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Orlando Sentinel: Let grocery stores sell liquor

Thursday, February 09, 2017

By Richard Turner

As the former director of the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco in the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, I have seen countless regulations that simply do not make sense in today’s marketplace. The Prohibition-era Alcohol Separation Law is one of them. When the mandate was passed 80 years ago, it was meant to slowly re-introduce alcohol into the marketplace.

Eight decades later, this antiquated law impedes sales and inconveniences consumers in a highly competitive marketplace. Not only does this law make no sense, but Florida retailers are left with a reduced ability to invest in their workers, their business and their state.

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association helps businesses work within the confines of alcohol-related laws every day. From a hospitality standpoint, I believe the biggest threat facing our industry is the continued growth of rules and regulations into every aspect of our business.

The concept for repealing this law is simple: Store owners with the proper licenses would continue to sell liquor in addition to groceries and other goods, if they wish. The legislation is designed to benefit both consumers and business owners while providing a safe shopping experience for customers and employees.

Opponents argue breaking down barriers to competition and convenience could lead to theft and underage drinking. However, bringing spirits into the main store, with more employees and more security, rather than in a separate, smaller location would have the opposite effect. Think about it: With the current model, it is common for a liquor store to have one employee responsible for monitoring the store, answering questions, restocking shelves and manning the cash register. This leaves ample room for theft and other unlawful activity.

On the other hand, selling spirits under the same roof as groceries creates a safer shopping experience as an entire team of staff is on-hand — and there are employees whose sole role is to provide security and combat theft.

The opposition has also argued minors most frequently obtain alcohol through theft, but the evidence just does not support this claim.  According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 6 percent of underage drinkers obtain alcohol through means such as theft.  So where do minors get alcohol?  Minors obtain alcohol from their parents, family members and other unrelated people older than 21 — which is outside the control of the retailer and may occur regardless of where it is sold.

Twenty-nine states and Washington, D.C., already allow distilled spirits to be sold alongside other adult beverages in grocery stores. If this repeal is passed, governmental regulations will be reduced, and all retailers will stand on equal footing.  The consumer, not government, should decide what retailers stock on their shelves.

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