Oklahomans passed sweeping alcohol law changes on Nov. 8. They now have nearly two years to wait for those changes to actually be the law of the land.
In the meantime, legislators plan on fine-tuning what voters did on Election Day, regulators are seeking more funding to handle the coming changes and businesses will adapt to a new competitive landscape.
The new alcohol laws don’t take effect until Oct. 1, 2018. With the passage of State Question 792, an accompanying measure, Senate Bill 383, goes into effect. The nearly two-year lag is intentional. The plan, legislators who wrote the bill said, was to allow time to work out unforeseen issues and allow dry Oklahoma counties the chance to react to the bill themselves.
State Sen. Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City, said one reason for the time between passage and the changes taking effect is to let the 18 remaining dry counties in Oklahoma decide whether they want to remain dry.
“We needed to give those counties enough time to have a vote,” Bice said.
State Rep. Glen Mulready, R-Tulsa, and Bice said besides issues not yet apparent, some topics such as Sunday sales, accompanied minors in stores and extended hours could be considered by the Legislature.
Mulready said he had language drafted for Sunday sales this year but took it out to make the bill more palatable to voters and because liquor store owners seem divided on the prospect.
Casey Karney, who helps run Aspen Liquor, 2201 W. Washington St. in Broken Arrow, wasn’t too keen on the potential for Sunday sales when he spoke with the World last week. He was among the few people in his business who were in favor of State Question 792.
“At the end of the day, it’s not if. It’s when,” Karney said of the law change.
Under the new law, the virtual monopoly that liquor stores had on selling wine and strong beer goes away, while their ability to be the only retailers that sell spirits will be maintained. The new law creates three types of license for retailers — wine, beer and spirits.
Grocery and convenience stores will be allowed to have wine and beer licenses, allowing them to sell something other than the 3.2 beer they sell now. Retailers, particularly Wal-Mart, plowed support and money into the campaign.
Tulsa-based convenience store chain QuikTrip gets to add craft beer and wine to its shelves in 2018, but says it is not going to be a huge boost for business.
Spokesman Mike Thornbrugh said 3.2 beer is already 85 percent of the market share in Oklahoma. With 3.2 replaced with the full-strength version of the national brands, he said, the place where QT can add market share is with craft beer and selling “great brands” such as Marshall.
Reasor’s, the local grocery store chain, doesn’t see it as a big boost, either.
“I’m not sure if it will be a big jump. There will be a potential for additional sales for us,” said COO Brent Edstrom, “It’s a convenience issue. It’s easier to pick up the cabernet with steak or chardonnay for the salmon.”
Liquor stores expect to lose business, and their industry group, the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma, plans to sue on 14th Amendment grounds, which concerns equal protection under the law.
Mulready said the liquor stores are right about being treated differently: They get a retail spirits license.
Karney said Aspen Liquor has planned for losing about a half-million dollars in sales and expects about 50 percent of the stores statewide to close. But, he said, Aspen is treating it as an opportunity. Owners have remodeled the Broken Arrow store to make it more inviting, in part, because of the competition.
He said they started planning to install coolers earlier this year — SQ 792 and its legislative companion allow for coolers.
For QuikTrip, Thornbrugh said the company could be ready for the law changes shortly and understands the lag time is for legislative fixes.
Edstrom said his chain will work on plans for the next year to 16 months, and inventory will depend on the demographics around the stores.
While the changes may reshuffle the spending mix among retailers, it adds a good deal to the Alcoholic Beverage Law Enforcement Commission’s responsibilities. Director Keith Burt said he plans to ask the Legislature for more funding to add agents because of the added responsibility.
Under the old laws, 3.2 beer was regulated by the Oklahoma Tax Commission and treated as a food item. The distinction between 3.2 will be lifted, and regulating the three types of licenses will fall solely to ABLE.
Burt said the law changes will add thousands of new licensees, and that’s why ABLE needs the funding.