Who knew we’d be talking so much about beer this year? With the upcoming State Question 792 on the ballot Nov. 8, the conversation is sure to continue.
The biggest (and most underrepresenting) summary of the question states that it will allow grocery stores and gas stations to sell strong beer and wine while also allowing retail liquor stores to begin selling items other than alcohol, as long as it doesn’t go over 20 percent of sales. I’ve often heard this referred to as “modernizing Oklahoma’s alcohol laws.”
I’m going to have to take issue with that.
If Oklahoma was serious about modernization, we would be rethinking the way we look at alcohol entirely. Why do we continue to pretend that beer and wine are any different than margaritas and daiquiris? They’re all intoxicating beverages. You don’t have more than a couple at a party, and you don’t drive if you’ve had too many. If we want to start selling stronger products in grocers and start selling non-alcoholic items in liquor stores, let’s stop dancing around the inevitable.
There are states around the country that have allowed stores to become full service, meaning that you can buy your toilet paper where you buy your Bacardi. Apparently, in Oklahoma we are OK with this as long as the toilet paper portion of your purchase doesn’t exceed a certain percentage of the total sale. Seems completely arbitrary doesn’t it?
That’s because what is at play here has nothing to do with modernizing our laws or making things convenient for the consumer. The laws will continue to be as confusing and backwards as they have always been and things will only be slightly more convenient. The biggest push for this bill comes straight from the big corporations: Walmart, large beer manufacturers and large beer distributors.
There are two major underrepresented pieces to this state question that are not often talked about.
The first piece of this is that Walmart and the like now get to reap the profits of the strong beer and wine business. We all need to remember that the profits from those sales go straight out of state. This also cuts into the business of every liquor store in the state as strong beer and wine make up a very large portion of their sales. Off the top of my head I can count five liquor stores in Altus. How do you think this will affect them? And for those of us who like to drink margaritas and daiquiris, how do you think that will affect the prices of the spirits you need to make those drinks?
The second piece of this is that it changes the underlying distribution system. Under current law, manufacturers must sell to any wholesaler who wishes to purchase the product at the same price across the board. If SQ 792 passes, it changes the word “must” to “may.” What does this mean for the consumer? Manufacturers and distributors align themselves and prices go up.
There are a whole host of other changes made in the question that make no sense whatsoever except to satisfy the companies in play. Towards the beginning of the language there’s an entire piece that allows Budweiser to be the only brewer-distributor in the state. Initially, there were to be no brewer-distributors with the question’s passage, but after running a few full page ads in The Oklahoman, Budweiser got its way. For any beer or wine drinker reading this, I ask you to read through the bill in its entirety to discover these things for yourself before you vote.
I think we need to reject SQ 792. If we’re going to revamp the alcohol laws in Oklahoma, let’s find a better way and propose it in the 2017 session. Let’s stop acting like we usually do by pretending that this “modernization” isn’t years behind the rest of the country already. Most importantly, let’s tell our state legislators to stop letting big corporations call the shots. If we don’t, then what does that say about us?
Reach Matt Moran at 580-482-1221 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.