The Legislature was right to approve House Bill 2282, allowing grocery and convenience stores to sell full-strength beer beginning in 2019. Gov. Sam Brownback should sign the legislation into law.
Current law limits grocery and convenience stores in Kansas to selling “cereal malt beverage” — beer that is no more than 3.2 percent alcohol by volume. Strong beer (up to 6 percent alcohol), wine and distilled liquor in package form can only be sold through retail liquor stores, which are limited to selling alcohol. To sell mixers, cups and other items, liquor stores have to establish a separate business, which may be attached to the liquor store but must have a separate entrance and cash register.
The new law — approved 85-40 in the House and 27-11 in the Senate — would allow for the sale of strong beer in grocery and convenience stores beginning April 1, 2019. It also would allow liquor stores to earn up to 20 percent of their total gross sales from nonalcoholic product, excluding cigarettes and lottery tickets.
Kansas is one of only 10 states that bans the sale of strong beer in grocery and convenience stores. Two of those states — neighbors Colorado and Oklahoma — recently approved legislation changing their laws. Oklahoma voters approved a ballot measure last fall allowing the sale of wine and full strength beer in grocery stores beginning in 2018. Colorado passed legislation that will phase in full-strength beer sales in grocery stores beginning in 2019.
Retail liquor stores have lobbied for years against changing existing law, arguing that doing so will irreparably harm their businesses. Conversely, grocery and convenience stores have long advocated for the change arguing that the law creates an unfair advantage for retail liquor stores and harms consumers.
It’s important to note that liquor stores will still be the only outlets that can sell wine and liquor in package form. And because the law doesn’t take effect until 2019, the stores have almost two years to prepare for the transition.
The benefit to consumers is the best argument for the law. Expanding the retail market for beer sales will create more options and better pricing for residents.
Current laws regarding beer sales in Kansas were developed largely in the years following Prohibition. It makes sense for Kansas to modernize its alcohol laws and allow grocery stores to sell full-strength beer, especially now that every bordering state will soon allow such sales.
House Bill 2282 is reasonable legislation. It gives consumers more choices and better prices, and it gives retail liquor stores the time and opportunity to adjust their businesses. Brownback should sign the bill into law.