State coalition to seek a ballot initiative to allow wine sales in grocery stores

Wine generic.
Wine generic.(WVIR)
Updated: Feb. 3, 2021 at 2:41 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - After being spurned at the state capitol multiple times, advocates pushing for the sale of wine in grocery stores are seeking the public’s help in changing one of the state’s alcohol statutes.

The Looking for Wine, Mississippi? Coalition is switching gears, and planning to push for a ballot initiative to change the state law to allow higher-content alcohols to be sold in grocery stores.

The decision comes as the group’s latest legislative effort failed.

S.B. 2433 died in the Senate Finance Committee, the fifth or sixth time the legislation has failed in as many years, said coalition chair Elliott Flaggs.

The coalition represents Walmart, Kroger and other grocery retailers that would like the ability to sell wine with a higher content of alcohol on their shelves.

Currently, stores may sell beer and other alcoholic beverages that do not exceed five percent alcohol content, Flaggs said.

“We kind of figured it didn’t have much of a chance, simply because (the state is) getting ready to revamp ABC,” he said. “It looks like the privatization bill made it out of committee.

“The legislature wanted to address that before moving to wine and grocery store legislation.”

Flaggs was referring to H.B. 977, which would remove the Department of Revenue as the wholesale distributor of alcoholic beverages in the state and allow it to authorize wholesaler’s permits.

The measure passed the House’s Ways and Means Committee in mid-January and was passed out of the House on February 3.

In addition to waiting for that bill to pass, Looking for Wine is now awaiting the decision in the Mississippi Supreme Court case involving Initiative 65, the medical marijuana initiative.

In November, Mississippi voters overwhelmingly approved the initiative, making medical marijuana legal in the state.

Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler is suing to have the results thrown out, saying the law allowing ballot initiatives is unconstitutional.

The state high court has granted oral arguments, which will be heard on April 14.

“Once we get clarity (from the court), we’ll be able to move forward with our ballot initiative process,” Flaggs said.

At the heart of the medical marijuana case is Section 273(3) of the state constitution. The section lays out steps for allowing ballot initiatives to be brought forward by private citizens.

Under provisions, petitioners must obtain signatures equal to 12 percent of the total votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election, and that an equal number of signatures must come from each of the state’s five congressional districts.

The constitution was amended in 1992 to allow for ballot initiatives, and the provisions were based on the five congressional districts the state had at the time.

Since then, Mississippi has lost a district due to population decline.

Butler argues signatures should be obtained based on current districts, rather than the five that were in place when 273 was amended.

Looking for Wine is not moving forward with its plans until that case is settled.

“We’re not sure if the Supreme Court will loosely construe that language and allow it to be, or rule that the whole process is invalid,” he said.

Regardless the high court’s decision, he believes voters would back the initiative.

“We did a statewide survey last year and 75 percent of adults over 21 supported the sale of wine in grocery stores,” he said. “We just want to make sure we’re … meeting the needs of the people by providing them with the convenience they want.”

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