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BERGER: How winelovers can be heard

Assume you are a Texas resident with a brother who lives in Massachusetts. He is a wine collector and you'd like to ship him a bottle of his favorite wine for his birthday.

Assume you are a Utah resident who just toured five wineries in Oregon, bought six bottles of wine, and now want to ship them home to yourself.

Existing laws prohibit both activities. Some people believe that such laws violate the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. They argue, "It's my property. I can do what I want to with it."

But not if it contains alcohol.

These same people believe that literally dozens of other prohibitions regarding alcoholic beverage use and distribution are anti-consumer, even though there is no such problem with products like rubbing alcohol, cough syrup, and many other items that contain alcohol.

Laws governing shipping (and other unrelated laws) that involves alcoholic beverages were dreamed up by lawmakers long ago. These people didn't consult with those most affected by such laws: consumers.

In the 1930s, after Prohibition ended, most legislators still vividly recalled the terrible way the sale of alcoholic beverages had been ill-managed before Prohibition. And they knew how it was mismanaged during Prohibition.

As a result, laws were created that established a three-tier distribution system, creating a mandatory middle tier (wholesalers) that eliminated some of the inequities that had existed before 1919. Among other things, it eliminated the odious "tied house" practices, where a pub was required to purchase alcoholic beverages from a particular supplier.

Even though consumers fund the entire three-tier system with their purchases, all laws were written with no input from consumers. And few of the laws have changed over the decades. Indeed, even when laws regarding the distribution of alcoholic beverages are being discussed today, consumers are never asked for their opinions on how such laws would affect them.

Shipping wine across state lines is one issue that has long been a sticking point for consumers, who have virtually no recourse. This means that our above scenarios of consumers facing nearly insurmountable odds of getting wine across state lines are commonplace.


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