EDITORIAL: Prohibition isn't over yet in Oklahoma, but we can vote to end it
Our View: You should vote "yes" this November to allow the sale of wine in grocery stores as an important first step toward progression in Oklahoma’s liquor laws.
Oklahomans need the option to purchase wine in supermarkets or liquor stores more than 50 years after Prohibition due to the booming wine sales in the U.S. and the convenience of buying wine while grocery shopping.
On Nov. 6, Oklahoma voters will decide if 17 of the state’s largest counties should be allowed to sell wine in supermarkets with at least 25,000 square feet of floor space. This is after the Oklahoma Supreme Court approved an initiative petition that seeks voter approval of the plan.
Oklahoma is one of only 16 states that bars the selling of wine in grocery stores.
Voters should vote “yes” not only to create a convenience that is deserved but to initiate the first step toward progression in Oklahoma’s stagnant liquor laws. Though it might not be the right time in Oklahoma to allow alcohol sold off-premises 24 hours a day, like in Nevada, allowing wine to be sold in supermarkets could eventually lead to more progressive changes, such as liquor stores staying open later or being open on Sundays.
Hey, maybe we'll even get to buy 6-point beers in gas stations someday.
Opponents of the law change contend it will make alcohol more widely available to minors and allow cashiers under 21 to sell a product that currently can only be sold by those old enough to legally consume it. Barring the sale of alcohol in grocery stores for this reason is a law that intends to nanny its responsible citizens.
Whether alcohol is sold in a grocery store or a liquor store, proper identification is still required. Further, Oklahoma law only requires servers be 18 or older to serve alcohol in restaurants. How is selling an unopened product in a grocery store any different? Many grocers that sell alcohol require cashiers under 21 to have a cashier 21 or older within the vicinity to ring up the drink. Oklahoma could take this route, too.
Opponents also say wine sales in liquor stores will take a hit because wine sales account for more than half of all liquor sales for some retailers, but the booming domestic wine industry foreshadows nothing but growth for all markets.
American wine consumption recorded its 17th consecutive annual increase in 2011. Additionally, domestic consumers spent more than $40 billion on wine in 2010. In 2007, the U.S. per capita consumption of wine exceeded that of Italy, and it is projected that by 2015 the U.S. will have higher consumption rates than France.
Though the majority of wine sales come from imported wines, domestic wine sales have continued to increase while imported wine sales have shown little growth. By turning to domestic wines, the U.S. is investing in its economy, giving back to both U.S. wine producers and suppliers alike.
Let’s not forget that before the Dust Bowl and Prohibition, Oklahoma’s major focus in agriculture primed the state to be a major wine producer, maybe even a better "wine country" than California's Napa Valley. After nearly a century, Oklahoma wineries are beginning to take off again, and the selling of wine in grocery stores could create more economic development in Oklahoma, encouraging more wholesalers that rely on the business to come to the state.
Nationally, off-premise wine sales — the sale of wine in supermarkets and liquor stores — increased 4.8 percent from March 2011 to March 2012. So far, off-premise wine sales this year per month have been higher than those of last year per month.
Clearly, sales of domestic wines show resilience to imported wines. This momentum will only be strengthened by adding more distribution centers. Let’s put confidence in our local market.
This change in distribution could increase wines sales even more. In 1990, the Sale of Alcohol Act allowed wine sales in New Zealand supermarkets and prompted a 17-percent increase in wine sales from 1983 to 1993.
According to the law change, grocery store wine sales would be restricted to only 15 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties — those with populations of more than 50,000. Even the biggest supermarkets in the most populous counties cannot supply the variety that specialty liquor stores do. Therefore, the liquor store market will be preserved for those seeking a specialty wine.
It should be noted that hard liquor will remain available exclusively at liquor stores.
The Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma contends that “competition will suffer and the consumer will be faced with fewer choices at higher prices.” Perhaps consumers will have to pay a little more for convenience; some will do so anyway, but others will remain faithful to their specialty store of choice the same way some consumers still make trips to the butcher, the florist and the baker instead of Walmart. The convenience of one-stop shopping often comes at a higher price.
Will paying more just preserve the wine industry even more?
As a cultural marketplace, Oklahoma has been a slow runner and a late bloomer in many important developments that afford its citizens rights and opportunity. Though Prohibition was repealed in 1933, Oklahoma didn’t repeal for another 20 years. Our state has a history of addressing alcohol laws later than most. With 34 states already selling alcohol in grocery stores, as well as liquor stores, it is Oklahoma’s turn to modernize.
Vote in favor of the grocery stores Nov. 6 to receive the rights legal-aged citizens deserve and push for further alcohol-freeing legislation down the road.
Prohibition hasn’t ended until you vote.