New Oklahoma Liquor Laws to Take Effect in October

It's summertime in Oklahoma. The temperatures are soaring and people are flocking to the pool or the lake. For many people, this means a lakeside cooler of beer or a poolside glass of chilled white wine. Right now, though, you'll have to settle for low-point beer or a wine cooler if you don't want to make a separate trip to the liquor store or you want to buy on Sunday.

In just a few short months, though, the air will be cooler, and you'll be able to buy that beer and wine at your local grocery or convenience store.

In November 2016, Oklahoma voters passed State Question 792, which would allow strong beer and wine to be sold in places other than liquor stores. According to the National Association of Licensing and Compliance Professionals (NALCP), the following changes are to be implemented through the passing of SQ 792:

  • A new category of ABLE commission licensing will establish "Retail Wine Licensees" and "Retail Beer Licensees." Any supermarket, grocery store, convenience store, drug store, warehouse club and supercenter will be permitted to obtain a license to sell strong beer and wine in Oklahoma, with no limit on the number of licenses.
  • While liquor stores have had proximity restrictions (requiring a certain distance from schools, churches, other licensees), there will be no such restrictions for Retail Wine and Retail Beer licenses.
  • Retail beer must be no more than 8.99% alcohol by volume, and retail wine must be no more than 15% alcohol by volume. The retail sale of wine and beer will be permitted between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m.
  • Additionally, the wholesale distribution system will change under the new laws. Manufacturers must now sell their products through a wholesaler or distributor, who in turn will sell the product to the retailer. There is some concern that this will allow a monopoly of wholesalers or distributors if a manufacturer grants exclusive rights to a particular wholesaler. This could drive up the price of alcohol for retailers and thus their customers.
  • While liquor stores were largely resistant to SQ 792, there is one aspect they did appreciate about the demise of the "Retail Package Store License." Currently, liquor stores are prohibited from selling other items besides alcoholic beverages. When the new laws take effect, however, they will be able to sell "any item that may be purchased at a grocery store or convenience store, as defined by law, so long as the sale of items other than alcoholic beverages do not comprise more than twenty percent (20%) of the holder's monthly sales." This addition to the law was a concession to liquor store owners who protested that it would be unfair to allow corkscrews, mixers, soft drinks, ice, and beer salt in grocery stores and convenience stores, but not in liquor stores.
  • Finally, liquor stores have thus far been prohibited from selling low-point beer and cold beer. Now that grocery stores and convenience stores will be able to wine and strong beer, liquor stores will also be able to refrigerate that beer before selling it.

Oklahoma currently makes up more than half--56%--of the market for low point beer. Utah is a distant second at less than 30%. Some speculate that the new Oklahoma laws regarding strong beer and wine will the end of the line for low point beer.

Concerns about crime, alcoholism, and skyrocketing liquor prices are all speculation at this point. Voters have spoken, and after October 1, we will see if the fears come to pass or, seemingly more likely, lives will just get a little easier as shoppers pick up a bottle of wine to go with dinner at the same place they buy the ingredients to make that dinner.

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