Alcohol

After Pennsylvania Closed All Liquor Stores, Residents Crossed State Borders To Buy Booze. Now Ohio Is Shutting Down Out-of-State Sales.

Border counties are now prohibited from selling to anyone without proof of residency. 

|

No state has done a worse job regulating the sale of alcohol during the pandemic than Pennsylvania. 

When the state closed all of its liquor stores in March, officials cited health and safety concerns stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. (Liquor stores in Pennsylvania are all state-run; the government has a monopoly.)

"The health and safety of our consumers and employees is our top priority, and we take our responsibility very seriously," reads a notice on the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) website. State liquor regulators were aware of the disruption the closure would cause. But "mitigation of the public health crisis must take priority over the sale of wine and spirits, as the health and safety of our employees, customers and communities is paramount." 

The liquor store closures have certainly been disruptive. But, if anything, they have exacerbated the public health crisis, even in other states. 

With few legal options for purchasing spirits inside state borders, residents have flooded liquor stores in other states, with one in New Jersey choosing to temporarily shut down last month because the influx of customers made social distancing impossible. 

The boom in out-of-state business has been so large, and so dangerous to public health, that out-of-state governments are now prohibiting purchases by Pennsylvania residents. 

Yesterday, Ohio's Republican Gov. Mike DeWine signed an order requiring six Ohio counties near the Pennsylvania border to require proof of local residency for the purchase of alcohol. "This is necessary because of repeated instances of persons from Pennsylvania coming into these counties for the sole or main purpose of purchasing liquor," he said, according to a local Fox affiliate. "Any other time, we'd love to have visitors from Pennsylvania, but right now this creates an unacceptable public health issue." 

DeWine's order follows a similar closure in a West Virginia county, which specifically prohibited the sale of liquor to anyone presenting a Pennsylvania ID. In that instance, as well, local health officials specifically cited health and safety concerns resulting from an  increase in cross-border purchases due to liquor store closures.

Pennsylvanians who wanted to purchase spirits had essentially no other place to go. Not even online. 

The state's online liquor sales portal, which reopened this month, has proven barely functional. Even with a reduced selection, a limit on the number of bottles per order, and a cap of one order per day, the site has been unable to cope with demand. Two weeks after reopening, most customers are greeted with a message saying the site is down. 

During the first week of online sales, PennLive reports, about 7,800 people successfully placed online orders—out of 1.9 million people who tried. By the following week, sales data showed 16,825 sales from roughly 2.9 million active users. 

"Consumer interest and site traffic far exceeded our ability to accept orders," a spokesperson said earlier this month, following initial reports of crashes.

In response to the demand spike, the liquor board has instituted an inscrutable system by which successful access to the site is randomized, and the number of orders it fills each day is not disclosed. Presumably, it did not occur to the state's liquor regulators that a completely opaque system in which it's unclear how many orders can be filled, or at what times, would lead to an increase in users checking the site throughout the day, further overloading the system's capacity. 

One way of looking at Pennsylvania's liquor sales travails is as a failure of bureaucratic competence: Other states that control liquor sales have managed the pandemic lockdowns with far less disruption or danger. 

Another way of looking at it, however, is as a failure of the state control model. The fundamental reason why Pennsylvania has so thoroughly botched its liquor sale management is that the state has a near-monopoly on liquor sales within its borders. That means residents can't order out-of-state spirits to their homes. It means that private alternatives cannot fill in the gaps created by the state's poor decision making and technological incompetence. It means that liquor sales are almost entirely dependent on the whims of the state, and threatened by its foibles, which have been plainly evident over the past month.

I say "almost," because the best option for Pennsylvania residents who want to purchase spirits right now is probably to purchase liquor from one of the state's many craft distilleries. (I recommend Dad's Hat, which makes a delicious rye now available online for direct delivery.) Craft producers won't sell you your favorite national brand, but they will safely and conveniently do what private producers typically do—and what the state, despite its financial interest in the sale of liquor, seems determined not to do: sell you booze when you want it.

Advertisement

NEXT: The Pandemic Brings Out Americans’ Inner Snitches

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I’m surprised that Harrisburg hasn’t been overrun by now.

    1. Harrisburg is actually a pretty town. Breezewood, on the other hand…..

      1. Change Your Life Right Now! Work From Comfort Of Your Home And Receive Your First Paycheck Within A Week. No Experience Needed, No Boss Over Your Shoulder… Say Goodbye To Your Old Job! Limited Number Of Spots Open…
        Find out how HERE……Detail here

  2. Man, I hope this doesn’t mean PA will retaliate and I won’t be able to go buy fireworks over the border in Greencastle.

  3. A lot of these garbage governors need to be replaced.

    1. I was also thinking the “full faith & credit” clause.

      1. That was supposed to be under the comment on interstate commerce, although it was interesting to note that there was a major protest in Ohio recently.

        1. Unfortunately, Amendment XXI seems to leave a loophole for states to control liquor purchases in their state.

          1. They replaced one disaster with a lesser one. Hallelujah!

      2. That Constitutional Clause would apply. Plus, there is simply no constitutional authority for these state KungFlu rules.

        States have zero authority to force people to not leave their homes.
        States have zero authority to stop motorists without probable cause.
        States have zero authority to shut businesses down.
        States have zero authority to keep church services from happening.
        States have zero authority to force people to wear masks.
        States….

        1. So, you’re a homesteading lawyer from a super-rich family that grows your own non-GMO food – yet you forget;

          The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

          So, yeah, actually they do – its under the more general and expansive police powers granted to the states. There’re tons of things the state governments are allowed to do that the federal government is not.

          1. Or is this you as law professor – where you pretend that what you think the law should be is what the law is.

            1. This one, I think.

          2. “So, yeah, actually they do –”

            Not quite. The correct answer is that they might, it’s not prohibited by the federal constitution, but you really have to look at the individual state constitution.

          3. Doesn’t the 14th Amendment essentially incorporate the Bill of Rights against the state?
            “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”

            Confined to quarters and forbidden from purchasing an item that is legal to consume both look like deprivations of liberty to me.

            1. Not all of it, Geoff. Which doesn’t make sense to me: the fact the Constitution and BoR concerns itself so much with criminal procedure when there were like 3 federal crimes period at enactment, is an argument for the Founders intending to apply it to the states from the beginning, Even with Maryland having things like a state-sponsored religion.

              I’m not a law professor or judge though, and they say that not all of the BoR has been incorporated. I agree with you on the confining to quarters, especially if you’re not sick. Booze is different.

            2. Not as a whole. Each amendment of the BoR has had to be judicially confirmed as being incorporated through USSC precedent.

              purchasing an item that is legal to consume both look like deprivations of liberty to me.

              The law has long made a distinction between the legality of possessing something, using something, and buying or selling something.

              It perfectly possible for it to be legal to possess and consume a substance while its simultaneously illegal to buy or sell it.

            3. It depends what you mean by liberty, having to stay at home is not incarceration.

          4. No person has the right to initiate force against another even if they work for the government.

        2. Funny that you were nowhere to be found during the VC multipart discussion of the states’ police powers.

          It may be a really bad idea for states to do all of those things and it’s true that the Feds can not do any of those things but the states can do most of them for any reason or none. (The only one on your list that they can’t do is stop motorists without probable cause.)

          1. But since the 14th Amendment and SCOTUS rulings incorporate most all the 1st 8 amendments against the states, closing churches, closing businesses for the public use of protecting the public and ordering mass house arrest violate all without due process violate the 1st, 5th and 14th amendments….

            1. Whether it violates closing businesses (without compensation) violates the 5th amendment is an interesting question with compelling briefs on both sides. So far, however, courts have universally ruled that it does not violate the 5th amendment.

              Some closures have been successfully challenged on 14th amendment grounds because they were patently inconsistent, discriminatory or just plain silly. The ones attempting to close gun stores while leaving open other retail establishments come to mind, though the challenge against the mayor who attempted to close the drive-in church also used some of those arguments.

              The 1st amendment challenges have been more mixed. All the courts addressing the issue so far start from the premise that states have general police powers which are strongest during a public health emergency but then try to weigh the balance to determine where those powers get curtailed by articulated rights.

  4. The boom in out-of-state business has been so large, and so dangerous to public health, that out-of-state governments are now prohibiting purchases by Pennsylvania residents.

    Not a chance this violates the federal regulating interstate commerce is there?

    1. Booze is weird. You can make the argument that the 21st Amendment means alcohol sales & transportation get treated differently than other forms of interstate commerce, with a lot more deference to state action. The whole “in violation of the laws thereof” part of Section 2 of the Amendment.

      Still shitty on the part of OH, but I don’t know that’s it’s unconstitutional.

      1. Or, what creech wrote upthread.

  5. Sounds like a good black market just opened up.

    1. came here to say the same thing, when governments shut down business people find a door to open.

    2. Time to buy a 1969 Dodge Charger.

    3. Old fashioned rum running over the Maryland line for family.

  6. >>>require proof of local residency for the purchase of alcohol

    easier to vote in Ohio … how is Mike DeWine still a thing?

    1. Yeah, what evidence is there that anyone is engaged in liquor fraud? That’s just a Republican myth to oppress minorities.

      1. Russia! The Russian mob was involved in some scam in the early 2000s to send grain alcohol from American to Russia disguised as window cleaner in order to sell it in Russia as vodka and avoid taxes.

  7. Thank God I can still buy glue.

    /note to authorities: That was simply a joke.

    1. looks like I picked the wrong week …

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hd1ciPnTGKg

    2. Or you can do it the old-fashioned way and melt down some horse hooves like God intended.

      1. You try catching a buzz off of horse hooves.

  8. We had a guy from New York buying a vehicle’s worth of alcohol the other day when I was getting some liquor.

    1. A perfectly routine purchase, I’m sure.

      It’s probably going to be served at the stockholders’ meeting for some restaurant chain.

      1. “Just a glass full of liquor helps the bad economic news go down.”

        1. A dram is better than a damn.

          1. I just don’t give a dram.

  9. When a significant portion of the population becomes unemployed, they might turn to liquor and run out of money that should go to more important things, such as taxes.

    1. Yeah, thats right. People shouldnt have the choice to do what they want with their money. It all belongs to government. They know best what to do with it.

    2. Whiskey rebellion 2.0?

  10. “The health and safety of our consumers and employees is our top priority, and we take our responsibility very seriously,” reads a notice on the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) website.

    “Accordingly, we will never re-open.”

    1. Ahem…consumers *and employees.*

      1. “Their physical health is our top priority, not their fiscal health.”

  11. So the revolution is kicking off in PA then? Kinda surprised we aren’t seeing more protests in PA about this (or just in general). Anyone want to start a betting pool on which state has mass protests and riots first? PA, MI, and NJ are my top 3 picks.

    1. There’s a protest right now in Lansing, Michigan’s capital.

      1. Unfortunately, it appears they are blocking ambulances. That doesn’t really help the cause.

    2. Yeah darkflame, our governor (commissar?) of the People’s Republic of NJ, Phailing Phil Murphy, quickly realized he totally phucked up by failing to make liquor stores essential. A day later, booze was essential

    3. Isn’t that where the whiskey rebellion started?

      1. It was, indeed, started in Western PA. However, the Whiskey Rebellion was more about money than about the actual whiskey. The main complaints driving the whiskey rebellion where:
        a) it’s regressive structure and
        b) the cash liquidity crisis.

        re: a – Small distillers were taxed at 9¢ per gallon but large distillers were taxed less based on the volume produced – often a lot less.

        re: b – Hard as it is to imagine today, during that period of history there was a severe shortage of currency and the kinds of credit that we take for granted today just didn’t exist. People had lots stuff to sell and wanted to buy stuff but there wasn’t enough physical money to go around. Whiskey became a de facto currency in some of the more remote parts of the country. Under the whiskey tax rule, however, the whiskey tax could only be paid in hard currency – money the distillers just didn’t have and couldn’t get. Had the government accepted payment in kind, there’s a strong argument that the rebellion would have never occurred.

  12. So people from PA will drive right through the OH counties that border PA and buy their booze in the next county over? And then the next row of counties will outlaw sales to PA residents and they’ll have to drive even further to get their booze? What happens when all the rest of the US stops selling booze to PA residents? Maybe they can go to Canada or Mexico for it.

  13. JFC, I hate Dewine

    1. Well, try debeer instead.

  14. Goddamn between PA and Michigan, fucking democrats have no chance of getting those electoral votes. Throw in the shitstorms in Ohio and Wisconsin, and we are looking at a solid 2020 electoral win for Trump.

    1. So it has been uttered, so let it be. Amen.

      People’s memories are short, but damnit, if this doesn’t get them off their ass to throw the bastards out, we deserve all of the tyranny and pain we’re going to get.

  15. Of course, you don’t have to drive or have any driver’s license to purchase booze or anything else. A person only needs to show his Amerikan passport, which gives his age without revealing anything about his state residency.

    Denial of a right to purchase would then be a violation of public accommodations law, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and in particular the “priviliges and immunities” clause that requires that states accord to residents of other states the same rights they give their own citizens. The Texas attorney general is now threatening to sue Colorado’s Gunnison County over barring non-resident Texans from visiting their OWN homes there.

  16. One would have to assume (in r/e the State run liquor website) they hired the architect of the ObamaCare website?

    1. All state run websites are total crap. They are made by state workers, so they don’t have to actually work. Or they are sold to the Governors biggest donors. So they still don’t have to work.

  17. Ok this goes back to the “end of prohibition” which as usual had the well connected (local liquor distributors and retailer) set up the state laws to keep out competition (see wine shipping today for direct to consumers…I helped manage this for a large shipping company and the bs the local state liquor authorities did to stop online wine buying to protect their distributors and brick and mortars was ridiculous). Of course this is in violation of the commerce clause..where the hell is the useless Supreme court?

  18. The boom in out-of-state business has been so large, and so dangerous to public health

    Has it Mr Suderman? HAS IT? How many people have died as a result of contracting deadly diseases at liquor stores? Did you know that 38k people die every year in car crashes in the US. About a third of them are caused by drunk driving. Given that 99%+ of people who contract coronavirus recover and that it is only substantially dangerous to a population of people over 60 (average 79!) who have one or more serious existing health conditions (average 3+!) would you say it is fair to assume that packed liquor stores contribute more virus-based deaths than drunk driving deaths? Is this really the public health hazard of our time?

    1. Given that the policy is causing people to drive more – sometimes, a lot more – to get to an alcohol store, then your own statistics demonstrate that it has increased dangers to public health.

      1. The point I’m making is that there is a certain level of danger which people accept in ordinary life without the CLOSE EVERYTHING madness overtaking them. No one asks that beach resorts close because of the danger involved in making car trips to them. That’s absurd. Why would you close them because of the existence of a contagious disease (which you aren’t even sure any particular people at the beach resort have) that is, amortized over the number of visitors, no more dangerous than car travel? Peter Suderman is making an argument by repetition, evidence free, that liquor stores are a public danger simply because they are experiencing a high volume of business. His argument is bullshit and he’s smart enough to know that.

        1. I think you are “violently agreeing” with both me and the author of the article above. What I took from the article was the idea that even if you assume that liquor stores should be closed as a public health hazard, the PA policy is a stupid one because actual humans do things to get around your restriction – and in this case, those things are themselves a public health hazard. The mechanisms in this case are two-fold. First, the policy merely shifts the crowding from PA stores to out-of-state stores. Second, the policy adds incremental risk of incremental driving.

          In other words, the PA closure of liquor stores does not, in fact, enhance public health.

    2. Your “drunk driving” car crash statistic is about as accurate as the number of Corona virus related deaths.

  19. So people will drive beyond the imposed limits to buy their booze.
    The tighter the “state” attempts to squeeze , the faster the people will run out between their fingers, just like sand being squeezed by a fist.

  20. Clearly the powers that be are getting ready to pull some shit that they’re concerned will piss the “masses” off. Drunk masses could be a problem, afte rall liquid courage is a bitch.

    Start up the stills

  21. I’m an officer at a small social club in Western PA. I found it funny how the clubs and bars were forced to close on March 17th when everything else had to close on March 23rd.

  22. Gasoline is really cheap, the roads are clear, and folks are bored at home. Someone could make some serious money!

  23. The 21 Amendment was narrowed in Granholm v. Heald (striking down out of state online wine sales on dormant commerce grounds).

  24. Seems ripe for some enterprising smugglers.

  25. Die hot death DeWine, die!!

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.