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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma's newly founded Joint Task Force on the Sale of Wine and Beer in Grocery Stores quickly disbanded last week after only two meetings. The group issued no report or recommendations before its dissolution, according to a report by The Oklahoman.
The group was created during the prior legislative session for the purpose of studying the possibility of selling wine and strong beer in convenience and grocery stores. Its 21 members included alcohol retailers and distributors. While they reportedly could not come to a compromise, that doesn't mean the issue is off the table for Oklahoma, the report stated.
"What should not come out of this is any type of a conclusion that the change is not wanted by anybody," said Task Force Chairman and State Sen. Clark Jolley (R-Edmond). "What the task force said was we can't agree on what the changes should be."
Current Oklahoma law allows only beer with less than 3.2 percent alcohol to be sold in grocery and convenience stores. Stronger beer and wine are restricted to non-refrigerated liquor stores. Supporters of a change in the state's liquor laws note that 34 other states permit stronger beer and wine to be sold elsewhere from liquor stores and have called Oklahoma's restrictions "antiquated." Opponents -- mainly alcohol retailers and distributors -- have claimed their business models depend on the existing laws. At the Oct. 20 meeting, both sides presented poll data supporting their stances.
State Sen. Jonathan Nichols (R-Norman) made the motion to disband the task force at the close of the meeting. An issue of contention among the group's members was the possibility of minors being able to access alcohol more easily if the state's alcohol restrictions were eased.
"That issue quickly became a public safety issue to me," said Nichols. "I'm not going to support increasing teenagers' access to alcohol. If we allow these products in our grocery stores, we're going to increase alcohol-related violent crimes. We're going to increase children's access to alcohol. I'm not going to support that."
Several bills that had been put on hold until the task force reached a conclusion are now up in the air. However, according to Jolley, that doesn't mean they'll stay that way.
"I don't know if it comes back next session, but this issue is not dying," said Jolley. "This issue will be revisited through the Legislature in the future. And if the Legislature doesn't act swiftly enough, I fully expect to see people try to avail themselves of the initiative petition process because there are too many people who want this changed."