Alcohol

Alcohol Wholesalers Protect Maryland's Communities From the Horror of Online Wine Sales

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Last month I noted that legislators in Maryland, one of nine states that ban all direct-to-consumer shipments of alcoholic beverages, were considering a liberalization bill that would have allowed shipments by out-of-state wine retailers (including auction sites and wine-of-the-month clubs) as well as wineries. Although the bill was supported by bipartisan majorities in both houses of the legislature, wine blogger David White warned that the retailer provision might still be removed under pressure from the state's politically influential alcohol wholesalers. That is just what happened in the end, White reports in a letter to The Washington Post. The version of the bill approved last week applies only to wineries. The wholesalers, who oppose any measure that threatens the artificial profits they earn as state-appointed middlemen, claimed to be taking a stand for mom-and-pop liquor stores. Bruce Bereano, a lobbyist for the wholesalers, told the Post the original bill would "harm in-state liquor stores that are family-owned and part of the fabric of communities." To which White replies:

Bereano is right, of course, as the bill would force in-state liquor stores to compete against out-of-state retailers like K&L Wine Merchants, Wine Library and hundreds of specialty retailers. But that doesn't make his argument any more legitimate.

Maryland's mom-and-pop bookstores have to compete with Amazon, and Baltimore's trendy shoe boutiques have to compete with Zappos. If Maryland lawmakers decided to prohibit residents from ordering books, shoes or other wares online, they'd be laughed out of office. And voters — stuck with fewer choices and higher prices — would be infuriated.

Yet this is exactly what's happening with wine. Whether you're a wine snob, a beer swiller or a teetotaler, this should make your blood boil. It's protectionism at its worst, and it's crushing consumer choice.

The rationale for treating wine differently from books and shoes is that public health and safety require special regulations for alcoholic beverages, a premise reflected in the 21st Amendment. But when the motive for the regulations is explicitly anti-competitive, as it is in this case, that argument carries no weight.

NEXT: Underage Drinkers Put on Ice

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  1. Hooray! We now get to use the phrase “under the influsnece of alcohol wholesalers” unironically!

  2. I skimmed this post at first, and for some reason read it as indicating that Amazon had started selling booze. I got really excited over that, actually.

    Seriously, how great would that be? I’m not sure how well the two day shipping would work, but… booze…delivered… to my door. A man can dream, can’t he?

    1. I had an idea for a business where one would simply be a delivery company for alcohol. The customer would call pay the cost of alcohol and a separate payment for delivery. We would pick up the booze and deliver it to their house…

      Unfortunately, I was warned about its illegality.

      1. So, where as a customer would I buy this alcohol? Like, would I be negotiating directly with Jameson or Budweiser here, with you Spencer acting as the courier between us?

        1. No, from a liquor store that’s right on the county line. I was 18 when I had the idea and haven’t thought about it too much since… obviously has holes.

      2. There’s a pizza dive near me that delivers cigarettes. Just squares if you order them and pay the delivery fee.

    2. Amazon Fresh delivers groceries, including beer and wine. But you have to live in Seattle (for now).

      1. I do not live in Seattle, but Epi, you just made my day.

        Now all they have to do is start letting us rent sleep pods inside of Costco and I am golden.

        1. I believe Safeway is also doing deliveries of the same type.

          1. Y’know what Epi?

            That’s a Goldy point for you! They’re currently trading pretty badly against Tommy points, but that’s because that bastard practices quantitative praise easing.

  3. ONE DAY Texas will allow internet wine sales. Until then, we still have dry counties. 🙁

    1. I live in Texas, and I get a case of wine every quarter from WSJWine.com.

      Gosh, I hope I’m not don’t give a shit if I’m breaking the law. I’m pretty sure I’m not.

      1. Sorry, meant beer, not wine.

  4. In PA, the vested interests guilt the lawmakers into protecting them: “You guys created this jury-rigged, screwed up system that created us; you can’t give up now!”

  5. One of the few good things you can say about Chicago – there’s none of this namby-pamby booze restrictionism bullshit. The local supermarket has an entire aisle devoted to wine and beer, and there are two serious liquor stores within walking distance… open Sundays, too. (And this is in a nice neighbourhood – some of the rougher areas are all liquor stores.)

    I attribute this enlightened attitude to the city being full of notoriously drunken ethnicities.

    1. Don’t forget that the Prohibition-era organized criminals basically ran, and then later evolved into, the Chicago political machine.

    2. Yeah, score one for MI here, too. I can buy booze pretty much everywhere except a gas station, and I can get beer there.

      That, the UP and all the lakes are three things that keep Michigan from being a candidate for nuking from orbit.

  6. Virginia is one of the state’s that allow wine shipments (thank you Supreme Court), and, in a small but excruciatingly rare victory for freedom, recently passed a bill allowing “corkage” at restaurants.

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  8. 10 years of experience working at a Maryland liquor store helped steer me into the libertarian camp.

    Not only was I exposed to the parasitic nature of bureaucracy and police forces on every level of government, I saw first hand the hypocrisy of small business owners who bitched about taxes, fees, and licenses but yet constantly expected to be protected from any hint of competition.

  9. this is absurd….Md just raised liquor taxes again…to combat what the retailers would loss by the few people who order on line.

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