Movement to remove “wall” between grocery and liquor sales takes shape in Florida

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Retailers are responding to customer desire to purchase adult beverages at grocery stores and supermarkets by supporting a bill that removes the “wall” between liquor sales and grocery and other products. 

A group called Floridians for Fair Business Practices supports Senate Bill 804, with House companion HB 877, which changes the law that separates the two types of purchases, regulation that originated in 1935 after the repeal of Prohibition. Florida is one of only 16 states that currently call for independent sales of groceries and liquor.

FFBP is a coalition of retailers with the goal of identifying rules and regulations prohibiting the growth and expansion of Florida business.

Opponents of the bills say repealing the law would open the floodgates for uncontrolled and unrestricted access to alcohol by minors. FFBP argues that nothing is further from the truth.

“It is obvious the liquor stores are worried about their bottom line, but instead of admitting it, they are hiding behind claims that minors will have greater access to alcohol,” says FFBP spokesperson Christina Johnson. “Many retailers and grocers already sell beer and wine and have established rigorous training and security measures to prevent alcohol sales to minors. Their brands cannot afford not to take this seriously.”

The majority of underage drinkers ages 12 to 20 (62 percent) report getting alcohol from adults — parents, guardians, other family members or unrelated adults — according to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control’s 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey reported 40 percent of students who drank alcohol in the previous month reported they got it by someone giving it to them.

FFBP cites research in the states that do allow mixing the two types of purchases that shows that between January 2005 and December 2013, liquor stores were charged with selling to minors more frequently than other outlets. More than half (56 percent) of total violations in selling alcohol to minors was by liquor-only stores, compared to 44 percent in other retail outlets.

The movement to repeal the law is also receiving rare bipartisan support:

“The regulation is outdated, and there is no reason to have a dividing wall,” says Republican Rep. Jimmie Smith. “There are plenty of safeguards to keep minors from getting alcohol without placing a wall of concrete in front of responsible adults who can buy it legally.”

“With many options already available,” says Democratic Sen. Darren Soto, “this Prohibition Era relic no longer serves a legitimate public purpose.”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.