More than 100 Tennessee sheriffs and police chiefs, including Knoxville’s Chief David Rausch, have declared their opposition to legislation that would allow the sale of wine in grocery stores.
Raush and several other law enforcement officers, part of a “Tennessee Law Enforcement for Strong Alcohol Laws” coalition, declared at a Legislative Plaza news conference that they see wine sales in groceries and supermarkets as weakening control over alcohol sales and causing an expansion of underage drinking.
Rausch said the concept is a “no brainer.” Knoxville police often run “sting” operations with state Alcoholic Beverage Commission agents on liquor stores, currently the only place wine is sold in Tennessee, and “rarely do we find them doing anything wrong” by selling to underage youths.
He said convenience stores, which now can sell only beer, are much more likely to have clerks caught in “sting” operations. Other officers amplified the point with Madison County Sheriff David Woolfork saying grocery stores often hire underage clerks willing to “wink and nod” for beer sales to underage friends and the practice would be amplified if wine is sold.
The officers said wine has a considerably higher alcohol content than beer and some cheap brands are cheaper than beer, making it much more attractive to underage drinkers and for binge drinking.
When a reporter questioned Rausch about studies showing teenage drinkers rarely choose wine as their drink, the police chief responded by citing an episode at a University of Tennessee fraternity that involved reports of “butt chugging” — a phrase that Rausch did not use.
“Regardless of what took place inside that fraternity, you know it was cycled around a box of wine,” he said. “People say, ‘Well, they got it from a liquor store.’ Yeah, but you going to make it even more accessible (by allowing wine in grocery stores). That incident is not going to be isolated.”
Rausch said current Tennessee alcohol laws are basically working well.
“Why would you go in and break something that’s not broken,” Rausch said. “When you look around the country, you don;t have states that are looking to loosen up their laws right now… It doesn’t make any sense.”
The news conference was organized by an association of retail liquor owners, who strongly oppose the wine in grocery stores legislation pushed by grocery and supermarket operators. The retail liquor store association also hired a public relations agency to produce a news release and contact media about the law enforceetn coalition news conference.
Madison County Sheriff David Woolfork and Belle Meade Police Chief Timothy Eads, who acted as lead spokesmen at the conference, acknowedged talking with association officials but said they independently came to view wine in grocery stores as a bad idea.
Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, who is lead House sponsor of the wine-in-grocery-stores bill, said the contentions of the offers were “ludicrous.”
“I support incredibly strong alcohol laws in Tennessee,” he said, noting he also is sponsor of a bill to prohibit open containers of alcoholic beverages in vehicles – a measure repeatedly defeated in years past.
Stores now selling beer are already checking identification and can easily do the same for wine sales Lundberg said.
“This is not an alcohol bill. It’s a business bill,” he said. “We now have a state-mandated monopoly that is costing the state thousands of jobs.”