Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

June 29, 2012

State court upholds wine initiative petition

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — An initiative petition to ask voters if they want to allow grocery stores in the state’s largest counties to sell wine was narrowly approved Thursday by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

In a 5-4 decision, the state’s highest court rejected arguments that the proposal violates the state and U.S. constitutions and said “there is a rational basis for the provisions” within the proposal.

Initiative Petition No. 396 is supported by Oklahomans for Modern Laws and, if approved at the ballot box, would bring about one of the biggest changes to state liquor laws since Prohibition was repealed in 1959 and liquor-by-the-drink was allowed in bars and nightclubs on a county-option basis in 1984.

Currently, the state Constitution restricts the sale of wine almost exclusively to locally owned, licensed retail package liquor stores, although the state’s wineries are permitted to sell their own bottles in tasting rooms.

“We’re pleased with the court’s decision. We think it’s the right decision,” said Lee Slater, the attorney for Oklahomans for Modern Laws.

The group must collect the signatures of 155,216 registered voters to get the issue on the Nov. 6 general election ballot, but Slater said it is unclear if it will have enough time to collect the signatures, have them certified and print the petition’s ballot title on election ballots.

If supporters run out of time, the governor can call a special election to consider the issue or it can be placed on the 2014 general election ballot, Slater said.

The proposal would create a new retail wine license to permit the sale of wine by grocery stores, superstores, supermarkets and warehouse clubs that have at least 25,000 square feet of floor space. Wine sales by grocery stores would be restricted to 15 counties with populations of more than 50,000 and would have to be approved by countywide votes.