WAURIKA, OK (KSWO) - In an unexpected consequence of the passage of State Question 792, restaurants in Jefferson County may soon find themselves unable to sell beer to their customers.
State Question 792 goes into effect in October of 2018 and will allow gas stations and liquor stores to sell high point beer. But that could be a problem in Jefferson County as right now, the county's laws do not allow any restaurant to sell beer higher than 3.2 percent.
Jefferson County is one of just 18 counties in the state that does not allow liquor by the drink, wine or any high point beer to be sold in restaurants. State Question 792 would eliminate the 3.2 percent beer that we currently have in Oklahoma, meaning between now and October of 2018, a new law would need to be voted on to allow the new beer to be sold.
Waurika Chamber of Commerce Secretary Jessica Coody said as it sits right now, in October 2018 there will be no beer served at any of the county's restaurants, at the annual Waurika Rattlesnake Festival and even at the new casino being built in Terral.
"It's really a detriment to the economy," Coody said. "It's always a moral issue and I know a lot of counties have trouble passing this law because of the morality issue of the alcohol. We're at the point because of the state question changing the state law, we're at the point where we can't afford not to. The county would lose a lot of tax money."
Coody said the rattlesnake festival is a huge event in Waurika each year and thinks ridding it of beer would be a big mistake.
"That event is so huge for our economy and is so huge for our fire department. That's what funds a lot of their equipment. It funds them to be able to do things back to the community like the Christmas drive and the Easter egg hunt, things like that," Coody said. "Not being able to have alcohol, as bad as it sounds, the crowds wouldn't come out as much. It would change the environment of the festival and that's something we don't want to mess with."
On September 12th, there will be a special election held that would allow residents to decide whether to allow liquor by the drink, wine and high point beer to be sold at restaurants in Jefferson County.
"We're not trying to change the businesses," Coody said. "We're not trying to make Jefferson County the next wild west saloon. We're just trying to keep the businesses that are here, the mom and pops, open and to keep the status quo of what we've been able to do going."
If liquor by the drink is passed, restaurants would be able to sell high-point beer, but they would also have the opportunity to apply for a license with the ABLE Commission to sell liquor and wine in their restaurants.
Coody said she understands that there may be many people in the area that prefer things stay the way they are.
"I understand people's morals and it's not something where we're trying to step on people's toes," Coody said. "We respect people who do not want to see this happen, we respect their opinions, however we are at the point now where because of the state laws changing, if we want to be able to keep the status quo we have to vote yes, otherwise we are just going to fall even further back behind. Jefferson County already hurts for money."
Coody said getting rid of beer sales would hurt the restaurants already in Jefferson County but it would also likely stop many new restaurants from potentially opening in the area.
The election is September 12th and, if the vote fails, state law would not allow them to put it on the ballot again until at least September of 2019.