OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma County judge said Monday she has questions about the constitutionality of a ballot measure that would overhaul the state's liquor laws and allow strong beer and wine can be sold in grocery and convenience stores but refused to block it from appearing on the November ballot.
District Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons denied a request for a temporary injunction sought by the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma, which filed a lawsuit last month that alleges the ballot measure's proposed changes are unconstitutional because they would treat liquor-license holders less favorably than supermarkets and convenience stores.
The group's attorney, Danny Shadid, argued that the state's retail liquor store operators will be harmed and could face additional legal costs if the measure passes in the Nov. 8 general election.
"If this were to go forward...then my clients are forced to challenge it elsewhere," Shadid said.
But Timmons said any harm liquor store operators might face would be moot if the measure is defeated at the ballot box.
"I believe that the measure should go on the ballot," the judge said.
But Timmons said she has questions about whether the measure is constitutional and would schedule another hearing to decide that issue.
The ballot measure authorizes changes to Oklahoma's alcohol laws beginning in 2018, including allowing the sale of cold, strong beer and wine in grocery stores. Strong beer and wine currently must be sold in retail liquor stores in the state.
Shadid said the proposal is discriminatory and creates a new class of wine and strong beer retailer that would have fewer limitations on where they can operate and who can operate them than guidelines that regulate the state's existing retail liquor stores.
"There's a great big difference in the class," Shadid said. "The retail liquor dealers are limited." The retail liquor group says passage of the measure will result in the closure of hundreds of package stores across the state.
Deputy Solicitor General Mithun Mansinghani said provisions of the ballot measure will not go into effect for two years if voters approve it in November and that no immediate harm will come to liquor store operators.
"All we're here for is defending the right of the people," Mansinghani said.
Oklahoma is one of only five states where so-called 3.2 beer is sold, and the state represents nearly 50 percent of all 3.2 beer sales, according to the ballot measure's supporters. They say there would no longer be a need to sell 3.2 beer in Oklahoma if the measure passes.
If approved by the voters, a companion bill that outlines numerous changes to the state's liquor laws would take effect that would allow liquor stores to stay open until midnight and on major holidays, with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Liquor still could be sold only at package stores, which also would be allowed to sell non-alcoholic items, like ice, coolers and non-alcoholic mixers.
Retail liquor stores have launched plans for a signature drive to get a competing proposal on the ballot. Liquor store operators say it would only allow for strong beer and wine sales at grocery stores, not convenience stores, and would allow only a limited number of grocery stores to have licenses for the first ten years.