Oklahoma liquor-law expansion contemplated | Govt-and-politics

OKLAHOMA CITY — The possibility of allowing grocery and convenience stores to sell liquor is being floated by a lobbyist for Walmart and some other retailers who met behind closed doors in Oklahoma City on Tuesday.

In an email to stakeholders, Pat McFerron, founding partner of CMA Strategies, had asked participants what they would like to see changed about the state’s alcohol laws. He also asked what possible change would cause participants to oppose a comprehensive alcohol rewrite.

He also asked: “How willing is your principal to help underwrite an aggressive campaign to change Oklahoma’s laws?”

McFerron is a lobbyist for Walmart.

“Our customers have told us they want more choice and convenience in shopping for spirits in Oklahoma and we are interested in seeing what role we might be able to play in advocating for them on this issue,” Walmart said in a statement provided by McFerron.

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Brett Robinson, president of the Beer Distributors of Oklahoma organization, attended the meeting via Zoom. He said he was grateful that Walmart had sought input from others at this stage.

He said it was a “friendly and frank discussion among peers in the alcohol industry in Oklahoma. We heard what Walmart had to say, and we are going to continue to examine these issues very closely and see how these things unfold.”

He said some representatives from convenience stores also want to sell spirits.

Michael Junk, a lobbyist for QuikTrip, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

To change the state’s liquor laws, lawmakers could put a state question on the ballot.

If that doesn’t happen, supporters could circulate an initiative petition to get a constitutional change on the ballot.

A few years ago, voters decided through a state question to allow grocery stores to sell cold beer and wine.

The Retail Liquor Store Association of Oklahoma opposes letting grocery and convenience stores sell spirits, said Robert Jernigan, the organization’s president.

He said some 11% of the liquor stores in the state closed after the last round of alcohol-modernization laws took effect.

“I lost 30% of my wine revenue overnight when Walmart started selling wine,” he said. “I would expect to lose at least that much in spirits, which would probably do me in.”

He thinks critics would be able to defeat another modernization effort.

Dirk van Veen is vice president of the Retail Liquor Store Association of Oklahoma. He said revenue from sales would go to out-of-state companies under the proposed changes as opposed to staying in Oklahoma because more locally owned package stores would close.

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