By Steve Metzer
The Journal Record
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Supreme Court has declined to hear arguments against a controversial new law affecting wholesale liquor distribution in the state.
Senate Bill 608, which was signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt last month, mandates that producers of “top brand” wines and spirits offer their products for sale to any licensed wholesaler without discrimination. The Institute for Responsible Alcohol Policy vehemently protested the law and asked the Supreme Court to assume “original jurisdiction” and declare it unconstitutional. On Monday, the court declined and ordered the case instead to be heard by the District Court of Oklahoma County.
IRAP President John Maisch expressed disappointment but said he remains hopeful that the law will still be overturned.
“IRAP and our fellow petitioners hoped the Supreme Court would take the rare step of assuming original jurisdiction … since we believe that Senate Bill 608 is both unconstitutional and will create chaos in the alcohol distribution industry,” Maisch said. “We plan to continue our challenge before the district court (and) believe the law will ultimately be struck down.”
Supporters of the law held a different view. Led by Boardwalk Distribution of Tulsa, they said the Supreme Court made the right call in choosing not to act on a measure that they qualified simply as a “correction” to the state’s wine and liquor distribution system that ensures competition.
“We’re very pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision, and we’re pleased they took no action to block the implementation of Senate Bill 608,” Boardwalk Distribution owner Bryan Hendershot said. “The other side failed to convince the House of Representatives, the Senate and the governor that SB 608 is unconstitutional, and now the Supreme Court has refused to even hear the case.”
Maisch countered that the new law denies the will of Oklahoma voters.
“Senate Bill 608 (denies) the fair, modern alcohol distribution system voters overwhelmingly approved two years ago, and it violates the plain language of the Oklahoma Constitution,” he said. “The many Oklahoma businesses who support our argument believe wine and spirits producers should retain the freedom to sign distribution agreements with wholesalers they choose.”
The American Distilled Spirits Association, Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America, and the State Chamber of Oklahoma also supported IRAP’s petition against the new law.
The Oklahoma Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission has already approved implementation of the new law, to take effect Aug. 29. At that time, the top 25 brands will be exempted from exclusive distribution designation by manufacturers – meaning that those brands must be sold to any wholesaler that wants to buy them for sale to all retailers.
“Retailers and consumers are now one step closer to seeing the benefits of Senate Bill 608,” said Bryan Kerr of the Retail Liquor Association.
Byron Gambulos of Byron’s Liquor Warehouse also advocated for the law.
“This is a victory for competition and the free market,” he said.