Oklahoma is often one of those states which holds onto outdated practices till the very end. The goofy alcohol regulations still in force is one such example. It is currently not legal to sell beer above 3.2% alcohol (by weight) in grocery and convenience stores. Oklahoma is one of only five states with this kind of prohibition in place which is nothing more than a throwback to Prohibition itself. For those of us who live in southern Oklahoma, we call regular beer “Texas Beer” because it is not so weak and is often bought in Texas and consumed by Oklahoma residents in Oklahoma homes (all to the delight of party goers).
Another silly aspect of Oklahoma Prohibition is that regular beer (above 3.2% ABW) cannot be chilled. If you want regular beer in Oklahoma, it can only be purchased at a liquor store (closed on Sundays and holidays) and can only be sold at room temperature. Beer drinkers need not get in a hurry to enjoy a full strength beer after work. Stop by the liquor store and pick up a six pack if you wish, but Oklahoma wants to slow you down and make you chill it first before you enjoy. Oklahoma is the only state which forbids the sale of chilled regular beer.
Wine is regulated in a similar fashion in Oklahoma. In most states, one may purchase wine at Target or Walmart or even a convenience store whereas in Oklahoma, it may only be purchased at a liquor store. On more than one occasion my wife and I have found ourselves unable to buy a celebratory bottle of sparkling wine (champagne) on our anniversary since it falls on Veteran’s Day (November 11th) which is one of several holidays where Oklahoma law forces liquor stores to close. It’s a good thing they don’t also force the flower stores to close!
Oklahoma’s prohibition laws continue by forcing liquor stores to only sell items with liquor in them. There is no logical reason to forbid such a store from selling items which do not contain alcohol. We are supposed to be the state of the free market, not government control.
Oklahoma Senate Bill 383 by Senator Stephanie Bice may help bring an end to Oklahoma’s lingering Prohibition laws. There is still a long way to go to make it happen. It will first have to pass through the Legislature and then be put up for a vote of the people since it will involve constitutional changes. The people of our state will likely approve of these modernizations, but this can only happen if the Legislature allows us the opportunity to vote on it.
If passed in its current form, Oklahoma would see these five changes:
- Remove the low point regulation and allow regular strength beer to be sold at grocery and convenience stores.
- Allow for sale of chilled beer at liquor, grocery, and convenience stores.
- Allow wine to be sold at grocery and convenience stores.
- Allow liquor stores to be open on Sundays and all holidays except Christmas and New Year’s.
- Allow liquor stores to sell items which do not contain alcohol.
The bill, initially filed early in 2015, has currently received a positive nod from both the Senate and House by passing a vote in each chamber but having the title/enacting clause “stricken” which means that although it received a Yes vote in each chamber, it cannot yet move on to a vote of the people until further procedures are accomplished. If everything goes well, the issue could be put on the ballot in November, 2016.
There might be an argument for allowing only low point beer to be sold in grocery stores if it actually made a difference in the number of alcohol related fatalities. The 2010 average percentage of alcohol related fatalities sits at just under 33% for all states combined, but the average is still just under the same 33% if we toss out the low point beer states. In other words, low point beer does not contribute to less drunk driving.
Two of the five states which forbid the sale of regular beer (Kansas and Colorado) have average alcohol related fatalities higher than the national average. This shows that low point beer does nothing at all for public safety. Oklahoma is the only state to forbid the sale of chilled regular beer. If selling regular beer at room temperature keeps folks from driving impaired, then why is Oklahoma’s alcohol related motor vehicle fatality rate not much lower than the national average? Oklahoma’s rate is right in the middle of the average (32%) and thus does no better despite its anti-chilled beer law.
Nothing is assured, but this legislation does look promising. It takes into account the people of the state who are ready for modernization, as well as the liquor, grocery, and convenience store industries. When we must undue past legislative mistakes, it affects those we regulated in the past. The alcohol industry may or may not want these changes, but Senate Bill 383 gives the people of Oklahoma the free market they desire, and the right of the people to a free market is the only thing here which really matters.
Contact your Senator and Representative and let them know how you feel about SB383.