What’s So Bad About Mail Order Booze?

A woman drinks a mug of beer at Munich's 177th Oktoberfest September 21, 2010. Millions of beer drinkers from around the world will come to the Bavarian capital over the next two weeks for the world's biggest and most famous beer festival, the Oktoberfest, which celebrates its 200th anniversary this year. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle (GERMANY - Tags: SOCIETY ENTERTAINMENT)

Government regulation in America has lead to a so-called “three-tier system” for distributing and selling alcohol. Traditionally, booze manufacturers have been prohibited from marketing their products directly to retailers being required to, instead, sell their wares to distributors in the various states who then market the products to retailers.

But a Supreme Court ruling, Granholm vs. Heald, struck down some of these regulations as illegal thus opening the door for some wineries and others purveyors of alcohol to begin direct sales to retailers and even customers through catalogs and the internet.

Naturally, wholesalers are apoplectic. “Direct-to-consumer shipments will never drive a wholesaler out of business, but the deregulation it is fostering will,” said Craig Wolf of the Wine and Spirit Wholesalers of America. The wholesalers are even lobbying Congress fiercely, demanding that they pass a law protecting the interests of wholesalers:

wholesalers have been spending millions in PAC donations to members of Congress, pushing them to pass H.R. 5034. The bill would exercise Congress’s constitutional power to regulate commerce by explicitly allowing states to impose regulations would otherwise violate the Commerce Clause.

As introduced, the bill would have allowed states to pass pretty much any regulation they desired, but a scaled-down substitute version that Rep. Delahunt is expected to offer today remains problematic. Tom Wark of the Specialty Wine Retailers Association points out that this draft opens the door to a host of directly discriminatory state regulations focused on retailers, which could ultimately limit consumers’ online buying options.

The question I have is, who exactly are we protecting by propping up this “three tier system” for alcohol sales? Other than the business of wholesalers, that is?

I understand that people have safety concerns when it comes to the marketing and sale of alcohol, and while we can debate about those concerns and whether or not they have merit, how does forcing the inclusion of wholesalers in the alcohol industry protect…anyone?

I don’t think that access to alcohol makes people drunks any more than access to guns makes people criminals.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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