The issue of wine in grocery stores is not a simple decision, though many people are trying to make it appear that way.
You may ask, “What is the big deal about wine in grocery stores?” To which I would answer, “This issue is a big deal because it is very complex.”
This is not simply a debate over a few out-of-state corporations bringing more income into the state. It is a debate that has a tremendous impact on the lives of everyday people throughout Tennessee. It is a debate that must take into consideration what will happen when large quantities of high-proof alcohol become more readily available to the citizens of our state. Before considering how much money we might make, we must first consider the negative consequences.
Who is speaking about the increased demand regulating these sales will place on the state budget? Who is speaking about the increased demands on the state and local budgets related to the abuse of alcohol? We have been told there is no correlation between wine in grocery stores and increased alcohol abuse. But a substantial increase in the consumption of alcohol will be required to reach the revenue numbers the state projects. And a wide body of evidence shows us that increased consumption leads to greater alcohol abuse.
Supporters of this bill make good use of statistics, graphs and charts to show their projections to make their case, but statistics, graphs and charts cannot assure us of anything, positive or negative. We are being asked to venture into the unknown. The laws in place now allow those who choose to purchase wine and liquor to do so without prohibition. As a result, you can measure the impact current law is having on our state. You cannot do the same with their projections.
It is even more concerning when you realize that the proposed bill which focuses on grocery stores will also allow convenience stores and gas stations to stock their shelves with high-proof, cheap wine products. Convenience stores have the highest rate of violations for alcohol sales to minors in the state. Most likely, the wine sold in convenience stores will not be intended to be consumed at dinner with food, but rather behind the wheel of a car. We have lost far too many precious lives at the hands of impaired drivers. Should this measure become law, the state of Tennessee will be placing high-proof, cheap alcohol in the hands of the very people we have spent untold amounts of taxpayer money to keep from driving while impaired.
Those who support wine in grocery stores have sought to glamorize this issue with beautiful signs, websites and use of the media. With the portrait the supporters of this bill have painted, one would think some grave injustice is being perpetrated against the citizens of our state. Yet wine, like other dangerous substances, should be well regulated. Under current state law, wine is readily available to those who desire to purchase it. That law also calls for a higher sense of responsibility on the part of those licensed to sell wine and liquor, and those who choose to purchase it.
Currently in Tennessee, a deliberate and planned decision is required to purchase high-proof alcohol, rather than an impulse brought on by the practices of an industry designed to encourage impulse purchases. Should we give into the pressure and big money of these out-of-state corporations, when all is said and done, they will send their profits back home and leave Tennessee to deal with the consequences.
Our lawmakers were elected to do what is best for all Tennesseans, not a select group concerned only with personal convenience nor a corporate bottom line. I suggest this is a time that calls for courageous action from our elected officials. This is not a time to give into the promise of huge tax revenues that cannot be substantiated.
With the many complex issues confronting society today, why would we even consider making changes to a system that works? This system promotes responsible behavior by the citizens of Tennessee who must be deliberate in their decisions to purchase and consume high-proof alcohol like wine.
We’re called “volunteers” in Tennessee. We have that name because we respond to people in need. We respond to people, not profits. To simply relegate this decision to one of dollars and cents would be a tragedy.
At this moment in our history, we are being called to display our volunteer spirit and care for our community and neighbor. We are being called to express concern for the people we do not know who battle their addiction every day.
It is imperative that Tennesseans who place compassion before convenience pick up their phones and call their state legislators. Tennessee stands to pay too high a price if wine in grocery stores becomes law. We must stand together and ensure it is defeated.
Please visit www.capitol.tn.gov to find your legislator’s contact information.
— Rev. Chuck Groover
Mount Juliet, Tenn.
(Editor’s Note: The Rev. Chuck Groover is pastor of Victory Baptist Church in Mount Juliet, and past president of the Executive Board of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.)