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Sun Sentinel: Cheers to promoting free-market principles in liquor sales | Opinion

Monday, May 08, 2017

By Christian Camara

The Florida Legislature last week acted to join the majority of states in modernizing its alcohol sales laws. Senate Bill 106, which currently awaits Gov. Rick Scott‘s signature, repeals an unnecessary and costly regulation that prevented grocery stores and other businesses who hold liquor licenses and already sell beer and wine inside of their stores from being able to sell distilled spirits inside their stores also.

This commonsense legislation removes government from decisions businesses make about how they operate, while granting brick-and-mortar establishments the freedom to find innovative ways to compete with the convenience of a growing online marketplace.

Many who read about the legislation — often referred to in the press as the “Whiskey and Wheaties” bill — never make it past the headline to understand the bill was less about liquor sales and more about allowing the free market into an industry that long has been dominated by government protectionism. Simply put, in keeping with Prohibition-era restrictions, the government has kept its thumb on the scale to assist one business model over another — a practice that is inherently unfair to both businesses and consumers.

Businesses should have the flexibility to stock their stores and safely sell products that meet their customers’ demands. The legislation passed last week by the Legislature would allow grocery stores to sell liquor inside of one store instead of having to have a separate store for those sales and allow liquor stores to sell groceries if they choose to do so. It would not require any entity to change their business model; instead, it grants freedoms not allotted under current law. The legislation lets business owners decide which model works best for them and their customers.

A convenient fact about the free market is that, when it is left uninhibited, businesses compete on a level playing field and the consumer is the ultimate benefactor. Legislation similar to Florida’s has passed in 29 other states and the District of Columbia. These places still enjoy a robust independent liquor-store marketplace that coexists with grocery stores selling liquor. Additionally, they have not experienced an increase in underage drinking or other societal ills, which is why no state has ever reverted back to the old “alcohol separation” system.

In Florida, we take pride in our business-friendly climate. This bill allows businesses to innovate, compete and capture additional revenue opportunities safely and fairly. If the governor signs this legislation into law, he will signal that Florida believes in a level playing field for businesses big and small and that free-market principles are alive and well in the Sunshine State.

Christian Camara is the Southeast Region director and co-founder of the R Street Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based free market think tank confronting public policy problems. Learn more at

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