Archive for Sunday, April 16, 2017

Brownback’s signature would usher in biggest change to Kansas liquor law in decades

The beer aisle in grocery stores across Kansas, including this one at the Dillons store at Sixth and Wakarusa, have been drawing fewer and fewer customers in recent years because they can only stock beer with 3.2 percent alcohol, also known as cereal malt beverage.

The beer aisle in grocery stores across Kansas, including this one at the Dillons store at Sixth and Wakarusa, have been drawing fewer and fewer customers in recent years because they can only stock beer with 3.2 percent alcohol, also known as cereal malt beverage.

April 16, 2017


— Grocery store and liquor store owners are now waiting for Gov. Sam Brownback to decide whether he will sign a bill that would make the biggest change to Kansas liquor laws in the last 30 years.

It would, for the first time in Kansas, allow grocery stores to sell "strong" beer, or beer that contains up to 6 percent alcohol by volume.

At the same time, it would also allow liquor stores to sell cigarettes, chips and other items such as mixers, meaning their customers could buy both gin and tonic, or vodka and soda, at the same cash register.

And although the casual observer might not see why that's a controversial idea, it is actually a huge victory on the part of grocery and convenience stores who have spent years trying to get legislation to break the retail liquor stores' exclusive control of the package retail liquor market in Kansas.

It also may spell the end of what's known as "3.2 beer," or cereal malt beverage, which is currently the only kind of alcoholic beverage that grocery and convenience stores are allowed to sell.

"This is a decades-long battle," said Jessica Lucas, a lobbyist for a coalition of grocery and conveniences stores that pushed for the bill.

The history of 3.2 beer dates back to the Prohibition days in Kansas. Even after passage of the 21st Amendment in 1933, which ended Prohibition at the national level, Kansas continued to ban the production, sale and consumption of "intoxicating liquor" for another 15 years.

But in 1937, lawmakers passed a bill defining beer with an alcohol content of 3.2 percent or less by weight as "cereal malt beverage," or CMB, excluding it from the definition of "intoxicating liquor."

Many other states that still had "dry" laws did the same thing. And in Kansas, because CMB was not an "intoxicating liquor," it could be sold to people as young as 18.

But in 1984, Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which, among other things, reduced federal highway aid by 10 percent to any state that did not have a minimum drinking age of 21.

At that point, Lucas said, many states simply repealed laws that treated 3.2 beer differently from regular beer, but Kansas did not.

In 1986, however, Kansas voters did approve a constitutional amendment allowing the sale of liquor by the drink in bars and restaurants, ending the state's decades-long ban on "open saloons."

Since then, the demand for 3.2 beer has been dropping steadily, both in Kansas and nationally.

"For the last 10 years, sales of CMB have declined," Lucas said. "While some people still buy it, fewer people are buying it. And there are fewer products to sell because manufacturers have reduced the amount of 3.2 beer they produce."

Sheila Lowery, spokeswoman for the Hutchinson-based Dillons grocery chain, said she couldn't disclose how much 3.2 beer those stores still sell. But she said the push for change has come from customers.

"So many of our customers are interested in craft beers, which we're currently unable to sell under current legislation," Lowery said.

Currently, strong beer, wine and distilled liquor in package form can only be sold in Kansas through retail liquor stores, which have their own lobbyists in the Statehouse who strongly defend their turf.

The laws on retail liquor stores are also complex. For one thing, they can only sell beer, wine and distilled liquor. To sell mixers, cups and other items, they have to establish a separate business, or "party shop," which may be attached to the liquor store but which has a separate entrance and separate cash register.

That restriction would go away if Brownback signs the bill. But liquor stores would still be limited to earning no more than 20 percent of their total gross sales from nonalcoholic product, excluding cigarettes and lottery tickets.

P.B. Patel, who owns Roy's Wine and Spirits at Sixth and Wakarusa, across the street from a Dillons store, said that even with the ability to sell cigarettes and other items, he expects the law will cut into his profit margin.

"I think, typically, beer is about 50 percent of the gross daily sales at an average store," Patel said. "I am an average store. Even though the profit margin is a little lower on beer than it is for spirits, this will put a damper on our business."

Patel said he does expect to make room in his store for things like candy, chips and other items that he would be able to sell, but he doesn't expect that will make up for the loss of revenue he'll see when people can start buying beer at a grocery store.

"It will be damage control, basically, but I don’t think we’ll fully recover," he said.

Brownback has not indicated whether he plans to sign the bill. It was delivered to him on Friday, which means he has until Monday, April 24, to sign or veto it.

"We are hopeful that the governor will sign it, but, like any bill, we have to wait through the process," Lucas said. "We haven’t received any indication that he wouldn’t sign it. We are anxiously awaiting his signature."


Stuart Evans 10 months, 2 weeks ago

Sure, let's make this deadly drug called alcohol far more accessible, while continuing to inhibit the legal recreational use of a plant. Yeah Kansas, as backwards as ever. Hey Sam, don't you realize that you could slap a "sin tax" on pot too?

Bob Smith 10 months, 2 weeks ago

You should get out and work for prohibition.

Stuart Evans 10 months, 1 week ago

I want nothing to do with prohibition, I want equality in the law. Currently, this country thrives on keeping people drunk, distracted, and dumbed down. Law enforcement, politicians, insurance providers, medical professionals, and even auto manufacturers, all make money from the legal drug called alcohol. You can be a raging drunk, and still keep your high-paying job, because it is socially acceptable to some degree. But test dirty for a joint you smoked 3 weeks ago, and you'll never work outside of fast food again.

Jonathan Becker 10 months, 2 weeks ago

Wider access to strong beer is Brownback's only acknowledgement of the need for relief from his tax cuts that have not worked as touted. They have not produced jobs, they have not produced more $$ for the state coffers, they have not made Kansas the destination point for businesses. His simple solutions to complex problems have an easy lure to an electorate, that now finds its relief in strong beer. #SAD.

Brett McCabe 10 months, 2 weeks ago

This move would redirect profits from locally-owned stores to regional and national chains.

Here's a better idea:

Require retailers who sell alcohol, cigarettes or marijuana to pay their employees at the adjusted minimum wage of $15 per hour. This accomplishes several things:

One - elevates the wages of a large group of employees (grocers), assuming that these grocers still want to be in the alcohol business.

Two - adds cost to these items but, instead of sending it to Sam Brownback and Kris Kobach, the money goes directly to the workers.

Three - raises the wages of liquor store workers, providing them with something close to a livable wage.

This is the approach we should be taking as a community and as a state - start sending the money to the workers, instead of to the state.

Ryan Eakin 10 months, 2 weeks ago

This bill is long overdue. Kansas, Utah, and Minnesota are the only states left that sell this ridiculous 3.2% beer. Just another example of Kansas being behind the rest of the country. The fact that you see what "appears" to be the same product in a grocery store versus a liquor store is deceiving when they are not the same product. The fact that liquor stores have to have a separate area and separate cash register for party favors is idiotic and inefficient. A perfect example of the stupidity of government legislation. The time has come to loosen the regulations and let the liquor stores sell accessory products that go with their main product.

Jonathan Fox 10 months, 2 weeks ago

I am happy to spend the extra 5 minutes to go to a locally owned liquor store rather than have more of my dollars leave Lawrence and go to already successful regional and national grocers. These regional and national chains are having no problem being successful. If we give them yet another avenue of revenue to go with the 10,000 items they already sell, all that means is more local businesses close.

Local businesses support local wholesalers, lawyers, accountants, cleaners, builders, and all kinds of workers. While national chains send a large portion of your dollars to out of state lawyers and workers.

I support local businesses and will not trade that for a small convenience.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 10 months, 2 weeks ago

Exactly. Of course, I don't drink a lot, but why not spend your money where it's going to stay in the community.

Paul Beyer 10 months, 2 weeks ago

How many people are going to waste their time and have a longer walk to buy even as much as a case of beer in a supermarket? Not to mention, having to wait till someone of legal age has to come over to register to check out your purchase. If you're already there to buy groceries, it’s a convenience, nothing more. Exactly what % of sales does the beer case in supermarket have?

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