By Abdul Hakim-Shabazz, guest columnist
I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again, and I will keep saying it until I am blue in the face: It’s time to rewrite Indiana’s archaic and Byzantine alcohol laws. And it looks like state lawmakers are finally taking the hint.
As some of you may be aware, Ricker’s, which operates gas stations and convenience stores across the state, came under fire this past legislative session, for committing the unforgivable sin of figuring out a way to sell cold beer at a couple of its stations in Columbus and Sheridan. Under Indiana law, gas stations and convenience stores can’t sell cold beer. So, Ricker’s hired some really smart lawyers, looked at the code and figured out how to make it work for them.
They retrofitted their stores to seat at least 25 people. They have at least $200,000 in food sales. They have licensed, trained staff, and alcohol is not served over a counter. In fact, it’s kept behind a counter and inaccessible by the general public. And they did all this out in the open by going to the proper state and local alcohol boards. You could have sworn it was the day of Armageddon.
The law was changed to allow Ricker’s to operate for now, but no other business could do what they did. And now a summer study committee has been created to look at the issue and come back with some suggestions later this year.
If you don’t mind, I’d like to share a few.
Let Hoosiers buy alcohol on Sundays at grocery and convenience stores. There is no reason that an activity that is perfectly legal Monday through Saturday should be outright banned Sunday. It’s also one of the, if not the, biggest shopping days of the week.
You should be able to buy cold beer in a grocery or convenience store also. Please tell me why it’s okay for those places to sell warm beer, but not cold beer? And how do you define “cold”? Is it 55 degrees, 40 degrees?
Lift the commodity restrictions on liquor stores. While I’ve been critical of the protectionist attitudes of the alcohol industry, they have a fair point when they say they are limited by what they can sell and grocery stores aren’t. I agree. Liquor stores should be able to sell any legal product, just like their counterparts on the other side of the strip mall.
Let minors enter a liquor store as long as they are accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Anyone who rings up alcohol, whether at the grocery or liquor store should be at least 18, trained and licensed to do so.
Those are just five simple suggestions the state could adopt tomorrow, and the universe would not end. Now when it comes to how alcohol is sold and distributed and various permit structures, that’s a little more complicated and will take some time to figure out; as well as it should since there are hundreds of millions of dollars at stake here.
But how hard can it be to adopt some simple, commonsense rules that allow for consumer choice, while at the same time upholding sound public policy that keeps alcohol out of the hands of minors and reduces impaired driving?
It shouldn’t be. But then again, up until 1969, it was illegal for a woman to stand at a bar. She could sit, but couldn’t stand. Of course, that shouldn’t surprise anyone because up until 1941; it was illegal for a woman to be a bartender. That was repealed in 1967. And it wasn’t until 2004 that grocery stores could sell liquor on the floor as opposed to behind the counter. And it was 2010 when we finally got to see Election Day alcohol sales.
Maybe I am asking for too much. I need a drink.
Abdul Hakim-Shabazz is an attorney and the editor and publisher of IndyPoltics.Org. This column was distributed by the Franklin College Statehouse Bureau.