It took four tries, but Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has now approved the form of a proposed constitutional amendment by Little Rock lawyer David Couch that would allow the manufacture, sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages everywhere in Arkansas. It would wipe out local dry jurisdictions and leave regulation — but not prohibition — of the sale of alcohol to the legislature. About half the state is nominally dry, though most counties have some private club outlets.
Couch had told me previously that there was great interest in the retail industry in ending Arkansas’s crazy quilt of alcohol laws. Petitions efforts are underway now in Faulkner, Saline and Craighead counties to end their sham dry condition (overrun with “private clubs” selling drinks in restaurants) and simply legalize sales.
When you think of grocers and convenience stores and giant retail discounters based in cities that start with a B that would like the ability to sell beer, you can easily envision the pockets deep enough to finance a petition campaign. The organizers would need to round up 78,133 signatures by July 7 of the election year.
The usual groups, particularly church-related, will be opposed. Brush arbor evangelist Jason Rapert, who also fiddles around in the Arkansas Senate, is already enraged because the Faulkner petition circulators didn’t get his approval first for particip
ating in the democratic process.
The news comes too late to get petitioners to polls tomorrow, a good place to gather signatures. The secretary of state needs to sign off, too. But Couch figures it would take only 30 days to get the necessary signatures.
Couch says this wouldn’t affect regulations that limit sale of spirits to liquor stores according to a formula based on population in each county. It would also retain regulations that nominally present chain-store alcohol sales or within walls of retail outlets selling other goods.