State Liquor Laws Require a Complete Rewrite

The issue's not as simple as just selling wine at the grocery

Sometimes a thing has been patched so many times it's better to throw it out and start over.

Since 1933, when the prohibition against alcohol was repealed, Tennessee, like most states, has developed a patchwork of illogical, inconsistent, and, frankly, idiotic laws governing the sale of liquor, beer, and wine.

This coming legislative session there will be a major effort to legalize wine sales in grocery stores. It is not as simple as it sounds; it was bumped from last session for more study. It is something consumers want and something liquor wholesalers and retailers don't want. At present only people who own liquor stores can retail wine and they have to buy it from state liquor wholesalers. Unless you have your own vineyard.

Some legislators say wine in grocery stores might be a temptation for young people. Well, boys, I have a suggestion. Let's put the wine behind the 50-foot-long beer coolers so the kids can't see it. Considering the ubiquity of beer sales, from Pilot to Kroger and all points in between, the religious objections to expanded wine sales sound a bit hollow. But it's a better excuse than admitting you are siding with liquor interests against the consumer. You're just doing it for the children?

But there are some practical issues that need to be resolved. The law only allows an owner to have one liquor store. How many stores are owned by Food City, Kroger, and Food Lion? There is no other retail sector in which you are forbidden to own more than one store. If we liberalize the people who can sell alcohol, we need to remove restrictions on liquor stores. Can you have a situation where it's legal to sell wine in grocery stores on Sunday, along with beer, but the law prevents a liquor store from opening to compete?

You can't buy liquor in a store and take it home and drink it on Sunday. But you can go out and order it by the drink all day, then drive home. How does that make sense?

So you can't buy wine on Sunday, but convenience stores and grocery stores are still selling beer on Sunday. (Unless you live in some of the counties adjacent to Knox County. There you can't buy beer on Sunday. You have to drive to the county line, where the store is selling out everything in the cooler and tendering the taxes to Knox County. Knox County appreciates it.)

Have you ever wanted to start early on a Sunday for a picnic in the mountains, boating on an area lake, or horseback riding and realized you didn't buy beer the night before? You have to wait until 10 a.m. to buy it—assuming you are in a county where you can buy it at all.

You go to the liquor store to buy a bottle of whiskey. Wouldn't it be nice to buy some mixers to go with that? Or how about some really good cheese and crackers to go with your wine? No, sorry. The law prevents the liquor store from selling coolers, snacks, cheese, soft drinks or anything else that the alcohol consumer might want. This is the flip side to the argument for allowing wine in grocery stores. If you can get a bottle of red at the grocery to go with that porterhouse you just bought, why can't you buy other things at the liquor store?

We might also want to take a look at enforcement. You have beer boards in cities and counties. But you also have the Alcoholic Beverage Control which regulates liquor and wine. With wine in the grocery store, will grocery stores have two regulators, one for the beer aisle and one for the wine aisle?

These are just some of the issues surrounding the idea of wine in grocery stores. Internet sales is another. It's time for a rewrite of all the liquor laws with the goals being fairness and consumer convenience.

Other considerations should not apply.