North Jackson lawmaker and lobbyists again pushing for wine sales in grocery stores

North Jackson lawmaker and lobbyists again pushing for wine sales in grocery stores
(Source: KOLD)

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A North Jackson lawmaker again plans to push for grocery stores and big box retailers to sell wine with higher alcohol contents.

District 25 Sen. Walter Michel said he again will introduce a bill to allow the sale of wines with higher volumes of alcohol in grocery stores like Kroger and Walmart when lawmakers return to the capitol in January.

This would represent the fourth of fifth time the lawmaker has presented the bill, which would allow grocery stores to peddle the same kinds of wine currently only allowed for sale in liquor and package stores.

“It just takes chipping away at it, year after year,” he said.

Michel and lobbyists say the COVID-19 pandemic could help push the legislation forward.

Elliott Flaggs, chair of the Looking for Wine Mississippi coalition, said its now a safety issue.

“The fewer places a consumer can go the safer they are,” he said. “It’s better to have wine in the grocery stores, where multiple stops aren’t necessary.”

Flaggs said the legislation is supported by a large majority of Mississippians.

“We did a poll in February and wine sales in grocery stores was wanted by 74 percent of residents,” he said. “We’ve been unsuccessful in the last five years.”

During the 2020 session, SB 2531 died in the Senate Finance Committee. The measure was introduced by Michel and was co-authored by District 26 Sen. John Horhn and District 13 Sen. Sarita Simmons.

In addition to allowing wine sales in grocery stores, the bill also would have allowed package retailers to sell other products in addition to liquor and would have allowed individuals to own or control interest in multiple permits.

Under provisions, grocery stores and big box retailers could obtain wine-only retailer’s permits, allowing for the sale of wine only. Stores, meanwhile, would not be allowed to give samples to customers and would not be granted permits if they were within 500 feet of an existing package store.

Currently, grocers can sell light wines, but no beverages that contain five percent or more alcohol by weight.

If passed, Mississippi would join 40 other states and the District of Columbia that allow grocery wine sales, according to the Washington Post.

Many package store owners, though, are opposed to the measure, saying it could drive them out of business, and argue that grocery stores would sell the cheaper wines local mom and pop establishments rely on to drive revenue.

Package store owners told WLBT previously that grocery stores likely also would not offer more unique offerings that specialty shops are known for.

Officials with the Mississippi Beverage Merchants Committee, a group pushing back against the legislation, were not immediately available for comment.

Arguments aside, Flaggs said it’s all about the customers. If the bill doesn’t pass, he said Looking for Wine likely will consider moving forward with a ballot initiative, much like the one that recently passed allowing for medical marijuana.

And like that measure, he believes an initiative to allow grocery store sales would pass. “We know unequivocally that consumers want access to wine in grocery stores,” Flaggs said. “For us, we’re going to keep pushing.”

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