Corkscrew Effort May Open Door for Wine Sales in C-Stores

Oklahoma ballot campaign on rocks for 2012

Published in CSP Daily News

OKLAHOMA CITY -- In Oklahoma, liquor stores can sell wine, but they can't sell corkscrews. Stores that can sell corkscrews can't sell wine.

It's one of the great mysteries of Oklahoma liquor laws.

A Yukon, Okla., legislator wants to change that, but to do so, he's going to have to persuade state voters to rewrite the Oklahoma Constitution, according to a report in Tulsa World.

Rep. Colby Schwartz, R-Yukon, has introduced House Joint Resolution 1015, designed to allow liquor stores to sell corkscrews, bottle openers, stemware and nonalcoholic mixers.

Schwartz has until Thursday to get the measure passed by the full House.

Whether he pushes ahead to meet that deadline will depend on whether he can resolve the key issue of what counts as a mixer.

Schwartz said he intends for the term to be narrowly defined: nonalcoholic beverages that are specifically designed to be mixed with alcohol. Bottles of Tom Collins mixer would be in. Bottles of Coca-Cola would be out.

But the issue can get murky. Is carbonated soda a mixer or a soda pop? And how do you put all of that in the sort of legal words that will define the issue properly and satisfy all the competing parties that have an interest in alcohol sales in Oklahoma?

Schwartz said defining the rules precisely has proven difficult, but if he can get the issue worked out in time, he'll press ahead.

"The goal is to allow mom-and-pop liquor store owners to buy a bunch of plastic corkscrews and have their store name printed on them; buy them for 50 cents apiece and sell them for $2 apiece," Schwartz told the newspaper. "The intent of the bill is not to turn a liquor store into a convenience store with liquor. That is not the intent."

Liquor stores have been pitted against convenience stores in recent years in conversations about reforming the state's alcohol laws.

Convenience stores have been pushing for the right to sell strong beer and wine, which is currently a monopoly held by the liquor stores.

The spokesman for Tulsa, Okla.-based QuikTrip told the newspaper he likes the idea of talking about broadening what goods can be sold at alcohol retailers, but the discussion needs to go beyond corkscrews.

"We don't oppose that, but we want the right to sell wine," said QuikTrip spokesman Mike Thornbrugh.

Schwartz said if he can't get the issue resolved this week in the House, he may push for an interim legislative study of the question this summer and will be back pushing the idea in the next Legislature, if he is re-elected.

Meanwhile, organizers of a petition drive to allow grocery and convenience stores to sell strong beer and wine say they are no longer certain they will be able to get their effort completed in time to make the 2012 election ballot.

Organizers were almost ready to roll out the petition campaign in January, but since then the issue has gotten tied up in legal discussions among the various interest groups involved, Brian Howe of Oklahomans for Modern Laws, told Tulsa World.

If the effort doesn't make the 2012 ballot, the group will push ahead to making the 2014 ballot.

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