Pro-alcohol vote stirs questions for sellers

By PAT BROWN,

The majority of Simpson County voters in the Nov. 5 election marked their ballots in favor of changing liquor laws and making Simpson County “wet.”  So what is the next step?

Once the certified election results on the referendum are provided to the Alcohol Beverage Commission, the county is considered open to alcohol sales.  That means it is legal to possess alcohol; however, at this point no one in the county has been approved to sell liquor either in a package store, a restaurant or a lounge. 

Restrictions on alcohol sales are dictated by the Alcohol Beverage Commission and those rules trump any ordinances set by the city.  The biggest ABC restriction that may create problems in Magee is that alcohol may not be served within 400 feet of a church, school or daycare.  The same restriction adds that if the area of sales is considered commercial, which is true of downtown Magee, the restriction is only 100 feet.

A church is located just feet from The Vault, which currently sells beer and wine, in one of Magee’s downtown buildings. According to the rules, however, the church could waive the restriction if they choose to do so in the form of a written waiver. 

Magee Zoning Administrator David Dunn said that most of the property along Highway 49 would meet zoning standards as well as ABC requirements. 

Regarding the sale of liquor in other parts of the county, it is our understanding that it can only be sold in a municipality.  That would include Magee, Mendenhall, D’Lo and Braxton.  An exception is that an area designated as a resort destination could sell alcoholic beverages also.  This exception was planned for the Simpson County Country Club many years ago but never filed with the state.  It could be an option, however, if someone had the desire to follow up and apply for the resort status. 

Another issue is that the municipalities will adopt their own ordinances regarding the sale of alcohol.   The hours for sale in a package store are 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday.  The ABC must approve hours for serving alcohol in a restaurant. 

Alcoholic beverages may be sold on Election Day, but the municipality can restrict the sale of beer.  Beer can be sold 24 hours a day seven days a week by ABC rule; however, local ordinances in Simpson County do not allow for that. 

A separate permit is required to sell alcohol from that required for beer.  The permit for alcoholic beverages is issued by the ABC, which is a part of the Department of Revenue. 

Restaurants and bars can employ workers 18 and over, and servers of that age may take orders and deliver alcohol products if they wait tables and take orders.  They can not bartend.  Bartenders must be 21 or older. 

The legal drinking age in Mississippi is 21.  However, persons 18 or older and in the presence of their parents or legal guardians may drink beer. 

There is a difference between alcohol and beer.  Beer can contain no more than 8 percent alcohol by volume, and light wine may only be 5 percent alcohol by volume.   Any beverages with a higher alcohol content than five percent is distilled or is a wine product. 

Other common questions include whether liquor can be served to a private party in a restaurant after  business hours.  The answer is no. 

As of this writing, one business has filed an application to sell alcohol for publication in this week’s paper.