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IMUS: Alcohol reform for all, not just the powerful

December 9, 2017

DEBATE QWhy and where should Sunday alcohol sales be allowed in Indiana?

 

Imus
AWe’ve all heard the phrase “politics makes strange bedfellows.” Few people know that saying was adapted from William Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest.” Of course, Shakespeare penned it more eloquently: “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.”

This phrase took on new relevance for Indiana’s alcohol laws a month ago when big-box retailers and liquor-store owners announced a partnership to advocate for Sunday sales while opposing changes to cold beer sales.

For over a decade, the liquor-store industry has vehemently opposed Sunday sales. Its representatives have repeatedly testified before legislative committees that such a move would force one-fourth of their members out of business. They leveled their harshest criticism against big-box stores, displaying photographs of liquor bottles next to toys and easily stolen airplane bottles in checkout lanes. They even claimed that teens smuggled bottles of vodka out of stores in opened potato chip bags.

Yet, suddenly, after a decade of harsh rhetoric, they unite with the very retailers they once branded wanton merchants of the devil’s elixir.

During this same decade, the Indiana Retail Council and its members stood shoulder to shoulder with our organization to campaign for sensible alcohol laws—which included cold beer and Sunday sales. They repeatedly decried Indiana’s archaic laws that protected the turf of the liquor-store industry.

What misery has led these groups to abandon their core beliefs and create such an unholy alliance?

Big-box stores, so fearful of a restriction on alcohol displays, failed to testify during the initial meetings of the Alcohol Code Revision Commission. Once they were shamed to appear before the commission, they didn’t even ask for Sunday sales. They instead made a generic plea for policies based on free-market principles. Oh, how their message has changed!

For liquor stores, it is all about greed and keeping their cold-beer monopoly, which allows them to charge Hoosiers more just to buy beer cold. It’s not just ripping off their customers. With cooler space being controlled only by the liquor-store industry, beer distributors are often forced to comply with extortion-like tactics to ensure their products are prominently displayed.

We will leave it to policymakers to judge the credibility of these groups. But this is the very type of “I’ll-protect-your-turf-if-you-protect-mine” backroom dealings that have led to Indiana’s nonsensical alcohol laws. Alcohol regulations need to be based on sound public policy, not upon the whims of powerful special interests who suddenly align for the sake of expediency and greed.

Of course, forgotten in all the hoopla around this grand compromise are average citizens who have indicated in poll after poll that cold-beer reform is the change they most want. These Hoosiers are our partners; we call them customers. And they can be assured that convenience stores will not abandon our principles or silence our voices until we achieve sensible alcohol reform—reform that works for everybody, not just the powerful.•

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Imus is executive director of the Indiana Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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