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Coasters in support of SQ 792, known informally as alcohol modernization, lay on a table Tuesday night during a watch party at Bricktown Brewery. (Josh McBee)

For those who enjoy a bit of John Barleycorn from time to time, State Question 792 appears headed toward passage with more than 60 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results Tuesday night from the Oklahoma State Election Board.

Promoted by supporters as “alcohol modernization,” SQ 792 mainly sought to repeal and replace laws in Oklahoma that prevented the sale of certain beers and spirits in certain stores and markets.

“I am absolutely ecstatic about the results of State Question 792 tonight,” said Sen. Stephanie Bice (R-Yukon) who co-authored legislation to place the initiative on the ballot. “This is a long time coming, but Oklahomans made their voices heard and are ready to see their state modernize their alcohol laws, and I couldn’t be any happier for it.”

As the Tulsa World editorial board recently put it, voters essentially faced the following choice on this ballot item:

They can go with a move to deregulate the marketplace within the bounds of safety and let consumers decide where they want to buy their wine and beer, or they can opt to retain the current archaic system of warm strong beer at the liquor store and cold weak beer everywhere else.

“What most people don’t know is that 3.2 beer was written into our Constitution when they repealed prohibition in 1959, so for us to move to a single-strength beer system required us to amend the Constitution, which is why we had to have a vote of the people,” Bice said.

She noted that several other alcohol-related issues will likely be addressed over the coming two years.

“The great news is that we can now actually do this because we have the big piece accomplished which is removing many of those obstacles that were in the Constitution and moving them into statute,” Bice said. “There are definitely some loose ends that we’ll have to tie up.”

Bice mentioned tax issues, Sunday sales and issues important to the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Restaurant Association.

Background on SQ 792’s alcohol modernization

As NonDoc outlined earlier in the election season, SQ 792’s rewrite of Article 28 of the Oklahoma Constitution will result in more convenience, from a consumer’s perspective, by:

  • removing current low/high-point beer designations,
  • allowing grocery stores to sell said beer and wine,
  • allowing liquor stores to make up to 20 percent of their monthly sales in non-alcohol products,
  • allowing any seller to refrigerate wine or beer in their store,
  • and allowing wineries better abilities to sell their product to consumers.

From a business perspective, the measure appears beneficial for grocery stores — local and national, such as Wal-Mart — that will be able to obtain retail wine licenses for the first time and retail beer licenses that would allow for the sale of the same beer currently available only in liquor stores.

NewsOK.com’s Brianna Bailey reported Oct. 31 that Wal-Mart had spent more than $1 million in support of SQ 792.

Liquor stores, meanwhile, opposed SQ 792 after failing to get their own measure on the ballot. The Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma disproved of the proposal’s change to how wholesalers may do business. The measure will allow liquor stores to sell products other than liquor up to a percentage of total sales for the first time in state history.

Since Oklahoma was the only state to enter the Union as dry in 1907, alcohol was regulated under the State Constitution, which has made modernization of Oklahoma alcohol laws difficult over the years.

“The people have clearly spoken in favor of modern beer and wine laws by voting in support of Yes on 792,” Alex Weintz, campaign spokesman, said in a statement Tuesday night. “We congratulate Oklahomans for choosing a stronger economy, growth for local industries and convenience and more choices for consumers.”

(Editor’s Note: Entities supporting the Yes for SQ 792 campaign have been advertising on NonDoc since August.)

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SQ 792: Rethinking Oklahoma’s liquor laws by William W. Savage III

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William W. Savage III (Tres) holds a journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma. He covered two sessions of the Oklahoma Legislature for eCapitol.net before working in health care for six years. He is a nationally certified Mental Health First Aid instructor.
Josh McBee served as NonDoc's managing editor from September 2015 through January 2019. He earned a bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma. He has reported and edited for newspapers and other media in Oklahoma, Colorado and California.