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Convenience Stores Fight for the Right to Sell Cold Beer

Grabbing an ice-cold brew in Indiana may become a lot more convenient, if a trade group succeeds in its challenge to a 50-year-old state law that restricts gas stations, grocery stores and convenience stores to selling beer only at room temperature.

The Indianapolis Star reports that the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association filed suit in federal district court in Indianapolis on Tuesday, arguing that the law against the sale of cold beer creates a "discriminatory regulatory regime." Package liquor stores in the state are permitted to sell cold beer.

Scot Imus, the association's executive director, told The Associated Press that the law "says pharmacies, convenience stores and grocery stores are capable enough to sell the product warm, then it gets rather arbitrary about what temperature it can be sold at. When you change the temperature, it doesn't change the alcohol content."

Indiana is the only state that regulates beer sales based on temperature, according to the suit. And the 1963 law only applies to beer; convenience and grocery stores are free to sell chilled wine. Convenience store groups have waged a long and unsuccessful lobbying campaign to convince state legislators to change the law, according to reports.

The association seeks injunctive and declaratory relief, and its complaint alleges violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and of the Equal Privileges Clause of the Indiana constitution. The plaintiffs also argue that the law interferes with "an individual's right to select what they eat and drink," included in the state constitution's guarantee of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Not surprisingly, the package liquor store industry is already speaking out against the lawsuit, with the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers stating Tuesday that the suit "flies in the face" of Indiana public policy. The state attorney general said that he will defend the law, and that the debate belongs in the state legislature instead of the courts.

Law professor David Orentlicher, quoted in the Indianapolis Star article, predicted that the constitutional challenge to the law will fail, pointing out that convenience stores and other affected businesses are "not a group that is consistently disfavored in the political process."

"It's hard to say there is a fundamental right to sell cold beer," Orentlicher said.

Posted by Laurel Newby on May 15, 2013 at 04:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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