Liquor stores, particularly county line liquor stores that profit from neighboring dry counties, hope to kill a statewide alcohol sales initiative in a challenge before the Arkansas Supreme Court. But they are already at work, too, with a campaign to persuade voters to oppose the constitutional amendment to end local option dry areas.
The liquor stores have bankrolled the Citizens for Local Rights campaign and have already paid at least $828,000 to Heathcott and Associates for PR and advertising advice.
One product is a letter aimed at raising money from liquor stores outlining the supposed ills of the voter initiative. Some of the letter is accurate. It is also the message being promulgated in every public forum they can find. Some of it is, at a minimum, debatable.
* TRUE: All 75 counties will be “wet,” and local option elections to change that would not be allowed.
* DEBATABLE: It would open the door for large corporations to own multiple retail liquor permits. Law changes would be required first. There’s some argument that a broader territory for sales might encourage more pressure for chaining, but that pressure exists today and has been resisted. Plus, a number of families have figured out ways to control multiple stores under different, but related, ownerships. There’s no consumer argument against the benefits of chaining by the way (see Walmart). It’s protectionist legislation, like most Arkansas alcohol law.
* FALSE: It would put liquor and wine in all grocery and convenience stores. Not without a change in existing law.
* FALSE: It would eliminate existing buffer zones on alcohol sales near churches and schools. Again, supporters of the measure say the amendment wouldn’t disturb existing limitations on hours, days, locations, numbers of permit, chaining and all the rest. Presumably, somebody could attempt a lawsuit to argue that the amendment removed all restrictions on alcohol sales anywhere, anytime, any place, but I doubt it would succeed. The amendment clearly leaves regulation to the legislature, but doesn’t allow prohibition.
Facts won’t matter much when this campaign gets revved up.
Let Arkansas Decide, backed by grocery and convenience store groups, is working to get the amendment approved.