NORMAN — Thanks to a recent Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling, Oklahomans may soon have the opportunity to partially remove outmoded laws that prevent adults from purchasing wine in grocery stores, as our fellow Americans in most other states are allowed to do. One group, Oklahomans for Modern Laws, is trying to give us that option by circulating a petition to put the issue to a vote of the people. If given the opportunity, we should take it.
The current regulatory regime governing wine purchases, in which government seeks to prevent adults from acting like adults, is primarily the result of state paternalism and economic protectionism, a dangerous combination most often deployed to benefit special interests, subvert the free market, and harm consumers.
In this particular case, retail liquor store owners have banded together to protect their near-monopoly on wine sales in Oklahoma. They claim their sales will suffer and they will go out of business if consumers are given the choice to buy wine elsewhere, particularly in grocery stores.
Evidence from other states that allow wine purchases in grocery stores, however, indicates liquor stores are doing just fine. Go to Indiana, Nebraska, Iowa, Idaho, Florida, California, or any of the 32 states that allow wine sales in grocery stores and you will see liquor stores, many of which are set up adjacent to their grocery store competitors, are thriving.
How can this be? For the same reason fast food restaurants, bakeries, pizzerias, florists, book stores, Hallmarks, pet supply stores, and dozens of other businesses survive even though grocery stores may sell the products each of those businesses sell. Logistically, grocery stores are unable to offer the product selection and specialization that those businesses do. Likewise, liquor stores thrive in states where competition exists because they specialize in wine, beer, and liquor products that consumers want to buy; grocery stores do not (when they sell wine, grocery stores primarily sell the most common and least expensive wines).
Liquor store owners are realizing their tenuous hold on a retail monopoly is growing weaker as they are increasingly unable to rely on voters to be sympathetic to restricting consumer choice for the sole purpose of protecting profits. In response, they have enlisted allies who claim allowing wine purchases at grocery stores will lead to an increase in alcohol-related deaths, accidents, addiction, and underage drinking. These claims are unsupported by the facts.
Anyone can review CDC state-by-state data and see there is no correlation between these maladies and modern liquor laws (e.g., allowing wine sales in grocery stores). In other words, states that allow wine sales in grocery stores have no higher rates of alcohol-related deaths or accidents, and in many cases have lower rates.
The current petition to achieve modernization is not perfect, but it is a good start and puts us on the right path. So, Oklahomans have a choice to make. We can begin to modernize our wine laws and let adults act like adults or we can side with those who think government’s job is protect special interests and treat its citizens as children to be guided and protected by the state. Let’s choose modernization.
Joe Fairbanks, of Norman, is a past chairman of the Cleveland County Young Republicans.