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Anheuser-Busch Pushes Against Oklahoma Liquor Law Modernization Effort

A state senator’s effort to modernize Oklahoma liquor laws has the world’s largest brewer on the defensive.

Anheuser-Busch is fighting Clark Jolley’s bill to allow beer and wine sales in grocery stores because it would also end their ability to distribute low-point beer. They would have to use wholesalers, who are already required for moving regular beer.

In a statement, the company said the bill could force their exit from Oklahoma. Low-point beer accounts for 90 percent of Oklahoma beer sales, and Anheuser-Busch sells 60 percent of that.

Jolley said the goal isn’t to put anyone out of or into business.

"The goal of this is to provide consumers with wine in grocery and convenience, provide them with single-strength beer at their option if they would wish to purchase that and to take a lot of the handcuffs off the package stores and the grocers and the retailers that are forbidden right now from offering those products," Jolley said.

Anheuser-Busch claims Jolley’s bill will also raise beer prices because the wholesalers they would have to use couldn’t charge different retailers different prices.

Jolley said in nine other states that closed the two-tier loophole that allows producers to distribute as well, large brewers haven’t lost any jobs.

"The norm is that, in the three-tier system with independent distributors, they actually employ more people than brewery-owned distributorships," Jolley said. "So, the loophole actually hurts a lot of locally owned businesses, like craft brewers, independent beer distributors, by allowing large brewers, basically, to control large swaths of the market."

Anheuser-Busch would get five years to sell off its distribution arms.

"That is five years longer than they were given in Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois and several other states," Jolley said.

Since Jolley's bill is an overhaul of the state constitution article dealing with alcohol, it will go to a popular vote if it passes the legislature.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.