Texas Passes Brewery and Liquor Store Reforms

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Texas is known for its arcane alcohol rules, including its infamous “consanguinity exception,” which restricts the number of liquor stores an individual can own to 5 outlets, but then creates a loophole that allows family members to join together to own more. The state also was known for prohibiting breweries from selling to-go beer. Both those restrictions have no been loosened by recent legislation, as reported by the Texas Tribune:

Texas on Saturday joined the rest of the nation when Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law letting adults buy beer to go from home-grown craft breweries.

Smaller brewpubs already can sell beer to go. Abbott's action means that beginning on Sept. 1, the state's giving that right to breweries, too…

[The legislation also] expands the number of liquor store permits that an individual can own, getting rid of a loophole that favored blood connections. However, publicly traded companies like Walmart, Costco, Walgreens and Kroger still won't be permitted to sell liquor in Texas. That issue's now pending before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Also, a push to amend HB 1545 to let stores sell wine and beer on Sundays starting at 10 a.m. rather than noon failed, as did a separate proposal to allow liquor sales on Sundays…

Read more here.

Pennsylvania May Finally Scrap Flexible Pricing Authority for Spirits

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As covered before on these pages, Pennsylvania grants broad power to its liquor regulatory agency—the PLCB—to set the price mark-ups for distilled spirits sold in its state-run retail stores. R Street’s Jarrett Dieterle has previously pointed out that liquor mark-ups in control states function analogously to taxes, especially when the money they generate flows to the state’s general fund. This week in The American Spectator, R Street’s Kevin Kosar discusses an effort afoot in the Pennsylvania legislature to at least limit the unilateral power of the PLCB to set mark-up levels:

Keystone State legislators may abolish Pennsylvania’s stealth drinks tax. The House Liquor Control Committee is examining HB 1512, which would end the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s “flexible pricing” power.

Rep. Jesse Topper, the measure’s primary sponsor, argues that flexible pricing power is not a power one should give to a monopoly. “[T]he PLCB is neither constrained by market discipline nor antitrust laws,” he wrote.

Topper’s bill would repeal the flexible pricing provision “in order to reinstitute some kind of consumer protection.” If enacted, the PLCB would revert to using a longstanding pricing system that set spirit prices by a formula

[F]lexible pricing is effectively a stealth tax and may therefore raise constitutional questions. Instead of elected officials setting income- or sales-tax rates to cover the cost of government, the pricing mechanism has enabled the state Legislature to outsource revenue-raising authority to an executive agency…”

Read Kevin’s whole piece here.

Facebook Continues to Ban All Alcohol Sales

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Legendary whiskey writer Chuck Cowdery recently posted about Facebook’s ongoing policy to clarify its ban on alcohol sales through its site:

Yesterday, all or most of the myriad whiskey pages on Facebook received a letter stating, in part, "While we allow people to talk about alcohol products we will not allow people to sell or purchase these regulated products on our site. This has always been true in places like Marketplace and Commerce posts in groups, but we will now extend this to organic content…

None of this is new. Except in Kentucky and a few other places, the secondary market for alcohol is illegal, and in those few places where it is legal it is restricted.

The state beverage alcohol agencies that are supposed to enforce these laws rarely do, but they will lean on companies such as Facebook, eBay and Craig's List to get them to clamp down on the peer-to-peer commerce that takes place on their platforms…

(Read Cowdery’s full post here).

As Cowdery mentions, some states, like Kentucky, have recently made moves to liberalize their policies on secondary sales, but otherwise these types of sales are illegal across the country. Both Cowdery and R Street’s Kevin Kosar have written previously about why legalizing the secondary booze market could be beneficial.

SEC Football Stadiums Now Can Serve Alcohol

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Last year, R Street’s Marc Hyden called for the SEC to loosen its restrictions on allowing colleges in its conference to serve alcohol at football games. Hyden noted that other NCAA schools already allowed alcohol sales and that it only made sense for the SEC to follow suit:

There are many reasons [some] oppose permitting alcohol in the SEC’s stadiums, but none of them are good.

The most frequent justifications are promoting public safety and protecting the attendees’ general well-being. After all, we can’t have increased crime or fans getting sick and passing out. (University of Georgia fans probably wish they had slept through the title game, but I digress.)

While increased alcohol consumption can sometimes exacerbate tense situations, a 2016 study found no increased criminal activity when college stadiums serve alcohol to general attendees. There is reason to believe, however, that alcohol-related crime may even decrease in certain locales with alcohol sales when paired with other policies, as was the case at West Virginia University. Further, permitting general alcohol sales in collegiate arenas might actually offer a public health benefit.

(Read Hyden’s full piece here.)

This past week, according to Bleacher Report, the SEC finally heeded this call and announced that it will allow individual schools within the conference decide whether they want to serve alcohol at games:

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey announced Friday the conference is set to lift its ban on stadiumwide alcohol sales Aug. 1.

"Schools will have autonomy," Sankey told reporters. "This now an opportunity for institutions to make responsible and appropriate decisions [about alcohol]."

More here.


American Whiskey Gets a Partial Tariff Reprieve

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The Trump Administration’s ongoing tariff wars have roiled the American drinks industry, hurting producers of both beer and whiskey. Canada and Mexico’s retaliatory whiskey tariffs were recently lifted, but as the Chicago Tribune reports, producers are still concerned about European markets:

American whiskey producers feeling the pain from the Trump administration's trade disputes have gotten a shot of relief with an agreement that will end retaliatory tariffs that Canada and Mexico slapped on whiskey and other U.S. products.

The whiskey industry hailed the arrangement to ease trade tensions among the North American allies and said it hopes it's the first of several rounds of good news on the trade front. Distillers have suffered shrinking exports since the last half of 2018 due to tariffs in some key markets.

President Donald Trump last Friday lifted import taxes on Canadian and Mexican steel and aluminum and delayed auto tariffs that would have hurt Japan and Europe. In return, the Canadians and Mexicans agreed to scrap their retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods, including American whiskey.

But U.S. whiskey makers still face significant trade hurdles in the European Union, the industry's biggest export market…

Read more here.

Connecticut Lawmakers Try to Legalize Self-Service Beer Bars

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Self-service beer bars have grown in popularity in recent years as customers enjoy the experience of being able to pour their own brew from a tap. Numerous states still prohibit this type of self-service , however. According to WTNH.com, Connecticut lawmakers may finally legalize self-service for wine and beer in the Nutmeg State:

Imagine getting your beer or glass of wine like you would a fountain soda.  It may soon be a reality in Connecticut

The bill that would allow self-service alcohol machines at bars just got the thumbs up from the House of Representatives. 

You would get a card from the bartender and swipe it at the machine…

Read more here.


R Street's Kevin Kosar Interviewed About Moonshine

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R Street’s Kevin Kosar was interviewed by Live Science about mooshine and whether it is safe to drink. As Kosar noted, Moonshine can be made from a variety of products and it’s most likely to exist in places that put up high bariers to legalized alcohol:

What is moonshine? Broadly, moonshine is any type of distilled liquor that's manufactured without government oversight, though some argue that moonshine can be labeled as such only when it is made with certain ingredients or comes from specific geographic regions, experts told Live Science.

People all over the world make and drink moonshine, particularly in places where alcohol is illegal or where legal alcohol is prohibitively expensive or hard to get…

ngredients for moonshine vary widely depending on what's available. In the early 20th century, American moonshiners typically made their brews from corn mash. But moonshine is also made from grapes, plums or apricots (Armenia), barley (Egypt), palm tree sap (Myanmar), bananas (Uganda) and cashew fruit (India), said Kevin Kosar, author of "Moonshine: A Global History" (Reaktion Books, 2017).

"It's just basic chemistry. If you can tease sugar out of something, you're on your way to making a drink," Kosar told Live Science…

Even when moonshine doesn't contain toxic levels of methanol, it's impossible to tell how strong it is — an uncertainty that could lead to accidental alcohol poisoning The best way for drinkers to stay safe is to give illicit alcohol a wide berth, Kosar said..

"Unless you're a close friend of the person producing the moonshine and have absolute trust in their competence to produce it, don't drink it," he warned.

Read the whole article here.

Congress Tries (Again) to Allow the Post Office to Ship Alcohol

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Shipping alcohol is notoriously complicated in modern day America. This is especially odd given that, uh, everything else in the universe seems to be a mere 2-day-shipment away. While private carriers and individuals states have complicated rules around alcohol shipping, the United States Postal Service forbids it from being shipped at all. A determined member of Congress is trying once again to fix this anachronistic ban:

The USPS Shipping Equity Act (H.R. 2517) was introduced by Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA). She said the bill would end the Prohibition-era restriction that prohibits the Postal Service from shipping alcohol.

“In 2016, California was America’s top destination for the direct shipment of wine, yet consumers and manufacturers are prohibited from using the U.S. Postal Service to ship or deliver these everyday products,” Speier said…

This is not the first time Speier has made this effort. In fact, it’s not the third.

Her bill was last introduced in 2017 but failed to advance. It was also introduced in the two sessions of Congress prior to 2017. She obviously really wants to see the Postal Service start shipping alcohol, but there historically has been little interest in Congress to pass such a law. Maybe the fourth time is the charm?…

Read more at FedSmith.com.

D.C. Mayor Proposes More Booze Reforms

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Washington, D.C.’s alcohol laws are better than many places, but the District still has its fair share of rules that hurt producers and consumers. According to DCist.com, D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser is now proposing a new slate of reforms aimed at helping the city’s growing craft alcohol scene:

Mayor Muriel Bowser has proposed several changes to make it easier for local alcohol manufacturers to sell their wares, including allowing wineries and distilleries to ship products directly to consumers and raising the allowable amount of alcohol in wine. They would be the latest in a slew of legislative changes over the past eight years that have allowed craft breweries, wineries, and distilleries to flourish in D.C. after five dry decades…

With the Manufacturer and Pub Permit Parity Amendment Act of 2019, Bowser is now proposing a series of tweaks that continue to respond to the city’s evolving craft alcohol scene, particularly its burgeoning cider scene.

For one, it would allow for higher-proof wines (cider is considered a wine under federal and local law)—raising it from 15 percent to 21 percent.

“We have several wine pubs currently that would like to make cider that’s slightly more than 15 percent alcohol by volume. We thought it made sense to bring the District in line with other jurisdictions currently,” Moosally says. Wine can be up to 24 percent alcohol under federal law, 22 percent under Maryland law, and 21 percent in Virginia, Moosally says.

The new legislation would also allow wineries and distilleries to ship their products directly to consumers (currently only breweries can do so.)…

Read the rest here.

Why Are Dry Counties Still a Thing?

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We focus a lot here at DrinksReform.org on the many, many inane alcohol laws around the country. But we shouldn’t lose focus of perhaps the most absurd, no-way-this-is-true-in-2019 alcohol rule of them all: There’s still places in America where it is straight up illegal to have booze. Drinks writer Wayne Curtis has a fun piece for The Daily Beast on dry countries:

The population of Beaver County, Oklahoma, is 5,315 and deeply divided. In a vote last year to determine whether alcohol sales should be made legal—it’s been a dry county for more than a century—the wets initially prevailed, voting in legal liquor by a scant five votes. But then the provisional ballots were tallied. And…the prohibitionists carried the day. So Beaver County remains alcohol-free. It is the last and only county in Oklahoma where you can’t buy a legal drink…

“Dry counties” exist as a sort feral anachronism—like phone booths and video stores. They appeared in response to perceived social or economic need, and when those needs dissipated, they were left behind, like flotsam from a flood nobody remembers. We are a nation that’s pretty good at building laws, and pretty lousy at dismantling them.

And so dry counties persist—today an estimated 18 million people are unable to buy a legal drink where they live. Mostly these persist in the south, and a map of dry counties overlaid with one of the Bible Belt, not surprisingly, shows considerable overlap. (Although the penchant for dryness fades as you get closer to the Gulf of Mexico.) The states with the most dry counties are Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee. Fact: you can still get arrested for possession of alcohol in some dry counties, as a 69-year-old man in Culliman, Alabama, learned recently…

Read more here.