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Making sense of Oklahoma’s alcohol laws

 The Journal Record | July 30, 2019

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Question 792 brought sweeping changes to Oklahoma’s alcohol laws, allowing cold beer and wine to be sold in grocery stores. Now, recent legislation has helped clarify some confusion around the sale and consumption of alcohol in Oklahoma.

Over the last legislative session, state legislators introduced three new bills that would both clarify and modify existing legislation: Senate Bill 728, Senate Bill 804 and House Bill 2325. A large part of the confusion is something that Oklahoma Beer Alliance President Lisette Barnes attributes to voters believing that SQ 792 was going to increase, not restrict, freedom in relation to alcohol.

“I think when they voted for modernization, (voters) thought they were going to get more freedom and not less,” Barnes said. “These two new bills, 728 and 804, really are just returning things back to normal, with the benefit that wine is added to that.”

The most significant change brought about by SB 728, which went into effect in April, allows golf courses and marinas to sell alcoholic beverages to patrons for off-premises consumption where previously they were not allowed under the changes made by SQ 792.

Like SB 728, SB 804 removes several requirements from the enforcement of SQ 792. After the law went into effect, shops had to ensure that patrons did not leave with open alcohol containers. Now 804, which went into effect this month, no longer requires beer and wine or mixed-beverage license holders to keep customers from leaving the store with an open container of beer or wine during game days and city-sanctioned art, music or sporting events.

“These are bringing things back to what we as voters thought was normal and people thought they were voting for,” Barnes said. “I don’t think they thought they were going to move backward, but rather forward. Our liquor laws are very complicated, and I don’t think people think about it from all these different angles.”

The latest bill to change Oklahoma’s alcohol landscape is HB 2325, which will allow minors to enter a retail liquor establishment as long as they are accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. This law will take effect Nov. 1 and is one of the most modernizing changes over the last year, according to Barnes.

“That, once again, is something that a lot of consumers wanted,” Barnes said. “There’s always been a safety issue about leaving kids unattended or even just the inconvenience of having to leave the children. It’s something that’s needed to be done for a while. This is beer they drink at home in front of their children, I don’t think it changes if they see where they purchased it.”

The updates also come at a time when the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission has seen a major spike in revenue from last year’s law change. In fiscal year 2019, the agency saw revenue of approximately $13.7 million, compared to the $9.5 million it brought in for FY 2018 and $7.5 million in FY 2017.

A large part of that revenue increase stems from the $30 license required to allow grocery and convenience store employees to handle alcohol. Last month, the ABLE Commission reported that there were 129,573 current active licenses, compared to 58,296 at the same time in 2017.

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