Monday, February 07, 2011

Wine Wars Three

Maryland’s Prohibition-era three tier alcoholic beverage distribution system has driven some otherwise law abiding citizens to a life of crime. In order to shirt the current state laws that prohibits residents from buying wine directly from out of state wineries and retailers, some Marylanders have wine delivered to their offices in Washington, D.C. or Virginia where the law allows it. According to this story by Ann E. Marimow in The Washington Post, “wine aficionados in the Maryland suburbs of Washington are routinely, and in many cases unknowingly, breaking state law to get around rules that restrict residents from having wine shipped to their homes.”

Lawyers, government consultants, high-tech workers and even members of the General Assembly - all typically law-abiding residents - have developed an indirect route for smuggling their favorite vino. They have wine delivered to offices in the District or to the homes of friends in Virginia - two of the 38 jurisdictions nationwide that allow vineyards to ship wine directly to consumers.”

When these folks bring that wine home they are committing a misdemeanor that could result in a fine of up to $10,000 and up to five years in prison.

And while it appears that the General Assembly may finally pass a law allowing direct shipping in the Free State this year, the powerful state liquor lobby looks like it will succeed in stopping the state from allowing direct shipping from out of state retailers.

“There are signs that the industry is willing to compromise after years of opposition. J. Steven Wise, who represents retailers, said the industry is willing to back another planned version of the legislation that would allow shipments from wineries but not from out-of-state retailers.”

I suspect that this already a done deal. Recently I asked Delegate Guy Guzzone about the prospects for a direct shipping bill this year. Guy told me that he thought it pass. When I asked him if the final bill would include direct shipping from out of state retailers he told me that was unlikely. The fact that he told me this near the beginning of this years session suggests to me that it was already wired for the liquor lobby from the git go.

I shouldn’t be surprised. You may recall that in last years General Assembly, Guy teamed up with Republican Delegate Warren Miller to try and limit the number of liquor stores in HoCo and thereby stifling competition. Fortunately consumers got lucky and that effort failed to gain enough traction making it one of the few times that the liquor lobby didn’t get its way.

I don’t think we’ll be as lucky this time around.
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