Strong beer and wine sales on hold

TULSA - Changes to Oklahoma's liquor laws will have to wait.

A legislative task force, who had been looking into the possibility of allowing strong beer and wine sales in grocery stores, disbanded after failing to reach an agreement among its 21 members.

Their second meeting on Thursday in Oklahoma City was their last, however the debate continues across the state.

Right now, under Oklahoma law, it is illegal for grocery stores to sell wine or strong beer, anything over 3.2 percent alcohol by weight.

Dan Cameron, the owner of the future Cam's Grocery in downtown Tulsa, thinks the state's liquor laws are outdated.

"We're in a different era than we were 25 years ago, 30 years ago," said Cameron.

Cameron said allowing grocery stores to sell wine and strong beer would not be the end of the world.

"I've lived in other states where it's worked really well," said Cameron.

Cameron believes allowing stores like his to carry wine and strong beer would mean a bargain for consumers, because it would create competition between grocers and liquor retailers.

"Competition is good," said Cameron. "It usually provides better prices for the consumer. It usually provides more of an offering, provides higher quality products."

But Rob Cooper, owner of Harvard Liquor in Tulsa, is against changing the state's liquor laws.

"It would affect small businesses like myself because it would take away a large portion of what my inventory is," said Cooper.

Cooper said liquor stores like his could lose 20 percent of their business, which could force them to lay off employees.

Cooper added that allowing grocery stores to sell wine and strong beer could be a danger to underage Oklahomans.

"It would be a lot harder to control minors being able to get the access to the alcohol if it's in the grocery stores," said Cooper. "People under 21 go into grocery stores."

But grocers like Cameron don't buy that argument.

"There's beer there now," countered Cameron. "I don't get the argument. There's beer there now."

Lawmakers could bring the issue up again during next session, which starts in February.

Those in favor of changing the laws may also start a petition drive to change Oklahoma's constitution, giving voters the authority to decide.

Thirty-four states already allow wine and strong beer to be sold in grocery stores.

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