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One year of strong beer and wine has brought surprises, struggles

It’s been one year since shelves and convenience store beer caves sat empty, the last of 3.2% beer running dry in most cities on the eve of strong beer and wine sales.

The Oklahoma dry spell came on the eve of State Question 792 going into effect. The law allowed the sale of refrigerated full-strength beer as well as wine beyond solely liquor stores, some of which have struggled since the state question passed on the November 2016 ballot.

What has been a boon for retailers and convenience stores has led some liquor stores to cut jobs or shut down altogether. Bryan Kerr, president of the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma, said the decline is varied across the industry, but they remain on pace to one day have half the stores as when the question passed.

In December 2016, immediately after the election, Kerr said there were 682 retail liquor licenses in the state. By July 2018 before the new laws took effect, 650 remained. For the last year, two stores have closed each month, and Kerr said 629 remained as of August.

“I’m sure some of those folks are still to this day looking for ways to eat,” Kerr said. “Because a lot of these people are mom-and-pops where that was their only business and their only income. What we knew was going to happen, it happened to some of those folks.”

Some stores haven’t seen much change thanks to location and a few other factors, but Kerr said the vast majority have either closed, cut back or had to reinvent their business model and compete with convenience stores. Some found themselves trying to court consumers to a one-stop shop with their liquor, snacks and a mixer all in one place, Kerr said.

Kerr said he believes there has been a net job loss in the state because of the law, not only from liquor stores but from local convenience stores that can’t compete with liquor-licensed neighbors.

“You know, obviously Walmart’s not hiring more people to stock shelves of wine,” Kerr said. “So these people that were working liquor stores, it’s a net loss of a job.”

Outside the grim situation for liquor retailers, local breweries and convenience stores have seen benefits in more ways than one.

QuikTrip spokesman Mike Thornbrugh said the company has seen a big return from the changed law. Although QuikTrip sold cold 3.2% beer beforehand, Thornbrugh said the company’s seen good returns thanks to greater variety and wine sales.

“(Grocery and convenience stores) already had a dominant share of the beer sales,” Thornbrugh said. “But it continues to grow today, and obviously we attribute that to the fact we can offer all these various beers that we couldn’t offer before.

“We’re fortunate people have been coming to us for gasoline and other purchases, but they were going somewhere else to buy their strong beer. Now they’re not, they’re sticking with QuikTrip, so it’s been fantastic.”

Thornbrugh said he’s not sure the company has hit its peak on beer sales but it’s met expectations, unlike the high volume of wine sales that took the company off guard.

Another facet of SQ 792 brought good news to local breweries. Wes Alexander, director of sales and marketing at Tulsa’s Marshall Brewing Co., said the run on beer a year ago took the industry by surprise.

“What no one necessarily planned for was that there was going to be this frenetic buying pace from the consumer who was worried about supply,” Alexander said. “So almost immediately, you stock the shelves and within days they’re empty again. That kind of pace continued throughout the fall, so that was an odd thing to go through.”

The clean shelves came with an added bonus: manufacturers could now enter a partnership with distributors in the form of franchise distribution agreements.

Previously, manufacturers had to sell equally to state wholesalers, but Alexander said that kept breweries from having a plan with any one of them. With those restrictions lifted, it let brands like Marshall work with distributors to better market and sell the product.

“For us, 10 years in, that was a huge get really,” Alexander said. “That was the huge thing that came out of 792 for us.”

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How far can medical marijuana advertising go? State panel to study issue

OKLAHOMA CITY — Lawmakers next month are expected to study advertising for medical marijuana.

The interim study was requested by Rep. Tammy Townley, R-Ardmore, who said constituents had called for the study.

“I had four constituents give me a call very concerned with the billboards,” Townley said. “Some of them are a little — let’s just say they don’t indicate they are for medical marijuana. It is more of a recreational-type billboard.”

Oklahoma voters on June 26, 2018, voted to legalize medical marijuana. State Question 788 passed by nearly 57% after enough signatures were gathered to put the measure on the ballot.

Lawmakers then passed House Bill 2612, dubbed the Unity Bill, which outlines the regulatory framework for implementation and clarifies some issues.

Chip Paul is chairman of Oklahomans for Health, which pushed to get legalization of medical marijuana on the ballot.

“Regrettably, we do have situations around the state where dispensaries are crossing the recreational line and advertising more as a recreational exercise rather than a medical exercise,” Paul said.

Townley said some advertise using the words “happy hour.”

“We don’t hand out pharmacy drugs in happy hour, so why are we doing medical marijuana,” she said.

In another example, medical marijuana was advertised as a treat, she said.

Mark Woodward is a spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. He said medical marijuana should not be advertised in such a way that it appeals to underage youths.

The rules of the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority prevent the advertising of the product that has any manner of design that would appeal to children, according to information provided by the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

Townley said she wants to bring in experts to give lawmakers some guidelines. She said she wants to get both sides of the story.

“I am not against medical marijuana,” she said. “I think it has some good value. I think it has a place, but we also do not need to be making it glamorous.”

While some medical marijuana dispensaries have tasteful billboards, some cross the line, she said.

The interim study is set for 9 a.m. Oct. 29 in room 432A of the State Capitol.


'Band of brothers': More than 70 Honor Flight veterans to spend Tuesday touring D.C. memorials

Shouting “hang on, sir!” as he punched the gas, Spc. Gary Douglas somehow guided the jeep to safety through the first burst of machine-gun fire.

But the trucks farther back weren’t so fortunate.

Realizing an ambush of their convoy was in progress, Douglas’ commanding officer, seated behind him, ordered him to turn the jeep around. Their comrades needed them.

Looking back today, more than 50 years later, the events that followed play in Douglas’ mind as if in slow motion: his CO, Capt. Gregory Kernahan, running to check on survivors, then, as he made his way back, taking a bullet before he could reach the jeep.

“I had spent a lot of time with him, driving him, and had so much respect for him,” said Douglas, who tried to save his captain’s life only to learn later that he had died.

This Tuesday, Kernahan’s will be the first name Douglas looks for when he visits the National Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., for the first time. From there, he has a couple more comrades he wants to find on the memorial wall, which records the names of the war’s dead.

Douglas, a Coweta resident and two-time recipient of the Silver Star for valor, is visiting the memorial as part of the latest Oklahoma Warriors Honor Flight. He’s one of 75 veterans who will spend the day touring the nation’s war memorials and other sites.

The group is set to depart Tulsa International Airport for D.C. Tuesday morning, returning to Tulsa on Tuesday evening.

The flight includes veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, with nearly 60 representing Vietnam.

Besides the Vietnam memorial, Douglas is also looking forward to the National World War II Memorial. His late father, Gene, a WWII Navy veteran, never had a chance to see it, he said.

Douglas’ dad was a survivor of the infamous USS Indianapolis disaster in 1945, a nightmarish ordeal. The ship was returning from a top-secret mission to deliver atomic bomb parts when it was sunk by a torpedo.

Douglas believes the experience later allowed his father to relate to him and the emotional baggage he brought back from Vietnam.

The elder Douglas had been one of only 316 Indianapolis sailors found alive after the sinking; nearly 900 had survived initially, but over four days, as they waited in the water for rescue, hundreds died, many of them victims of sharks.

Douglas said his father never really spoke about the horrific experience. But he also didn’t shy away from talking to his veteran son.

After his return from Vietnam, “we sat and talked, and he was able to help me” readjust to post-military life, Douglas said.

That transition wasn’t an easy one for Douglas, a self-described “country boy” who grew up in Talala.

Drafted into the Army in 1967 at age 22 and sent to combat engineering school, he thought his assignment to the 585th Dump Truck Company would be a relatively safe one.

Even better, he ended up driving a jeep for the 585th’s commanding officer, Capt. Kernahan.

But then, just days apart in March 1968, Douglas was involved in two deadly roadside ambushes that changed his mind on the matter. Both times, part of a convoy going to pick up materials for building roads, it was on a route he’d been driving for months without incident.

In the first ambush, when Kernahan was shot in the leg, Douglas aided his CO, applying a tourniquet before going on to assist the other wounded.

Finding himself pinned down, he and other survivors exchanged fire as they could with their Viet Cong attackers.

“It got hot and heavy,” he said. But finally, support arrived.

Douglas remembers looking up from where he was lying and seeing an American tank, the barrel nosing forward just above his head.

The blast when it fired left him temporarily deaf. But he was too elated to care.

Douglas would see his captain one last time as he was loaded onto a helicopter with the wounded.

“I found out later that he passed away on the way back,” he said.

Exactly one week later, Douglas was back on the same road, driving for a platoon sergeant. This time the ambush happened up ahead of him in the convoy.

“We got there near the end of it,” he said, adding that there were dead and wounded troops lying in and around the road. Many of the fallen, Douglas would learn later, had been executed point-blank by a North Vietnamese commander as he walked among them.

Unable to find a smoke grenade to summon medical helicopters, Douglas ran across a field to where a friendly South Vietnamese tank was sitting. The tank had been hit in the attack and its gunner slain.

While he took over the gun for the crew, they searched and found a grenade for him.

Douglas ran back and used the smoke grenade to signal a helicopter.

For his actions in that and the previous ambush, Douglas would be awarded two Silver Stars for valor.

Not long before the two incidents, Douglas had declined an offer to join the night crew, which would mostly involve vehicle repair and maintenance.

But after the ambushes, “I thought maybe the good Lord was trying to tell me something,” he said.

He accepted the offer.

On Tuesday, when he stands before the wall, Douglas has no doubt that his memories of Vietnam will come flooding back.

That includes the image of his late captain, Kernahan, who will be on his mind “big time,” he said.

Douglas applied to go on the Honor Flight about a year ago, he said. He was “over the moon” when he learned he’d been accepted.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” said Douglas, who will be accompanied by his son, Joshua, of Broken Arrow. “I’ve seen the smaller traveling version, but not the real one.”

The best part, he said, is getting to experience the memorials in the company of other Vietnam veterans.

“We really were a band of brothers,” he said. “You were there, and you depended on each other, watching each other’s backs. There’s no red, yellow, black or white.”

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