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Liquor law changes could be closer to becoming a reality

After more than 50 years, Oklahoma's often-criticized liquor laws could be one step closer to seeing a change. Oklahoma Supreme Court justices spent Thursday morning listening to attorneys argue for and against a law change that would allow certain grocery stores to sell wine.
by Andrew Knittle Modified: June 22, 2012 at 12:01 am •  Published: June 22, 2012

After more than 50 years, an oft-criticized part of Oklahoma's law involving liquor sales could be one step closer to changing.

Oklahoma Supreme Court justices spent Thursday morning listening to attorneys argue for and against ballot language aimed at letting voters decide whether wine should be sold at certain grocery stores in the state.

The justices are expected to make their decision about the constitutionality of the ballot language “at any time,” an attorney close to the proceedings said.

The group Oklahomans for Modern Laws filed the proposed ballot language with the Supreme Court in early April, and it was approved by the state attorney general's office.

Two protests were filed toward the end of a 10-day waiting period, which led to a hearing before a court-appointed referee.

About the proposal

The proposed ballot language essentially is seeking to allow the state's 15 largest counties — those with population of 50,000 or more — to decide whether grocery stores of a certain size can sell wine, which has been the domain of the liquor store industry since 1959.

Eligible counties would include Oklahoma, Tulsa, Canadian, Cleveland, Comanche, Creek, Garfield, Grady, Le Flore, Muskogee, Payne, Pottawatomie, Rogers, Wagoner and Washington.

Under current law, only liquor stores can sell wine and strong beer, neither of which can be refrigerated.

The groups Fighting Addiction Through Education and the Oklahoma Prevention Policy Alliance and an owner of Oklahoma City-area liquor stores filed the protests, claiming that the proposed ballot language deals with more than one issue and that voter approval would increase alcohol abuse.

Under state law, initiatives seeking to amend the state's charter document can only deal with one subject, to eliminate voter confusion.

Attorney John Brightmire, who was representing the liquor store owner, argued the law change would violate the equal protection clause because grocery stores could sell wine and other products such as gum, candy and other foods.

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by Andrew Knittle
Investigative Reporter
Andrew Knittle has covered state water issues, tribal concerns and major criminal proceedings during his career as an Oklahoma journalist. He has won reporting awards from the state's Associated Press bureau and prides himself on finding a real...
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