You can fill a prescription at many grocery stores. You can pick up a gallon of milk at many pharmacies. You can buy a six-pack of beer at groceries and pharmacies.
But if it's bourbon or a little of the bubbly you want, you're good to go in many pharmacies but out of luck at most groceries. (A grocery can get a license to sell the hard stuff and wine if there is a separate entrance to that part of the store.)
This distinction between pharmacies and groceries when it comes to the sale of alcoholic beverages is unconstitutional, according to U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II. In a ruling issued last week, he said the Kentucky law barring liquor and wine sales at groceries and convenience stores violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Kentucky's statute on this issue dates back to Prohibition days, when a prescription was need to buy alcoholic beverages. But Prohibition and the prescription requirement ended decades ago. Logically, the playing field should have been leveled then. But it wasn't. As is so often the case, a statute outdated by changing times stayed on the books until someone (in this case, Maxwell's Pic-Pac Inc. of Louisville and the Food and Wine Coalition) asked a court for a common sense application of the law.
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And Heyburn's ruling makes perfect sense. As he noted, the difference between modern groceries and pharmacies is minimal. So minimal that treating them differently on alcohol sales not only is unfair but is also totally illogical.
Heyburn's ruling may well be appealed, which could delay its effect for months or years. However, there is a way to render any appeal of this decision moot.
Gov. Steve Beshear recently appointed a task force to study the state's laws on alcoholic beverages. In a state with more than 70 different types of licenses for the sale of booze and wet, dry and "moist" conditions that can change voting precinct by voting precinct, the panel has much to study.
But one of the task force's easiest calls should be a recommendation that the 2013 General Assembly repeal the archaic law that limits groceries and convenience stores to the sale of beer while allowing pharmacies to cater to all alcoholic beverage tastes. It's the fair and sensible thing to do.