California's new law that prohibits shoppers from purchasing alcoholic beverages at self-service checkouts in retail stores went into effect today - but with a twist.
The twist is that at the request of the California Grocers Association (CGA), the California Third District Court of Appeals has halted the enforcement mechanism set forth by the California Alcohol Beverage Control Agency (ABC) in its December 23, 2011 advisory.
As we reported on Thursday, the trade association for food and grocery retailers in California filed a lawsuit before Christmas asking the state appeals court to halt an enforcement mechanism outlined by the California Alcohol Beverage Control Agency (ABC) in its December 23 advisory notice because the trade group says the agency's interpretation of the new law, AB 183, "is inconsistent with the statute, unenforceable, and in violation of the California Administrative Procedure Act (APA)."
Read our December 29, 2011 piece for details: The 'Fresh & Easy' Writ: California Grocers Association Files Lawsuit Over Self-Service Checkout Booze Ban Law.
The court says the halt of the ABC advisory will remain in place until there's a decision on the lawsuit filed by the CGA, which means for now retailers don't have to follow the guidelines set forth by the ABC in its December 23 advisory.
AB 183 however is law as of today, which means it's illegal in California for customers to purchase alcoholic beverages at self checkout registers in stores.
Confused? You should be.
What is unclear however is how the law will be enforced.
For example, Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market has self-service checkouts only in all of stores, including its 135 units in California. There are 184 Fresh & Easy stores. The other units are in Arizona (28 stores) and Nevada (21 stores).
Fresh & Easy calls its self-service system assisted checkout because store employees assist customers with the checkout process if asked.
Additionally, all purchases involving alcoholic beverage sales at the checkouts require assistance from an employee. Whenever a shopper scans an alcoholic beverage item during self-checkout the system locks up, which requires the assistance of a store worker in order for the transaction to be completed. The self-checkout systems at all other retail stores in California work essentially the same way.
As we written previously, based on the language of AB 183 prior to the advisory issued by the ABC last week, it's possible that Fresh & Easy could use its existing self-checkout system as long as any transaction involving alcohol purchases is completely monitored and conducted by a store employee.
The ABC's advisory says this isn't the case however - hence the lawsuit by the CGA.
At present, based on the court's halting of the ABC's enforcement mechanism outlined in the advisory, it appears Tesco's Fresh & Easy will be able to use its existing self-checkout system as long as any customer transaction involving the purchase of alcoholic beverages is monitored 100% by a store employee.
That, however, is our interpretation - and from what our sources tell us is the assumption Fresh & Easy (and the CGA) is operating on today, the first day in which the law takes effect but without the key enforcement mechanism which has been halted by the court pending resolution of the CGA's lawsuit.
Meanwhile, we've checked but there's no word from AB 183's author, San Francisco Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, who a couple weeks ago sent out a press release touting the piece of legislation she wrote, about the controversy surrounding the self-service checkout booze ban law.
Stay tuned. This story is far from over.