Published: Mon, 27 Mar 2017 00:00:00 -0400
Last Build Date: Mon, 27 Mar 2017 10:40:09 -0400
Wed, 22 Mar 2017 13:45:00 -0400
(image) First the good news: The Maryland House of Delegates just passed a bill that would quadruple the amount of beer that breweries are permitted to sell in their taproom. Now the bad news: Those brewers will have to try to squeeze those sales into less time, because the bill would also require them to stop serving by 9 on weeknights and by 10 on Fridays and Saturdays. (Depending on where they're located, they're currently allowed to stay open til either midnight or 2 a.m.) The bill also bans the brewers' taprooms from selling other companies' products.
In other words, the law takes away a lot more than it allows. The aim of all this, apparently, is to protect traditional bars and liquor stores from competition.
This had been one of three rival beer bills in the legislature. The best one would have loosened the restrictions on how much beer the brewers could serve without adding those new controls. The other measure was a cronyist proposal that essentially would have carved out a special privilege for a Guinness brewery coming soon to Baltimore County, upping the amount it could serve in its taproom without offering a comparable increase elsewhere. (Speaking as a local: I'm all for bringing more Guinness to the area, but I'd like the rest of the state's beermakers to have the same rights.) Guinness had actually endorsed the more sensible legislation, but it had this one ready too, just in case. Beer writer Liz Murphy called it the "cover your ass bill."
The legislation will now go to the Maryland Senate, where hopefully it will die. If these new rules do become law, Guinness will be able to handle them, but they'll kneecap a lot of smaller businesses. It'd be a double tragedy: a bill so bad that it drives you to drink, but which also takes drinks off the table.
Thu, 16 Mar 2017 04:00:00 -0400
(image) After Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law a bill that legalized Sunday liquor sales, liquor-store owner Jim Surdyk emailed customers to say he'd be open on Sunday. OK, the law doesn't take effect until July 2, but Surdyk figured if the legislature and the governor are all in favor of Sunday sales, why wait. An official with the state licensing agency felt differently. He hit Surdyk with several citations that could bring an estimated $3,500 in fines for selling on Sunday.
Wed, 15 Mar 2017 04:00:00 -0400
(image) The Utah legislature has approved a bill that would lower the blood alcohol content level for DUI to 0.05 from 0.08. Gov. Gary Herbert says he will sign the bill into law.
Wed, 15 Mar 2017 00:01:00 -0400I am in Austin this week for the South by Southwest conferences, and I had planned to pick up some whiskey this Sunday before flying back home to Jerusalem, where brown spirits cost much more. Then a friend pointed out that my plan was not feasible in Texas, which is one of 11 states that still prohibit liquor sales on Sunday. Until recently there were 12 such states, but last week Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill allowing liquor stores to operate on Sundays. He thereby eliminated an arbitrary inconvenience that over the years has been justified in the name of piety, paternalism, and protectionism, none of which is a morally acceptable reason to use force against peaceful people. Minnesota's new law, which follows similar moves by 16 other states since 2002, takes effect on July 1. But Jim Surdyk, proprietor of Surdyk's Liquor & Cheese Shop in Minneapolis, did not wait to exercise his new freedom. He was open for business last Sunday, prompting a $3,500 fine and threats against his license. It is not hard to understand Surdyk's impatience. In the 159 years since Minnesota became the 32nd state, it has never deigned to let people buy packaged beer, wine, or liquor on Sunday. Minnesotans who wanted to have drinks at home on the Christian Sabbath had to plan ahead or make a run to neighboring Wisconsin, which has allowed Sunday sales since 1874. You might wonder whether it is constitutional to foist a religious day of rest on people who choose not to observe it. According to the Supreme Court, it is. The Court's reasoning highlights the petty tyranny of blue laws. In the 1961 case McGowan v. Maryland, seven department store employees challenged their criminal convictions for daring to sell people "a loose-leaf binder, a can of floor wax, a stapler, staples and a toy" on a Sunday. The Court rejected their argument that Maryland's blue law violated the First Amendment's ban on "an establishment of religion." "There is no dispute that the original laws which dealt with Sunday labor were motivated by religious forces," Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in the majority opinion. But he added that "as presently written and administered, most of them, at least, are of a secular rather than of a religious character." Warren's secularization of Maryland's blue law was a bit of a stretch, given that the statute explicitly addressed "Sabbath Breaking" and repeatedly referred to the "Lord's day," demanding that people not "profane" it through inappropriate activities. But the chief justice argued that the state had a legitimate interest in promoting "the health, safety, recreation and general well-being" of its residents by mandating not only "a periodic respite from work" but "a general cessation of activity, a special atmosphere of tranquility, a day which all members of the family or friends and relatives might spend together." More recently this pious paternalism has given way to a nakedly protectionist argument. The main opponents of Sunday sales nowadays are independent liquor stores whose owners worry that competition will force them to work harder without guaranteeing a commensurate increase in revenue. "Small-business owners argued that allowing Sunday sales would stretch six days of purchases over seven days and increase their operating costs," the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports. "They also worried it would bring more chain and big-box stores," which "can undercut smaller stores on pricing." The point of banning Sunday sales, in other words, is not to protect consumers from themselves but to protect merchants from their competitors. High-handed promotion of "the general well-being" has been replaced by an open conspiracy against consumers. Jim Surdyk, the Minneapolis liquor retailer who dismayed city and state officials by selling on Sunday before he was legally permitted to do so, has a more customer-friendly attitude. "You have to be on top of the game or get out of the game," he says. "I'm just trying to do what everybody wants." © Copy[...]
Mon, 06 Mar 2017 12:15:00 -0500
(image) A group of young entrepreneurs from the Basque region of Spain who launched a new kind of blue wine in 2015 is now facing resistance from national and supranational bureaucrats. An anonymous complaint that the Spanish Wine Federation, which represents three-fourths of the country's wine producers, insists it did not file yielded a fine from Spain's agriculture ministry for violating wine regulations. The company that produces the blue wine, Gïk, has relabeled its product and added 1 percent grape must to avoid being considered a "pure wine."
"Under the European Union's oenological regulations," The New York Times explains, "whatever is not specifically authorized is considered illegal—and blue is not an approved color." Gïk has sold more than 120,000 bottles, with half being sold outside the EU, according to The Times. The young entrepreneurs who created the company had no background in winemaking, so they recruited a team of chemical engineers from University of Basque Country to develop the blue wine, which uses red and white grapes as well as a chemical from red grape skin and an organic food dye, indigotine, to achieve the blue color.
Taig Mac Carthy, one of the co-founders of Gïk, explained to The Times that they wanted to create something "more fun" for people who didn't particularly like "normal" wine. "The trouble is that we are trying to revolutionize an industry that has worked for centuries without making any change," Mac Carthy said, "and they control the rules of the game." The Spanish Wine Federation sees it differently. Their general-director told The Times that while they appreciated Gïk's initiative, "you have to respect the rules of the game, and they are for everybody."
"In Spain, wine is very linked to culture," Aritz López, another co-creator, told BBC last year. "It hasn't changed for centuries. This is a country that prefers tradition instead of innovation. But Gïk is trying to change that. We are for normal people that don't need to know thousands of rules in order to enjoy a glass."
Detailed rules on winemaking, however, are part of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Two-thirds of wine production worldwide occurs in EU countries, which are required to enforce laws in line with the CAP. Attempts by governments to control the rules of what constitutes what kind of alcohol aren't new, and in the case of the EU illustrate how the concept of the free movement of goods has been burdened by layer after layer of unnecessary regulation. If the Spanish Wine Federation, or any voluntary national (or even international association) would like to define wine or any other alcohol for their members, that's part and parcel of free, voluntary markets. Such rules should not be forced by government, and certainly should not be conflated with or made a condition for free trade and movement—consumers should have the freedom to decide for themselves.
Sat, 25 Feb 2017 08:00:00 -0500Last month, an Indiana wine retailer and a handful of consumers in Michigan filed suit in federal court to challenge a new Michigan law that bars out-of-state retailers from shipping wine into the state. The Michigan law, passed last month, lets retailers inside the state buy a "specially designated merchant license" that will allow them to ship wines to in-state consumers. The benefits of the law, which takes effect next month, is that it'll "make it easier for wineries and in-state retailers to ship to Michigan consumers," reports Wine Spectator. But the law prohibits out-of-state retailers from buying permits. If you just read that and looked up at the date stamp on this column because you thought this might be a reprint of some classic article from 2005, you'd be forgiven. Wasn't Granholm v. Heald, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court a dozen years ago, a case about a Michigan law that barred out-of-state wineries from shipping wine into the state? And didn't the Supreme Court rule that Michigan's law was unconstitutional? Yes and yes. And yet here we are. Indeed, the new Michigan law and lawsuit raise startlingly similar dormant Commerce Clause and Twenty-First Amendment questions that many assume were settled by the U.S. Supreme Court in Granholm. Three years after Granholm, a federal court ruled against Michigan in another wine-shipment case that was even more on-point. Just what the hell is Michigan doing? The Michigan law at issue in Granholm permitted Michigan wineries to ship their products directly to consumers in the state but prohibited out-of-state wineries from doing the exact same thing. The Court held in that case that the Michigan law "discriminate[s] against interstate commerce in violation of the Commerce Clause [and] is neither authorized nor permitted by the Twenty-first Amendment." One key question that arose in the wake of Granholm was whether "states will remove the discriminatory legal impediments to interstate wine shipping." Most states have, according to the National Law Review, which notes that "nearly every state now allows wineries to ship wine directly to in-state consumers." Retailers—wine superstores and others—are now bumping up against the Michigan law. Notably, Granholm pitted what I think is the Constitution's most overrated amendment—the Twenty-First—against perhaps its most important unwritten rule, the so-called dormant Commerce Clause. Thankfully for wineries and consumers, the latter won. But what's so lousy about the Twenty-First Amendment? After all, didn't it end Prohibition? Hardly. Instead, it simply shifted much of the power to prohibit and incessantly regulate alcohol from the federal government to the states. The Twenty-First Amendment—particularly the language in its second section, and the way lawmakers and courts have interpreted that language—is why we have things like dry counties, happy hour bans, and a mandatory three-tier system in forty-nine of fifty states. While in one sense Granholm reined in state power under the Twenty-First Amendment, in another it also demonstrated the awesomeness of that power. In its ruling in the case, the Supreme Court made clear that states could still use their breathtaking powers to regulate alcohol under the Twenty-First Amendment to ban all shipments of wine. Period. The Court simply held they couldn't favor in-state producers over out-of-state producers if they did so. The Twenty-First Amendment sucks. Michigan is hardly alone in having crappy Twenty-First Amendment inspired alcohol-distribution laws in place. Pennsylvania law forces anyone driving through the state with so much as a can of beer in their car and who might want to stop off in the state for a spell to, say, learn more about "Indepedence" or the "Consitution," to buy a distributor's license from the state. I have no idea what might become of the current Michigan law if this case were to make it to the Supreme Court. Onl[...]
Tue, 07 Feb 2017 22:10:00 -0500
John Horvatinovich is on trial this week because he tweeted out a photo of a couple of 17 -year-old kids who tried to buy alcohol at his Omaha, Nebraska, restaurant, Salt 88.
He's facing a misdemeanor charge of interfering with a government operation. [UPDATE: And today, February 8, he was fortunately acquitted by a jury.]
Why? Because the kids were sent there by the Nebraska State Patrol as part of an attempted sting to entice him to illegally sell them alcohol.
His resistance to selling Bud Lights to the kids, who presented their real underage I.Ds and were turned away, indicates his intent to sternly obey the law. Yet that act turned into what the state considers lawbreaking when he thought he'd do a solid for the community by exposing the would-be lawbreakers.
He tweeted out a photo showing the face of the two teens from his restaurant surveillance camera on August 13 of last year, according to a report from the Omaha News-Herald, with these words: "Omaha restaurant peeps: These two are trying to ruin your night w/sting operations in town." (The tweet has since been deleted.)
Despite using the word "sting" in his tweet, Horvatinovich told local TV station WOWT News 6 that "We were presented with two minors trying to buy alcohol at our restaurant. Had I known they were minors working with authorities in a compliance check, I would have deleted it immediately. But we didn't find that until 12-days after the tweet."
According to the News-Herald, "Assistant City Prosecutor Makayla Maclin said in her opening statement [in his trial] Monday that...'(The teens) couldn't perform any more compliance checks as a result of the tweet.'"
Their police handlers feared with them being identifiable on the internet that future use of those same teens in bars could result in possible violence against them.
Horvatinovich's maximum possible sentence for posting a picture of people who tried to break the law in his restaurant is a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. The trial was ongoing as of today. [UPDATE: As noted above, today February 8 he was acquitted.]
Tue, 07 Feb 2017 10:30:00 -0500Long before Melissa McCarthy caused a stir by putting on a loose suit and a bad temper to impersonate White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, a female English bull terrier named Honey Tree Evil Eye drew cheers and catcalls by putting on a beach shirt and and a laid-back attitude to play Spuds MacKenzie, "the original party animal." On Sunday, three decades after the character's debut at the 1987 Super Bowl, AB InBev revived the Bud Light pitchdog for a Super Bowl spot in which he appears as an apparition, voiced by Carl Weathers, to teach an indolent young man the value of beer-enhanced conviviality. Alcohol Justice, formerly known as the Marin Institute, was not amused: 30 years after being deeply buried in the well-deserved grave of youth-attractive booze-pitching animal characters, the universally condemned Spuds McKenzie has returned. Like a Zombie in search of new and younger victims, the dog will be pitching beer to a global audience estimated to include 30 million impressionable children. "The specter of a three-decade old, cuddly Spuds McKenzie—the sunglass-wearing, Joe Camel of Big Alcohol—pushing beer again is unacceptable," said Michael Scippa, Director of Public Affairs for Alcohol Justice. "Resurrecting this despicable icon of irresponsible alcohol marketing proves that breaking the toxic social norm that binds alcohol to sports must begin with creating a divide between sports and alcohol ads."... "We call upon world leaders to recognize the public health and safety costs and eliminate alcohol advertising, sponsorships, branding and promotions from all sports," added Scippa. "And let's begin by driving a wooden stake through the heart of a zombie, beer-pushing, cartoonish character." You might think a group that sees Spuds MacKenzie as the caninification of all that is evil about the alcohol industry would take the trouble to spell his name right. And since Joe Camel came after Spuds MacKenzie, wouldn't it be more accurate to say that Joe Camel was the Spuds MacKenzie of Big Tobacco? Be that as it may, Scippa is fostering a potentially life-threatening misconception by encouraging people to believe that a wooden stake through the heart will kill a zombie. It may be a bit of an exaggeration to say Spuds was "universally condemned." I know that Strom Thurmond did not like him, and neither did the Center for Science in the Public Interest. But ancient teetotalers and busybody killjoys aside, there must have been some people who liked the TV spots featuring Spuds, which were breathlessly narrated by Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous host Robin Leach. The campaign was credited with helping boost sales of Bud Light by 20 percent between 1987 and 1988. I myself do not recall being offended by the ads, notwithstanding their allusions to bestiality, so much as annoyed by their ubiquity and their implication that there was anything enjoyable about drinking Bud Light, a blatant lie that may very well have led impressionable youth astray. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/aYeXldMEpV8" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/0K5BgCI-U7c" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">[...]
Mon, 23 Jan 2017 12:00:00 -0500For decades, Virginia has forced bars and restaurants in the commonwealth to jump through a costly and pointless hoop. It's time to give them a break. The antiquated rule requires establishments to make up at least 45 percent of their revenue from food and nonalcoholic beverages. On top of that, they have to bring in at least $4,000 a month in food sales, and half of that must be from "substantial entrées." Restaurateurs (along with caterers and private clubs) have not been happy with these requirements—and shouldn't be. The rules impose a huge paperwork burden. Every year the establishments have to submit a Mixed Beverage Annual Review to the state proving they're in compliance. They also have to submit an inventory list of all the booze they have on hand at the end of the year. This is irksome enough. But now restaurants are feeling squeezed and discriminated against. The rise of microbreweries and brew pubs has introduced another competitor class to the marketplace. Recently Virginia Beach exempted craft breweries from the food-ratio rule. You might think the food-beverage ratio rule helps curb drunken driving, public inebriation, and other social ills. In fact it might do just the opposite: Because the ratio is based on gross receipts, it creates an incentive to sell cheap booze. As state Sen. Bill DeSteph points out, a restaurant that sells a $30 martini has to sell $25 worth of food to offset it. Cheap drinks, on the other hand, make it easier to meet the state's ratio. Cheap drinks also make it easier to get drunk fast. And what a restaurant loses in profit margin on each individual drink, it can always make up on volume. (If you think the food-beverage ratio requirement is questionable, you should take a look at the state's rules governing happy hours. For a long time, a joint could not announce drink discounts anywhere except inside its own doors. In 2010 the state deigned to let restaurants advertise happy hours on a sign attached to the exterior, so long as the sign was 17 inches by 22 inches. Two years ago the state finally let restaurants advertise happy hours on their websites and in social and traditional media outlets. But it still limits what they can say: "Happy Hour 4-7" is acceptable, but "discounted margaritas," "beer and wine specials daily" and "Thirsty Thursday" are not, because you can't use the word discount or name specific types of beverages or use alcohol-related promotional phrases. Other than that, you can say whatever you want!) In addition to the misguided public-safety rationale, there is another, less lofty, theory to explain the food-beverage ratio: It might have started out as a way to protect restaurants from competition. Forcing sellers of mixed drinks to sell a large amount of food closes the market to saloons where people go just to drink. That's just a guess—but it would be well in keeping with other market-entry barriers in the commonwealth, from the Certificate of Public Need for medical facilities to the various occupational licensing rules that make it harder to start a skilled-trade business. DeSteph has introduced legislation to give restaurants some relief. It would lift the rule for any establishment that sells more than $10,000 worth of food. Those selling less than that would face a ratio of only 35 percent. That's progress. Ideally, the food-ratio rule would disappear altogether. There's little evidence that it serves an important public purpose—or that the same public purpose is not served equally well by other policies, such as tough drunken-driving laws. All the food-ratio requirement does is make a lot of work for restaurants. Well, and for ABC bureaucrats too. Virginia's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has a friendly message for proprietors: "Your special agent is ready to help you avoid the costly consequences of not meeting the foo[...]
Sat, 21 Jan 2017 08:00:00 -0500In Virginia, where Founding Father George Washington famously distilled whiskey, momentum is growing to change a decades-old Virginia law that hurts restaurateurs who opt to sell liquor in the state. Under the law, the state requires food and nonalcoholic beverage sales at restaurants to equal at least 45 percent of their gross sales of liquor and food. Today, the state touts this ratio as "paramount." Restaurateurs argue otherwise. As the Virginian-Pilot reported this week, the basis of the law, first established in the late 1960s and amended in 1980, is baldly prohibitionist. Lawmakers, the paper reports, "didn't want saloons propagating across the state." The law's also protectionist. "The ratio lives on because of a powerful group of established Richmond restaurateurs," writes attorney C. Jarrett Dieterle. "They are quick to invoke the absolute horrors of bars and nightclubs dotting every Virginia street corner, alleging that repeal of the ratio would lead to an abundance of seedy, alcohol-infused, crime-infested neighborhoods." Dieterle rightly calls that "hooey." Add, too, to the list of hooey that the law infringes on the rights of restaurant owners, and limits choice for consumers. And it's difficult to comply with, in that it's next to impossible for a restaurateur to predict how much food or alcohol customers might want consume. The law is also discriminatory. In part, that's because it's based on the price that a restaurant sells its food and drinks. Last year, a Virginia restaurant and craft-bourbon bar that had been penalized under the law sued the state. The suit, by McCormack's Whisky Grill and Smokehouse, argues the law discriminates against businesses that sell costly high-end liquors and favors those who sell cheap spirits—since the law is based on dollar value of sales, rather than quantity of sales. Unsurprisingly, the law has forced some restaurants to abstain from selling higher-end drinks. Restaurants like McCormack's that skirt the law face the suspension or loss of their license. Virginia is hardly alone in enforcing such laws. Other states, counties, and cities around the country have similar rules in place. North Carolina law requires at least 30 percent food sales. Nearly two-thirds of Kansas counties require the same. And Gainesville, Fla. requires restaurants to generate at least half of their sales from food. Last year, Rome, Ga. lawmakers proposed eliminating the city's 50/50 requirement—though only for the city-owned convention center, rather than for privately owned establishments. Nearby Alpharetta, Ga. rules effectively don't allow bars. The city's 50 percent requirement for food and alcohol sales—which had been 60 percent until being lowered in 2011—is intended "to ensure the city had no bars, where alcohol sales were primary." Alpharetta recently made a creative change to the 50 percent rule for restaurants, adopting a law that sales from food trucks parked in front of restaurants could contribute toward a restaurant's required food sales. That may sound nice, but the law requires restaurants "to maintain sales records from each truck and submit a monthly report." Such onerous recordkeeping and paperwork requirements like these are a necessary feature of the abysmal ratio laws. Maryland requires the submission of regular notarized reports to a county liquor board. And in Virginia, the law requires "restaurants that sell liquor must tally their receipts each year and prove 45 percent came from food sales." But these requirements often don't stop at paperwork. Virginia orders restaurants to provide food menu items "anytime during your operating hours" as proof of their commitment to serving food. Inspectors who visit may test this out, and will "want to see food in your freezer and other food storage facilities." And if a restaurant tha[...]
Tue, 17 Jan 2017 00:01:00 -0500When Prohibition ended in 1933, my great-grandfather, Giuseppe Marano, thought his money-making glory days were over. Having made a good living selling alcoholic beverages to willing buyers at a time when that business was illegal across the country, he and his cohorts certainly viewed the passage of the 21st Amendment as the end of a very profitable era. Except that it really wasn't. Politicians may have formally dumped the national ban on booze, but in many places they've imposed enough foolish restrictions to keep bootlegging a going concern. On the first day of this year, it became a class 4 felony in Illinois—up from a business offense carrying a fine—to import 45 liters or more of liquor into the state without a license. The same minimum one-year prison sentence applies to bringing in more than 108 liters of wine or 118 liters of beer without government paperwork. The law passed as a nudge-and-wink scheme between politicians who resent the loss of tax revenue when beverages are brought in across the state line, and local liquor distributors who bristle when out of state competitors elbow in on their action. "Many out-of-state businesses are not compliant with Illinois tax laws, which undercuts Illinois businesses, depriving our state of money that could be going toward improving our schools, roads and social services," Karin Lijana Matura, executive director of Wine and Spirits Distributors of Illinois, an industry trade group, told WQAD. The legislation came in response to a thriving illegal cross-border trade as Illinois residents place orders with businesses—many in Indiana—for liquor, wine, and beer unavailable or just extremely pricey through their state's tightly regulated and protected cartel. "Alcohol is much more expensive in Illinois than it is in Indiana," reported a Chicago ABC affiliate in 2015. "And it is even pricier in Cook County, where the tax rate on liquor is more than five times higher than it is in the Hoosier state." The result is that "a six-bottle case of vodka that costs $167 in Indiana costs $226 in Illinois and is $18 more than that in Cook County." Indeed, Illinois taxed distilled spirits at $8.55 per gallon, compared to the $2.68 imposed by Indiana, according to the Tax Foundation. Taxes are also lower in neighboring Missouri and Wisconsin. The Illinois Policy Institute notes that Cook County adds another $2.50 per gallon to the price of a bottle of cheer, and Chicago tags on an extra $2.68 per gallon. Wine is taxed at $1.39 per gallon, a tad higher than the $0.25 rate in Wisconsin. Beer isn't leaned on quite so heavily by the tax man, but Illinois still imposes a higher rate than most of its neighbors at $0.23 per gallon, compared to $0.12 in Indiana, and $0.06 in Missouri and Wisconsin. And that's assuming you can even find the beverage of your choice to have an opportunity to balk at the price. Chicago "is one of the last contested territories for the nation's two beer giants…which wage a proxy war through licensed distributors" and squeeze out small competitors, Crain's Chicago Business pointed out a few years ago. Federal and state law makes it difficult for small players to bypass established distributors. So opposition to the new Illinois law found fertile ground among consumers with tastes that couldn't be satisfied locally, "particularly from residents who purchased hard-to-find wine from out-of-state retailers," according to the Chicago Tribune. "Other states allow out-of-state retailers to obtain a direct shipping license, providing both oversight and valuable tax revenue. We think this is the right approach for Illinois—creating competition, consumer choice, and revenue to help balance our state's budget," their petition said. All they wanted was a chance to legally place orders online with bu[...]
Sat, 14 Jan 2017 10:30:00 -0500
(image) Small-scale manufacturers of gin, rum, whiskey, and other spirits could soon be freed from a nonsensical Florida law limiting how many sales they are allowed to make in a single year.
Craft distillers, liquor makers that produce less than 75,000 gallon of booze per year, in Florida currently are prohibited from selling more than four bottles of liquor to a single customer within the same calendar year—and no more than two bottles to the same customer at once. To comply with arbitrary and restrictive state law, distillers have to record their customers' names and driver's license numbers in a registry that can be reviewed by state officials.
The bill to repeal the sales limit would also remove several other roadblocks that keep Florida's small distillers from being able to grow their market share. The bill would allow distillers to sell their product off-site without going through a distributor (that's currently illegal, all sales must take place at same location where the liquor is made), and would raise the threshold when higher state tax rates apply to distillers to 250,000 gallons annually from the current level of 75,000 gallons.
"I just don't think the government should dictate to a small business how much product they can sell from their one location," state Rep. Greg Stuebe (R-Sarasota), who is sponsoring the bill, told the Orlando Sentinel. Stuebe is serving up legislative cocktails of common sense in the Sunshine State—last week, we reported on his proposed bill to stop local governments from banning Airbnb and other homesharing services.
The bill could be another, small, step in the right direction for Florida, which has been slowly liberalizing its alcohol laws in recent year. Until 2013, for example, it was illegal for craft distillers to sell alcohol directly to the public at all. Instead, they had go through a distributor. That year, state lawmakers changed the rules to let distillers sell their products directly to consumers, but implemented the artificial two-bottles-per-customer limit. The original bill had called for an annual limit of 24 bottles per customer—which, okay, it's still an artificial limit but at least one that's a little more reasonable—but that was too high for wholesalers and distributors that disliked the idea of more competition.
Likewise, it wasn't until 2015 that Florida allowed breweries to sell their own products on-location and legalized the sale of 64-ounce "growlers."
Craft distillers in Florida also have to pay more than $4,000 in annual licensing fees, some of the highest such fees in the country.
Despite the alcohol industry's best efforts to bottle up Florida's craft distillers, their numbers are on the rise. The Institute for Justice reports that there are now 32 small distillers in Florida, up from just nine in 2013.
Sat, 17 Dec 2016 08:00:00 -0500In The Cider House Rules, John Irving's 1985 novel, the guidelines to which the book's title refers are a set of rules posted in the Maine cider house where much of the book's action takes place. "Please don't go up on the roof if you've been drinking—especially at night," reads one such rule. These rules, posted by management to govern the behavior of the workers in the cider house, are mostly ignored by those same workers, who live by their own set of rules. If workers in a fictional cider house are subject to an array of sometimes-sensible rules they often ignore, real-world cider-house management is stuck having to comply with oftentimes-idiotic rules for which compliance is not optional. I'm talking about government rules, of course. And these rules, you may be surprised to learn, can be complicated. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB), is housed within the Treasury Department and is charged with drafting and enforcing rules for hard cider. A 2016 TTB presentation, Cider Industry Federal Compliance Training, makes light of its complicated rules a handful of times, as here: "How Does TTB Regulate Cider... Products? ...it's VERY complicated!" It is! It is! Maddeningly so. Space (and frustration, and lack of interest) doesn't permit me to elaborate on the lengthy discussion of the rules. But I want to highlight something that somehow didn't make the cut in that 244-page TTB presentation: TTB's unconscionable ban on disclosing a cider's vintage. Nick Hines, a staff writer with VinePair, which covers alcohol beverages, wrote a great piece earlier this month on the frustration the TTB vintage ban causes for cider makers. It follows earlier calls, in publications like the Cider Journal, to lift the ban. That ban, which Hines notes dates back to Prohibition, results from a set of overlapping rules. "On the TTB and FAA websites, cider is still labeled as a fruit wine, meaning it must be 'produced by the normal alcoholic fermentation of the juice of sound, ripe apples,'" Hines writes. "But when it comes to the TTB's labeling laws, only grape wine can use the 'vintage' labels." In other words, cider is fruit wine, but only grape wine can list its vintage. Why might a cider's vintage—the year its apples were harvested—matter? For the same reasons a wine's vintage might. "The variety comes from the way the blend of apples used from the start and the way the cider is fermented, stored, and aged," explains a 2015 blog post from cider makers Ash & Elm. "Variety also comes from the vintage of the apples as well, just like wine—some years are great growing years, others aren't, and the soil and ecological conditions where apples and grapes are grown affect the flavor of the cider or wine from year to year." Consumers want to know. And producers want them to know. Shy not allow a company like Ash & Elm the freedom to display their cider's vintage? "Cider makers should be able to put a vintage on their cider bottles if they feel like it accurately describes their product," VinePair's Hines told me this week by email. "A vintage can help a consumer understand what's inside the bottle, and how it can vary from year to year. The regulation of alcohol and its marketing is important in terms of health and accuracy, but I couldn't figure out a real purpose for keeping vintages off cider bottles." It certainly sounds like a rule designed to do nothing more than to protect the grape wine industry. The freedom to display cider vintages exists in other countries. You can buy a 2015 vintage cider from your local ASDA grocer in England, for example. Such vintages have been around for a long time, too. "[C]ider of a good vintage year will fetch a high price," notes an 1889 U.S. government publication on En[...]
Mon, 21 Nov 2016 11:50:00 -0500Last Friday, a week and a half after Denver voters approved an initiative allowing cannabis consumption in local businesses, the Colorado Department of Revenue's Liquor Enforcement Division announced that businesses it regulates are prohibited from participating in the pilot program. That means bars and restaurants with liquor licenses can't legally let customers bring their own marijuana to enjoy on the premises, as envisioned by supporters of Initiative 300, which was favored by 54 percent of voters. The department said the new rule has been in the works since last year, prompted by the liquor industry's concerns. Although that sounds like special pleading from manufacturers and distributors worried about competition from another intoxicant, DOR Executive Director Barbara Brohl said the ban is all about safety. "After carefully considering all impacts to Coloradans and industry," she said, the department decided "this rule is in the best interests of public health and safety resulting from public and dual consumption." The Colorado Restaurant Association said it also "expressed concerns about the public dual consumption of marijuana and alcohol," which suggests that some restaurateurs worried that their competitors might attract customers by offering a BYOC option. Larry Wolk, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public of Public Health and Environment, supports the DOR's decision. "There is substantial evidence that combined use of marijuana and alcohol increases impairment more than use of either substance alone," he said. "If marijuana use is allowed in establishments that hold a liquor license, dual use certainly would occur regularly and present a danger to public health and safety." The rule eliminates one of the major arguments against Initiative 300, but at the cost of consumer choice and business flexibility. Daniel Landes, owner of the City O' City restaurant and bar in Denver, told the Associated Press he'd like to be able to hold special events where cannabis consumption is allowed. "I'm in the hospitality business, and there is no place like this to use marijuana," he said. "That is inhospitable." Since the rule applies statewide, even bars and restaurants in jurisdictions that have been more tolerant of cannabis consumption than Denver will be risking their liquor licenses if they let customers use marijuana. Denver businesses that don't sell alcohol, such as cigar bars, yoga studios, art galleries, newly created cannabis clubs, and restaurants without liquor licenses, can still seek permission from the city to create "designated consumption areas," providing a new option for residents and visitors who have struggled since legalization to find social settings outside the home where they are allowed to use the marijuana they are now allowed to buy. Permits are contingent on approval by an officially recognized neighborhood organization, which can demand restrictions in addition to the ones imposed by Initiative 300. The DOR rule "doesn't completely hinder the entire law," Mason Tvert, an organizer of the initiative campaign, told The Denver Post. "Remember that this whole thing kind of got started with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra fundraiser that was held in an art gallery." I cited that episode as an illustration of Colorado's cannabis consumption conundrum in a 2014 Reason feature story. Reason TV has covered the issue too: src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/pZ_8lj7AWXo" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">[...]
Fri, 18 Nov 2016 08:35:00 -0500You might think Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who acknowledges marijuana's medical utility, has relatively enlightened views on drug policy. But a report he released yesterday reveals that Murthy is utterly conventional in his attitude toward drinking and other kinds of recreational drug use, which he views as a problem to be minimized by the government. Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General's Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health claims "addiction is a chronic brain disease" caused by exposure to psychoactive substances, even while acknowledging that the vast majority of people who consume those substances do not become addicted to them. The report describes even low-risk, harmless, and beneficial drug use as "misuse," giving the government broad license to meddle with personal choices through policies aimed at making drugs more expensive and less accessible. Murthy argues that driving down total consumption, rather than focusing on problematic use, is the most effective way to reduce the harm caused by alcohol and other drugs. As he sees it, every drinker and drug user, no matter how careful, controlled, or responsible, is a legitimate target of government intervention. Murthy's report eschews the term substance abuse, explaining that the phrase "is increasingly avoided by professionals because it can be shaming." Instead the report talks about "substance misuse," which "is now the preferred term." But substance misuse is just as judgmental, vague, and arbitrary as substance abuse. In fact, Murthy cannot quite decide what it means. On page 5 of the introduction, he says misuse occurs when people use drugs "in a manner that causes harm to the user or those around them." But elsewhere (including the very next page), the report uses a much broader definition. "Although misuse is not a diagnostic term," Murthy says, "it generally suggests use in a manner that could cause harm to the user or those around them." Could cause harm? That definition is wide enough to cover all drug use. Murthy does seem to think drug use is problematic even when it causes no problems. As an example of drug misuse, Murthy repeatedly cites a 2015 survey in which 25 percent of the respondents, representing 66.7 million Americans, reported that they had engaged in "binge drinking" during the previous month. "By definition," Murthy says, "those episodes have the potential for producing harm to the user and/or to those around them, through increases in motor vehicle crashes, violence, and alcohol poisonings." But the government's definition of a binge—five or more drinks "on an occasion" for a man, four or more for a woman—encompasses patterns of consumption that do not harm anything except the sensibilities of public health officials. If a man at a dinner party drinks a cocktail before the meal, a few glasses of wine during it, and a little bourbon afterward, he is drinking too much, according to Murthy, even if he takes a cab home. By that standard, at least 44 percent of past-month drinkers are misusing alcohol. Murthy also counts all consumption of federally proscribed drugs as misuse, no matter the context or consequences. As far as he is concerned, all 36 million Americans who consumed cannabis last year misused it, even if they lived in states where the drug is legal for medical or recreational purposes (which is now most states). Unauthorized use of prescription drugs also counts as misuse, whether or not harm results. "In 2015," Murthy says, "12.5 million individuals misused a pain reliever in the past year—setting the stage for a potential overdose." That makes the risk sound much bigger than it is. According to the CDC, there were 18,893 deaths invo[...]