For some time now, there has been a great debate on the alcohol policies in the State of Tennessee. Since Prohibition days, Tennessee law does not allow individuals to bring in wine from other states (making it a felony to do so) nor does it allow individuals to have wine shipped to their homes. The law also prohibits the sale of wine in supermarkets, allowing the product to only be sold in liquor stores. Distributors and vineyard owners must also be residents of the state of Tennessee. In addition, even the vineyards that are actually located in the state are not allowed to ship wine to their consumers.
Many individuals believe that the laws remain in place due to the large contributions that are made to the General Assembly by liquor lobbyists and retailers throughout the state. This is one of the main focuses of "Drunk with Power: How Liquor Lobbyists and Distributors Control Tennessee Wine Laws."
(http://www.tennesseepolicy.org/). In the piece, the authors give an in-depth look at the laws, how they affect consumers and citizens of the state and how the laws inflate the price of wine.
For several years, different groups of people and grocers around the state have urged consumers to write to the General Assembly and demand that changes be made to the liquor laws. One campaign, titled the Red, White and Food campaign, has recently been setup by the TN Grocers and Convenience Store Association. With this initiative, cardboard displays are placed in grocery stores and convenience stores along with informational cards that request supporters help in passing more lenient laws. (www.tennessean.com) Opponents of the initiative believe that allowing grocery stores to sale wine will cause some small liquor store operators to close because they will not be able to compete. Opponents also believe that the revenue will not stay in the state but would be given to large out of state corporations. Others believe that the availability of wine in grocery stores will lead to more underage drinking, more alcohol abuse and other widespread problems. Because of their beliefs, they continue to push hard to keep the laws the way they are.
It seemed that in 2009, supporters of grocery sales of wine, would be able to rejoice. A bill was introduced to the State senate that would allow wine sales in grocery stores. Senator Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro introduced the bill with the support of several backers. However, for as many supporters of the bill, there were just as many opponents. Because of this, Senator Ketron formally withdrew the bill at the beginning of May 2009 with plans to resubmit the bill in next year. (www.myfoxmemphis.com).
In a separate issue, Tennessee residents were unable to receive shipments of wine from out of state retailers/vineyards. Many of these retailers complained of unfair competition practices and the matter was taken to the Federal Courts. An appeals court recently ruled that the laws were unfair to out of state competitors, thus making it necessary to make changes to this legislation. In March and April of this year, the State House and Senate both took up new legislation that would allow individuals to bring up to five cases of wine back into the state without fear of felony prosecution. (www.myfoxememphi.com) Also, out of state retailers will be allowed to ship up to three cases of wine per year to Tennessee residents. The retailers would have to purchase a $300 licenses in Tennessee and adhere to strict regulations before selling wine to consumers. The regulations would be designed to monitor exactly how much wine was being sold to make sure there are no sales in excess of the maximum allowed.
Although, this is seen as a victory to many, there is still a large battle brewing over the total overhaul of Tennessee's liquor laws. There is still a lot of opposition to wine sales by out of state retailers and by grocery stores. Several people would like to see stricter policies on alcohol while others simply do not want to be run out of business by competing with large companies. Supporters simply want the convenience of being able to purchase wine where they purchase food and they want to be able to choose to bring wine from other states. One thing is certain; this will remain a current issue for Tennesseans for a long time to come.
References:"Drunk with Power: How Liquor Lobbyists and Distributors Control Tennessee Wine Laws." Tennessee Center for Policy Research (2009). Retrieved on May 09, 2009 from www.tennesseepolicy.org.
"TN Wine Bill Passes House and Senate." Retrieved on May 09, 2009 from www.myfoxmemphis.com"Grocers ask Shoppers to Support Wine Sales." Retrieved on May 08, 2009 from www.tennessean.com