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A grape idea


Jason Reese August 26th, 2010

Voters are demanding more and more say in policies ranging from health care to education, and there is no reason why alcohol sales should not be included.

I drive down Grand Boulevard to get to church and work and smile a bit to myself when I see the construction site for Whole Foods Market.

I was raised by a single father, so cooking has never been foreign to me, but only in the past couple of years have I learned that food can be prepared with something other than charcoal. When the Food Network is on in the Reese house, I do not remain a mere spectator, but almost invariably try my hand at whatever dish is being whipped up. It does not take long to realize that an Italian dish full of sausage, onions and homemade tomato sauce cries out for a good red wine. Likewise, a medium peppercorn steak (the charcoal is not completely left behind, after all) needs a dark ale.

Unfortunately, when I go to shop for ingredients, the grocery stores in our great city are prohibited by the state from selling anything that actually deserves the name of beer or wine (i.e., anything containing more than 3.2 percent alcohol). We have not been consulted about this prohibition, and I sincerely doubt it would be ratified by a vote of the people. Admittedly, in some rural areas of the state, there may very well be a critical mass of support for these restrictions. I am in no way disparaging those citizens who firmly believe grocery stores should be forbidden to sell these beverages.

In the year 2010, however, there is a strong and growing sentiment against an overreaching federal government doing things that could very well be left to the states. I share in this sentiment and the principle of subsidiarity (government is best that governs on the lowest level possible) that undergirds it. Surely, this principle can be extended to the county level.

This February, a proposal was raised in the state Senate that would have allowed Oklahoma and Tulsa counties to decide for themselves whether to abandon the ban on full beer and wine sales in grocery and convenience stores. The measure failed. Let's hope that next session, the Legislature reconsiders this proposal.

Voters are demanding more and more say in policies ranging from health care to education, and there is no reason why alcohol sales should not be included. Now, it is a matter of practical politics that limits this proposal to Oklahoma and Tulsa counties; many legislators probably believe that their rural colleagues would only vote for this bill if they can convince their constituents that it only affects people far away. Personally, I think border counties would most benefit, as people would no longer drive to Gainesville, Texas, or Fort Smith, Ark., to shop.

As I mentioned before, there are real social concerns regarding loosening alcohol sales " they are misplaced. By selling beer and wine at grocery stores, we would be encouraging moderation through pairing of adult beverages with food rather than the current model. More nefarious motives are at play, however. Some, but not all, distributors and liquor stores see the current laws as giving them a competitive advantage and would prefer to subvert the free market. Such is not the basis of good public policy.

Instead, let the people decide. Beer and wine are cultural traditions of long standing, and changing this law can encourage more convivial nights around the dining table.

Reese, a recent Republican candidate for labor commissioner, is an attorney in downtown Oklahoma City.
 
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