Booze and brews #3: Voters await opportunity to have their say on Oklahoma’s historically restrictive liquor laws 

click to enlarge Senator Stephanie Bice, vice chair, discusses her alcohol bill, SB383, with Senator Dan Newberry, chair, during the committee hearing on business and commerce, at the State Capitol Thursday.  mh
  • Senator Stephanie Bice, vice chair, discusses her alcohol bill, SB383, with Senator Dan Newberry, chair, during the committee hearing on business and commerce, at the State Capitol Thursday. mh

Editor’s note: Booze and brews is an Oklahoma Gazette series examining our state’s beer and liquor laws. This story is part three of three. Learn more online at okgazette.com.

There aren’t any good old days for alcohol in Oklahoma.

The state’s prohibition history is long and storied, which makes the possibility of real change even more enticing.

Senate Joint Resolution 68 (SJR 68), authored by Sen. Clark Jolley and Rep. Glen Mulready, recently passed out of the Senate and awaits the House of Representatives’ rules committee. SJR 68 would put proposed changes to the Oklahoma Constitution’s alcohol laws to a vote of the people.

Senate Bill 383 (SB 383) by Sen. Stephanie Bice is still being written and revised, but it would provide the legal framework for new alcohol laws. And a pair of dueling initiative petitions push to ensure government gridlock doesn’t inhibit voters from deciding whether change is needed.

But to understand where we’re going, it helps to know where we’ve been.

Here’s a brief history of Oklahoma’s liquor laws, provided by the Oklahoma Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission (ABLE):

“Oklahoma residents were in the moonshine business well before statehood,” said Joe Daniels, ABLE special agent. “Prior to becoming a state, Indian Territory was designated as ‘dry’ to protect the Native American population from the evils of alcohol, but this just made a market for the product as illegal traders in the area made moonshine commonplace.”

Watered-down history

When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, it remained dry, so the moonshine business stayed booming. After nationwide prohibition was repealed in 1933 with the ratification of the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, not much changed.

Oklahoma never ratified the 21st Amendment, but most other states did. Instead, the Oklahoma Legislature approved a beer referendum in 1933 allowing 3.2 percent ABV, or alcohol by volume, beer.

“Only the push to bring legal liquor into the state in 1959 caused a major enforcement crackdown on the moonshiners’ and bootleggers’ activity, who were working somewhat openly across the state,” Daniels said.

It would be 26 years — 1959 — before it was legal to make and sell alcohol in Oklahoma, and even then, it was only in liquor stores.

Jump forward another quarter century to 1984. That’s when Oklahomans voted to allow liquor by the drink in restaurants and bars on a county-by-county basis.

The last 32 years have seen a literal and figurative seismic shift in the state. On social media and in letters to the editor, residents share concerns and wishes for changes to Oklahoma’s liquor laws.

In an email to Oklahoma Gazette, tax attorney Tim Larason said he’s worried public consumption will take a hit.

“Is anyone looking out for the consumer? Oklahoma law presently allows ‘public’ consumption of 3.2 beer in parks, tailgate parties, festivals, etc.,” he wrote. “But strong beer must be consumed in private or in an ABLE-licensed facility, in some cases limited to over age 21. If 3.2 beer disappears, will consumption of beer in a public park or a tailgate party become a criminal offense? Will festivals be required to segregate beer drinkers from under age 21?”

ABLE Capt. Brent Fairchild said those questions don’t yet have answers.

“I cannot answer that, as SJR 68 wording has not been finalized and no amendments to SB 383 have been filed to date,” he explained.

Current laws still prohibit drinking strong beer in public places, and Title 37 has licensing mechanisms in place for serving alcohol at street festivals, but all that could change as proposed legislation moves forward.

When the Gazette asked social media users, Brandon Seekins said he wants direct shipment of alcohol from out-of-state vendors.

“There’s some stuff I just can’t find in stores here,” he wrote.

Lindsay Thomas, Audrey Dodgen and Jenny Heinrichs shared that they want to buy wine in a grocery store on Sundays.

“I want to buy wine where I buy the rest of the stuff I need for dinner, and I want it on Sunday,” Dodgen said.

Cold beverages should be available every day of the week, said Rhiannon Mako.

“Because sometimes I want a chilled bottle of Moscato as a dessert on a Sunday,” she said.

Cold, strong beer; a level playing field for local breweries; personal small-batch distilling; and allowing children into liquor stores with parents also were requested.

November might seem far away for voters eager to modernize the state’s liquor laws, but what’s a few more months after suffering through more than a century of restrictions?

Print Headline: Vintage laws, Voters await their opportunity to have their say on Oklahoma’s historically restrictive liquor laws.

Pin It
Favorite

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Latest in Government

Close Encounters: Western Wildlife @ National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum

Close Encounters: Western Wildlife @ National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum

Sip & Stroll @ The Oklahoma City Zoo

View all of today's events »

© 2021 Oklahoma Gazette / Tierra Media Inc. All rights reserved.
REPRODUCTION OF CONTENT IN ANY MANNER WITHOUT PERMISSION IS PROHIBITED.
TO OBTAIN PERMISSION, CONTACT US

Powered by Foundation