With Minnesota the last 3.2% beer state, lawmaker wants grocery stores and gas stations to sell stronger booze

She's calling for an end to the Prohibition-era requirement.
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An alcohol section at a European supermarket.

An alcohol section at a European supermarket.

Minnesota is the latest state with a law requiring that grocery stores and gas stations can only sell alcohol if it's no stronger than 3.2 percent.

Utah bid farewell to its Prohibition-era 3.2 percent beer law, albeit only increasing the limit to 4 percent, and in the process left Minnesota as the last holdout in the nation.

As a result, the change in Utah has sparked action from Republican state Sen. Karin Housley, who is calling for Minnesota to follow suit and end its own 3.2 percent law.

She wants to start a conversation in the upcoming legislative session, having previously introduced bills that include allowing the state's grocery stores and convenience stores to sell beer and wine, and ending the 20,000-barrel limit at which point craft breweries can no longer sell growlers.

"Minnesota has a world class craft brewing scene and a booming market," she said in a statement Thursday. "We should be encouraging growth in that area, not stifling it. I’m looking forward to having a robust debate on this issue during the upcoming legislative session."

"It’s 2019, but Minnesota’s liquor laws still reflect the era of Prohibition. Now, we’re the lone remaining state to mandate that grocery stores and convenience stores can only sell 3.2 percent beer. As national production has zeroed out, brewers have largely decided it’s no longer profitable to sell 3.2-percent beer, making the product difficult – if not impossible – for businesses to carry.

"That’s a problem, but instead of working toward a compromise that could benefit the consumer, our unique system has made it virtually impossible to make any meaningful changes to the law.

"It won’t be long before the market demands we bring our laws in line with the rest of the nation. Next session, I will again aggressively pursue legislation to modernize our state’s antiquated liquor laws."

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Currently, grocery stores that want to sell alcohol in Minnesota are required to open liquor stores with their own external entrance, even if it is contained within the wider store. Chains like Target, Costco, Lunds & Byerlys and Cub Foods do this at many locations.

Any effort to allow grocery stores and gas stations to sell stronger beer and wine will likely face stern opposition, not least from liquor stores whose business could be hugely affected by the change.

It took several attempts for the state to relax its ban on Sunday liquor sales, which was finally passed and went live in summer 2017 despite opposition from some liquor stores and alcohol delivery firms.

But as Sen. Housley and this Pioneer Press article from January points out, there is becoming less and less of a business reason for breweries to continue making 3.2 percent beer, as it represents an extra cost when most states now allow for its stronger versions to be carried in supermarkets.

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