Cut It Out, Middlemen


The Arizona legislature is considering how to comply with last year's Supreme Court decision overturning laws that permit direct shipment of wine to consumers by in-state wineries while barring such shipments by wineries in other states. Arizona's small wineries, which depend on direct sales, want a law that allows Arizonans to buy wine online from vintners across the country. Arizona's alcoholic beverage wholesalers, which depend on government-mandated indirect sales, want online sales banned altogether. They think all producers should be forced to sell through them–for the good of the community, of course. The Web site of the wholesaler-backed "grassroots" Protect 21 Coalition (to which The Wine Commonsewer pointed me) makes no mention of this financial interest, although it does offer at least one protectionist rationale for banning online sales: The competition will hurt mom-and-pop liquor stores, which need a legally guaranteed "level playing field" that, among other things, restricts volume discounts and keeps prices artificially high.

Protect 21's main argument, however, is the one used by wholesalers in every state that has considered allowing direct shipment: that online wine sales make it impossible to verify that purchasers are 21 or older. Never mind that, in the quarter century during which Arizona has allowed direct sales by in-state wineries, there apparently has not been a single documented case in which teenagers have gotten loaded on wine they ordered by phone or online. And never mind that you generally need a credit card for such purchases, which the average teenager does not have. The bill legalizing online sales requires delivery companies to check ID and get a signature for wine shipments, which provides the same assurance of compliance with the drinking age as over-the-counter sales do. The wholesalers' have no real response to that, except to speculate that the requirement won't be enforced.