NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Comer Wilson is 66 years old with a long white beard, and he has not had to show his ID to buy beer in a while.
But starting Sunday, he and everyone else in Tennessee will be required to show identification before buying beer in state stores — no matter how old the buyer appears.
"It's the stupidest law I ever heard of," Wilson said. "You can see I'm over 21."
Tennessee is the first U.S. state to make universal carding mandatory, says the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association. However, the law does not apply to beer sales in bars and restaurants, and it does not cover wine and liquor.
Supporters say it keeps grocery store and convenience store clerks from having to guess a customer's age. Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen said it is a good way to address the problems of underage drinking.
And the 63-year-old governor said he personally will not mind the extra effort to buy beer.
"I'll be very pleased when I'm carded, and in my mind I'll just imagine it's because I look so young," he said.
Rich Foge, executive director of the Tennessee Malt Beverage Association, said he expects there might be some initial resistance from the beer-buying public.
"But once people live with it for a month or two, it's going to go fine," he said. "It gets routine after a while."
Jarron Springer, president of the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association, said he understands the law "may seem a little odd" to people who are obviously older than 21, but he said it is necessary to make sure no one slips through the cracks.
"If we're going to hold clerks accountable for their actions, then there's no room for discretion," Springer said. "It's either all or nothing."
Richard Rollins, who owns a convenience store in Nashville, is already using a computerized scanner to check everyone's driver's licenses. "We just say we're trying to keep our beer permit, and this is the safest way," Rollins said.
Rollins said scanning licenses has proved beneficial in other ways, such as catching criminals.
When one customer tried to make a purchase using a counterfeit bill, Rollins said police were able to track him down because the receipt from the scanner showed his name and license number — and his address.
The new law, which expires after a year unless the state Legislature decides to renew it, also creates a voluntary training program for vendors and their employees. Participating businesses would face lower fines if found guilty of selling beer to a minor, and their beer permits cannot be revoked on a first offense.
However, they face fines of up to $1,000 for each underage sale and they lose their status if they commit two violations in a 12-month period. Another violation could mean suspension or revocation of a license, and a fine of up to $2,500.
Noncertified vendors can face those penalties on a first offense.