-point beer.
Senate Bill 1886 " Would allow an in-state winery to sell its product to another in-state winery.
Senate Bill 1 64 " Would prohibit issuing a caterers' license to a person who mainly sells alcohol or low-point beer.
Senate Bill 2210 " Places restrictions on the spouse of an alcohol-licensed seller.
Senate Bill 2240 " Lowers the age from 21 to 18 for someone to knowingly allow another person to possess or consume alcohol.
House Bill 2348 " Would exempt the excise tax on beer made for personal use.
House Bill 3383 " Would allow military personal to transport alcohol into the state when returning from active foreign duty.
"Scott Cooper
 
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