If wine is allowed on grocery store shelves, it would mark the first major change to the state's liquor laws in nearly three decades, an attorney for the Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission says.
A proposed state question would give Oklahoma counties with 50,000 or more residents the option of allowing certain grocery stores to sell wine. The state Supreme Court is examining two protests opposing the initiative petition and oral arguments are set for Thursday.
John Maisch, an attorney for the ABLE Commission, said if voters ultimately approve the measure, it would be the third major change to the state liquor laws.
The first was in 1959, when Oklahoma repealed prohibition and the second in 1984, when voters approved liquor by the drink — decided by individual counties (26 counties remain dry).
Allowing wine in grocery stores could pose some challenges, he said, because it would increase the number of outlets to enforce and increase youth access to alcohol. But because the proposal would only apply to large grocery stores in certain counties and restricts the number of stores, it's more manageable than originally thought, he said.
“This ballot title is far more restrictive and far more palatable, I would say, than earlier suggested ballot titles which have basically just made it a free-for-all,” he said.
Wineries are hesitant to voice support for the initiative for fear of offending the liquor stores they depend on right now to sell their products.
“If I were to take a stance other than neutral, I would offend the hand that feeds me right now,” said Andrew Snyder, president of the Oklahoma Grape Growers and Wine Makers Association.
Wine in grocery stores would be a convenience to consumers but have limited impact on local wineries, he said, because it's likely the grocery stores allowed to sell wine would primarily carry high volume brands and not those from local wineries.
If I were to take a stance other than neutral, I would offend the hand that feeds me right now.”