It's time for Tennessee to end blue law on wine sales

Johnson City Press • Updated Mar 12, 2018 at 1:41 PM

Tennessee lawmakers are debating legislation to allow the sale of bottled wine on Sundays. In truth, legislators should have tackled this blue law, as well other antiquated aspects of this state’s liquor laws, when they agreed to allow grocery stores to sell wine in 2014.

The prohibition on Sunday wine sales costs the state and local governments millions in uncollected taxes. You can buy beer in grocery and convenience stores on Sunday. You can drink wine and liquor in restaurants on Sunday. But you needn’t bother heading down to the wine aisle or local package store for a bottle of Merlot.

Because liquor stores, by law, cannot operate on Sunday, grocery stores are prohibited from selling wine on Sundays. That was one of the bargains struck with passage of a law giving local jurisdictions that already sanction either liquor by the drink or retail liquor sales the power to allow voters to decide whether wine should be sold in grocery stores.

The Sunday ban on wine sales is confusing for shoppers and irritating for grocery store operators.

“The purpose of what we’re trying to do is take some of the confusion out," Food City CEO Steve Smith, a longtime proponent of allowing wine sales on Sundays, told the Press. "The consumers, when they come to a grocery store, they assume they will be able to buy wine really the same hours and same days they buy beer.”

Keeping liquor stores closed on Sundays is just another one of the outdated liquor laws still on the books in this state. The Distilled Spirits Council says an economic report found that an extra day of wine and liquor sales statewide could generate between $3.3 and $4.6 million in additional tax revenues annually.

Entrenched special interests on Capitol Hill have long kept lawmakers from updating this state’s liquor laws. Now that wine is available in grocery stores, the genie is out of the bottle.  

Legislators should move to end Tennessee's blue law on wine sales, and leave it up the free market to decide when beer, wine and liquor can be sold.

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