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June 17, 2014

UPDATE: Judge rejects challenge to Indiana cold beer law

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana shoppers can forget about picking up cold beer with their groceries after a federal judge opted against loosening restrictions on where the chilled beverage can be sold.

Instead, consumers who want a cold one will have to keep making a separate stop at a liquor store after the supermarket or convenience store, or go out to a bar or a restaurant.

Federal Judge Richard L. Young ruled Monday that the state has legitimately drawn a line by allowing only liquor stores to sell cold beer.

Expanding the sale of cold beer beyond liquor stores, taverns and restaurants would make Indiana’s alcoholic beverage laws “tougher to enforce” by creating many more outlets at which minors could purchase cold beer, Young wrote in his 33-page ruling.

“Indiana’s legislative classifications, which serve to limit the outlets for immediately consumable cold beer, is rationally related to the legitimate goals of Indiana’s alcoholic beverage laws,” Young wrote. “Opening this market to others without restriction is not.”

But the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association called the law “irrational, discriminatory and outdated” and said in a statement that it plans to keep trying to loosen the restrictions.

Executive Director Scot Imus said Tuesday the association hasn’t decided whether to file an appeal, but that isn’t the only option.

“And of course, there is always the Legislature,” Imus said.

The group filed the lawsuit last year, arguing that the restrictions on cold beer sales are discriminatory and don’t allow for a fair marketplace. It also noted that while convenience stores can’t sell cold beer, they can sell cold wine that sometimes contains twice the alcohol content.

“This causes confusion among customers,” the association said.

Young, however, said that liquor stores, taverns and restaurants are subject to much stricter regulations than convenience stores and groceries. And although the convenience store association claimed that liquor stores were more likely than convenience stores to violate state alcohol laws, Young said the state could rationally believe that “limiting the sale of immediately consumable cold beer to package liquor stores furthers its legitimate goal of curbing underage restriction of alcohol.”

He noted that there were far fewer liquor stores than convenience stores or groceries in Indiana, “which naturally results in fewer outlets in the state to purchase cold beer.”

The Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers supports the current law, maintaining that grocery and convenience stores don’t have the age restrictions liquor stores do on who can enter and the requirement to hire clerks with state liquor licenses. The group didn’t immediately have any additional comment Tuesday.

The Indiana attorney general’s office, which defended the state law, said the proper place to fight the restrictions was the Legislature, not the courts.

 

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