In Florida, you can buy beer and wine at your local supermarket. Some even sell it straight out of the tap and allow you to taste it before you buy it. But if you want to take home any other type of alcoholic beverage, you’ll have to visit a different store.

Florida is one of only 16 states that require just about every type of alcohol other than beer and wine to be sold in a separate, dedicated location. Grocery stores and other retailers that wish to sell such beverages are forced to either erect a wall within their stores with a dedicated entrance, or establish a completely separate store altogether to comply with Florida law.

However, lawmakers in Tallahassee are considering a repeal of the 1935 statute requiring this separation. Senate Bill 468 and House Bill 107 would allow supermarkets, big-box stores and other retailers that already sell beer and wine to also sell distilled beverages.

A repeal of this law, passed just after the end of the Prohibition Era, makes sense. Rather than suppress business activity, government should explore ways to reduce barriers to competition and make it easier for willing consumers to transact business safely and legally.

Opponents of the proposal cite public safety concerns, claiming it would increase underage drinking. The facts do not support this claim.

The protocols already employed by stores that sell beer and wine are essentially the same as those that sell other kinds of liquor. Their policies and procedures ensure they do not sell to minors, while there are also loss-prevention safeguards to impede shoplifting.

In fact, research shows that convenience stores, supermarkets and other retailers that sell alcohol are marginally better than liquor stores at preventing sales to minors. This is especially true among large retailers, which devote millions to their loss-prevention programs and have a lot more at stake if they are caught breaking the law. If you’re a minor, it’s not any easier to buy beer at a supermarket than it is to buy liquor at a liquor store.

Others claim the proposal would put liquor stores out of business. On the contrary, it would encourage that industry to innovate by allowing them to sell other goods and products the law bans. Consumers likewise would benefit, because they would have more options and reap the benefit of lower prices brought on by competition.

Industry protectionism is not the proper role of government. The state has a duty to ensure public safety, and that includes preserving safeguards that prevent minors from accessing alcohol. Businesses that sell alcoholic beverages and already abide these safeguards should not be required to incur needless major expenses just to sell other kinds of alcoholic beverages.

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