Oklahoma’s Alcohol Modernization Bill Passes House Rules Committee

Oklahoma Ballot 970

Oklahomans may soon have one more critical choice to consider when they cast their votes on Nov. 8.

The Oklahoma House Rules Committee yesterday voted 6-3 in favor of Senate Joint Resolution 68, which would place several proposed changes to the state’s alcohol industry regulations in a single measure on the upcoming ballot.

Now up for debate on the House floor, SJR 68 would let voters decide if a wider range of retail outlets should be allowed to sell wine and high gravity beer — and whether small brewers should be able to distribute that beer themselves.

If passed into law, the measure would grant small brewers operating in the state limited self-distribution privileges, and would allow warehouse, grocery and convenience stores to sell higher alcohol content beverages like wine and premium beers. Currently, alcoholic beverages checking in above 3.2 percent alcohol by weight (4 percent alcohol by volume) may only be sold by licensed liquor retailers and are not allowed to be refrigerated.

The new law would also update current industry regulations to require stricter separation between each of the three tiers, but fell short of its sponsor’s original goal to fully prohibit “common ownership” between manufacturers, distributors and retailers.

Senator Clark Jolley (R-Edmond), who introduced SJR 68, amended the bill in February to include a conditional exception for Anheuser-Busch InBev, which wholly owns two distributors in Oklahoma. The company ran a multimedia campaign attacking Jolley and the resolution for weeks, but changed its position in support of the measure when it was temporarily “grandfathered-in” under the new language.

News of the bill’s progress yesterday was well received by the company.

“Anheuser-Busch is supportive of modernization and we are pleased to see the majority of the House Rules Committee is too,” Eric James, senior director of sales and marketing at Anheuser-Busch Sales of Oklahoma, told local NBC affiliate KFOR. “Oklahomans want cold, strong beer, available seven days a week at grocery and convenience stores, and this vote is one step closer to making that a reality.”

SJ 68 has also been backed by the Beer Distributors of Oklahoma and local consumer advocacy group Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom.

The Retailer Liquor Association of Oklahoma, however, has consistently opposed the bill — claiming that the new law would give major chain retailers like Costco and Walmart an unfair advantage over local package stores.

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