Sheriffs oppose hard liquor sales in grocery stores

A proposal by three state representatives to allow sales in grocery stores meets a mixed reaction from sheriffs.
Published February 16 2015
Updated February 17 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — Sheriffs are rising in opposition to a plan that would let Floridians buy a gallon of milk and a pint of whiskey in the same store.

The bills by Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, Rep. John Wood, R-Haines City, and Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, would lift restrictions on grocery and drug stores that require them to sell hard liquor in a separate store.

"Prohibition is an antiquated regulation," Wood said. "It creates an atmosphere that isn't competitive."

But law enforcement officials in at least three counties have said that changing state law would be dangerous. They worry it would make it too easy for minors to steal and drink more potent alcohol.

"This proposal raises a lot of alarm bells in my mind," said Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson, one of three who released a statement about the bills Monday morning. "I haven't heard anyone complaining about finding a convenient place to buy liquor," the Panhandle law enforcement chief said, but I have heard that in states where this legislation has already passed, law enforcement is now having to combat rising incidents of theft and illicit underage drinking inside the stores themselves."

Currently, grocery stores can sell wine and beer in their main stores, but distilled spirits such as whiskey and vodka must be sold in a separate store.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said he isn't convinced by the public safety argument. He said he doesn't think minors will have any easier access to alcohol by having whiskey and vodka in the grocery aisles.

"It's a dollars issue. It's not a public safety issue," he said. "Is it any easier for them now to steal a bottle of wine or beer?"

Although some of its members have spoken out, the Florida Sheriff's Association does not have an official position at this time. It wasn't clear Monday if sheriffs in Hillsborough or Pasco counties have taken positions on the bills.

The first House hearing on the issue is Wednesday, when Steube's bill will be considered.

Contact Michael Auslen at mauslen@tampabay.com. Follow @MichaelAuslen.

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