of Maryland wine lovers to be able to ship wine directly to their homes
are at risk of being thwarted again, as the chairman of the committee
considering the legislation in Annapolis says she will not allow the
measure to come to a vote.
Senator Joan Carter Conway, a Democrat from Baltimore and Chairman
of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, told the Baltimore Sun that
“there are a few things I am hung up on” concerning the bill, including
the fear that underage drinkers will buy wine over the Internet.
Conway’s obstinance – she has consistently blocked similar
legislation in past sessions – comes despite the bill having support
from six of nine committee members and a total of 106 of 188 state
Conway told the Sun that she doesn’t believe delivery
services, whether the U.S. Postal Service or UPS and FedEx, could
verify the age of a person receiving the wine at time of delivery.
There are several problems with this stupid argument, which is
bandied about regularly by the wholesaler lobby whenever direct
shipping is raised. Teenagers can get wine or beer from the
neighborhood store, always have and always will, despite the
“protections” offered by the three-tier system. The U.S. Postal Service
won’t ship alcoholic beverages, period. And UPS and FedEx are very
conscientious about not delivering alcoholic beverages without an adult
I know this for a fact, because I am a Maryland licensed wine
writer. That sounds like government run amok, but it really isn’t. Back
in the 1990s, when Maryland was cracking down on direct shipping as a
tax issue – not as an underage drinking issue – the state regulatory
authorities agreed to issue permits to wine writers allowing them to
take delivery of samples. We call this the Parker license. I paid $50
in 1998 to receive a permit; the state contacted me six years later to
ask if I was still using it; when I provided a few recent articles,
they allowed the permit to remain in force. Wineries request my permit
number before agreeing to send me samples. FedEx and UPS have it on
file (though it took awhile to convince them it was OK to deliver to
me). I get annoying recorded phone calls from UPS telling me a delivery
is coming tomorrow and their darn well better be an adult available to
sign for it. If we’re not around when the trucks come, we return home
to find the dreaded door tag. In other words, the system works. There’s
no reason to believe it won’t work on a larger scale. It works in other
states, and those states are collecting taxes on the sales.
Wineries want to obey the law. FedEx and UPS want to obey the law.
Consumers do too, for the most part. Direct shipping is not a matter of
great importance. But as I argued in my Washington Post column
a few weeks back, it is an issue of fairness. Direct shipping does not
“violate the integrity” of the existing system, as Senator Conway said;
it merely fills in the gaps.
You can e-mail Senator Conway,
or call her office at 1-800-492-7122 1-800-492-7122 , ext. 3145 (toll
free). You can also support the direct shipping cause through Marylanders for Better Beer and Wine Laws by signing their online consumer petition.