- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 15, 2014

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - The prohibition on grocery stores, gas stations and other retailers selling wine and liquor is back.

The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday reinstated the 76-year-old ban, saying it serves a legitimate purpose and doesn’t violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The decision affects a variety of stores around Kentucky, including Kroger, Wal-Mart, Family Dollar and smaller grocery stores that are barred from having liquor on their shelves near staples such as bread, milk and meat.

Judge Deborah L. Cook wrote the state “indisputably maintains a legitimate interest” in reducing access to liquor and wine. Cook said the law doesn’t affect the “liberty interest” of any business.

“The state’s interest applies not only to the general public; minors, inexperienced and impressionable, require particular vigilance,” Cook wrote in an opinion joined by judges Jane Branstedder Stranch and James G. Carr. “And the state’s interest applies to abstinent citizens who, morally or practically objecting to alcohol exposure, wish to avoid retailers that sell such drinks.”

A Louisville convenience store, Maxwell’s Pic-Pac, and the Food with Wine Coalition challenged the ban in a 2011 lawsuit. They said the law treated them differently from package liquor stores simply because they sold food and other items. The ruling impacts only areas of Kentucky where sales of package wine and distilled spirits are currently permitted by law.

Steve Pitt, the attorney for the Food and Wine Coalition, was disappointed with the decision.

“We believe the court of appeals panel failed to consider the fact that in today’s business environment there is very little difference between grocery stores, which are not able to sell wine, and drug stores, which are,” Pitt said. “What may have been a rational basis for distinguishing between the two in the 1930s, when the statute was first enacted, certainly no longer exists.”

A backer of the ban, state Rep. Dennis Keene, D-Wilder, said the ruling means a bill he proposed in 2013 to update and keep the ban in place won’t be necessary this legislative session.

“Alcohol it can be a dangerous product in the wrong hands. Kentucky does a good job of keeping hard alcohol out of the hands of minors,” Keene said. “I hope this issue is dead.”

Dick Brown, a spokesman for the state’s Public Protection Cabinet, said the ruling was being reviewed.

The state has required grocery stores to have a separate entrance and shop to sell alcoholic beverages. Some stores, such as Trader Joe’s and Kroger, have those arrangements. The requirements do not apply to drug stores.

U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn overturned the ban two years ago, saying it was outdated and noted that most drugstores sell food and liquor, while grocery stores also double as pharmacies.

Cook addressed that comparison in the opinion, saying lawmakers could conclude people visit grocery stores and gas stations more often than pharmacies and “people can survive without ever visiting a pharmacy.”

“On the other hand, most people who object to confronting wine and liquor conceivable cannot avoid grocery stores and gas stations,” Cook wrote.

Thirty-six other states allow consumers to add wine and distilled spirits to be sold at grocery stores.

Kentucky imposed the ban in 1938, five years after the end of the federal prohibition on alcohol sales in the country.


Follow Associated Press reporter Brett Barrouquere on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BBarrouquereAP

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