NASHVILLE - More than 60 communities have collected enough signatures to place a referendum for supermarket wine sales on the November ballot, according to a coalition that's tracking the petitions.
Currently, wine can only be sold in liquor stores. But a state law that passed this year will allow it to be sold by grocery and convenience stores starting in July 2016 if citizens vote to approve the change.
Red White and Food, a coalition that lobbied for the change, said Thursday that so far 61 municipalities have submitted petitions to their election commissions, which verified them.
The submission deadline is end of business Thursday.
"Today is a great day for the state's retail food stores and their customers," said Susie Alcorn, Red White and Food campaign manager. "Our goal has always been to give Tennesseans the opportunity to vote on where wine can be sold in their communities."
Only communities that currently allow package stores or liquor by the drink are eligible to hold votes as long as at least 10 percent of voters in the community sign petitions. For instance, in metro Nashville, organizers had to get 15,000 signatures. As of early Thursday, they were approaching 16,000 signatures.
A number of other communities were nearing their petition marks and were expected to be verified by the end of the day, according to the coalition.
While the concept of supermarket wine sales has broad public support according to various polls, the measure had failed in several consecutive legislative sessions amid opposition from liquor wholesalers and package store owners.
Sen. Bill Ketron, one of the main sponsors of the wine in supermarket legislation, said it's only fitting that voters get to make the final decision.
"This is a great opportunity to let the people come November actually voice their opinion," said the Murfreesboro Republican. "If a community doesn't want it, then they don't vote it in. And for those who do, then they vote it in."