Convenience stores sue state over cold beer sales

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A trade group is taking its case against the state's ban on cold beer sales by Indiana's convenience stores to federal court.

If you're a beer drinker, you already know that you can not get a cold one at a grocery, convenience or drug store in Indiana. But a federal lawsuit could change all that.

Robert Barnett and a lot of other convenience store customers can buy chilled wine by the bagful, but have to settle for warm beer.

"They sell it warm, why not sell it cold? The law says they can't sell it cold, I don't know why," Barnett said.

Or why Indiana's alcohol laws limit carryout cold beer sales to liquor stores and some taverns.

"What it's all about is fairness," said Ricker's CEO & President Quinn Ricker.

Ricker and other convenience store owners claim the law is more than unfair, it's unconstitutional and discriminatory. Striking down the law would undoubtedly increase beer sales at convenience stores.

"People should be able to buy the same amount of beer wherever they want, but at the places they want to, places that can't sell it at the proper temperature," Ricker said.

The Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association maintains in its lawsuit against the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission that the law violates the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution because liquor stores are allowed to sell cold beer, while convenience, grocery and drug stores must sell beer at room temperature.

Scot Imus, the Executive Director of the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association said, "it makes no sense from a rational standpoint as to why that law exists." Imus says. "It's really the government picking winners and losers in the marketplace and again, we think that's unconstitutional."

Imus told Eyewitness News, "Consumers want to buy cold beer even though it takes 15 minutes to turn warm beer into drinkable, that's huge disadvantage. Our members are in business to serve customers. They can't understand why we can sell cold a wine cooler with 13% alcohol, but not beer with 4% alcohol."

The state and liquor store owners are defending Indiana's alcoholic beverage laws, arguing the Supreme Court has already ruled them "unquestionably legitimate," restricting cold beer sales cuts down on underage drinking and that courts shouldn't determine public policy.

"Who makes public policy decisions in the state of Indiana? We believe that's the General Assembly, a duly elected general assembly," said Patrick Tamm, Association of Beverage Retailers.

Liquor store owners also claim they are already at a disadvantage. Laws requiring them buy expensive permits to sell cold beer and hard liquor also prohibit them from selling food, beverages and other items consumers find in convenience grocery and drug stores.

They're limited to just 10 products, nothing close to what shoppers can buy at competing stores who appear to be offering everything but cold beer.

A ruling is expected some time after the hearing finishes Friday.