this volatile political atmosphere, elected officials who take actions
contrary to the views of voters are likely to find the electorate
unforgiving this November. It is a powerful theme that Republicans have
been using to great effect in Washington of late: the perceived gap
between public opinion and public policy.
Amazingly, Sen. Joan Carter Conway is
pursuing precisely that folly with her recent disclosure that she
opposes legislation to allow Marylanders to have bottles of wine
shipped directly to their homes. Polls show the public favors the law,
and a majority of the General Assembly have signed on as co-sponsors of
But Senator Conway, chair of the Senate
Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, is doing far
more than opposing the bill; she’s taken the unusual step of threatening not to allow the legislation to come up for a committee vote at all.
a desk-drawer veto would not only thwart the legislative process (six
of nine committee members are among the co-sponsors) but demonstrate a
political hubris with which Democrats ought not be comfortable.
Baltimore senator has said her chief concern is that somehow the
proposal would facilitate under-age drinking. She’s also suggested that
it might be difficult for the state to collect appropriate excise and
sales taxes from out-of-state wineries.
claim holds much water, let alone wine. Shipping wine is legal in more
than two-thirds of states, where neither concern has materialized as a
The under-age drinking claim is
particularly nonsensical. Under the proposal, United Parcel Service and
FedEx are the only two potential shippers. Both have proven themselves
reliable in other states, and their drivers must check photo ID of wine
recipients to make sure they are 21 years old – just as any clerk or
waitress in a liquor store, bar or restaurant must do.
Surveys have repeatedly shown that minors find it far easier to ask an older friend or relative to buy alcohol for them and
it’s not usually the kind of boutique wine that ends up bubble-wrapped
in shipping boxes. In Maryland, there are approximately 6,300 liquor
stores, bars and restaurants where a straw purchase can take place. Why
would anyone wait a week for an expensive direct shipment for which
they’d need an adult to sign?
Taxes have also not
proven to be a serious obstacle in other states. Wineries are only too
pleased to pay taxes to the state where a bottle is delivered instead
of where it was produced. It’s all the same to them.
there are more pressing issues before the state legislature this year
than making it possible for average people to have wine shipped to
them. The recession, falling tax revenues, and projected budget
deficits have left many in Annapolis with important, albeit unpopular,
choices to make.
But few issues better underscore
why voters are suspicious of government in this state: the influence of
the liquor lobby, the coziness of regulators with the alcohol industry
(Senator Conway’s spouse is a longtime Baltimore liquor inspector) and
the willingness of leaders to blithely ignore the public’s wishes.
direct shipment is good for consumers and good for Maryland’s wine
industry. Such obvious benefits should easily trump the objections of
self-interested liquor wholesalers, retailers and even regulators who
seek to preserve Maryland’s antiquated liquor laws. Woe to any
politician who thinks the voters won’t notice such a glaring example of
already gain access to alcohol despite attempts to regulate and prevent
them from doing so. In general, minors prefer beer and cheap alcohol.
They make spontaneous decisions to have a party. So, for example, some
high school kids at 6PM on a Saturday night might plot to figure out
how to gain access to alcohol for what they perceive to be a "fun"
What minors do not do is review expensive wine magazines and
advertising mailers from boutique wineries in California, and order a
case of wine to be shipped to them, charging it on a credit card, and
ordering it two weeks in anticipation of the party.
What minors do is to enlist the aid of persons of age (friends, older siblings and relatives) to buy beer or other alcohol.
I really don't think the passage of this law would modify the behavior of minors.
I suppose there would be concern that a case of wine is delivered to a
home by the UPS delivery worker and a minor receives it. The minor then
cracks open the case and drinks while his parents are away. Again, this
type of alcohol is not typically the beverage of choice of minors and,
frankly, persons who order these types of wines are likely to have, in
the household, many other bottles of wine which the minor could access,
with or without the shipment. If the minor is inclined to raid the
household wine cellar, the delivery of another case is irrelevant, and
the minor will find alcohol in the house.
With regard to the concern relating to taxation, I don't think that it
is reasonable to assume that wineries out of state will be serial
violators of Maryland's law. Also, the law providers for personal
jurisdiction in Maryland Courts for civil matters, and it should be
relatively easy to obtain a judgment against a shipper in a Maryland
court for any civil violation of the law, or failure to remit taxes. As
an attorney, I can tell you that it would be much harder to defend such
an action by an out of state shipper than for the state to bring it. Of
course, that judgment can easily be recorded in the shipper's state and
enforced there. I would think, however, that out of state wineries
would welcome the additional outlet for sales, and I know that
Maryland's wineries would welcome the opportunity to ship to other
states. Computer software being what it is, it should be very easy for
a shipper to keep track of and account for Maryland sales.
Of course, the state currently loses out on much greater tax revenues
from internet sales for clothing, computers, electronics, books, and a
host of other things through sites such as Amazon.com and numerous
other catalogue sales companies. This is the reality of the new
economy. Many consumers simply prefer shopping on line. The economy
changes. Local alcohol beverage and wine stores really have no reason
to be concerned because the overwhelmingly large percentage of wines
sold are comparatively inexpensive, and their sales are unlikely to be
affected except trivially. No one is going to pay shipping charges to
get wines that are locally available. In addition, as I understand it,
the law would only apply to wine shipped from other states in the US. A
very large percentage of wine consumed in the US and in Maryland comes
from Australia, Italy, Chile, France, Argentina and Germany, and those
sales would continue to be only from the established wine stores in
Imagine the outcry if the Maryland legislature were to ban its citizens
from purchasing books and other items from Amazon.com due to the loss
of tax revenue, or banning Marylanders from ordering clothing on the
internet? Why would Marylanders scream? Because we love the freedom to
purchase what we want from our own personal favorite store or vendor,
and do not believe the government, though it has a legitimate desire to
tax sales, should impede this freedom.
I would assume that sales tax revenue is down due to the economy in
general and the ever increasing internet markets. This is a challenge
that the State needs to address, but not by restricting its citizens
from internet shopping.
The bill should move forward. It is a good bill for Maryland wineries;
it is a good bill for Maryland consumers. It is a good bill for