Maryland: Not Exactly the "Free State"

A blog posting on Dave McIntyre's WineLine, a freelance wine and food writer and wine columnist for The Washington Post:

Maryland: Not Exactly the "Free State"

Hopes 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 legislators.

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 signature.

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.

Wineries with Permits

Wineries Able to Ship to MD

Here is a link to the Comptroller's website. Search for "DW-Direct Wine Shippers Permit" under permit type.

Search for wineries


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