Conway rules out end to wine-shipment ban
The Baltimore Sun posted the article below about Sen. Joan Carter Conway, chairwoman of the
Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, saying that the direct wine shipping bill "is not going anywhere":
Conway rules out end to wine-shipment ban
Senator says direct sale to Marylanders poses underage-buying, tax problems
By Julie Bykowicz | email@example.com
February 8, 2010
Maryland lawmakers, a swath of Democrats and Republicans from across
the state, want adults to be able to have bottles of wine shipped to
their homes, something that's legal in 37 other states. When it was
filed last week, a bill repealing the quarter-century-old
direct-shipping ban included the signatures of 106 of the 188 state
"In a logical world, that kind of support would indicate that a bill is
about to pass," said Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat
and proponent of what's affectionately known as the "Free the Grapes"
But the proposal, as in years past, "is not going anywhere," according
to the leader of the Senate committee that determines its fate.
Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Baltimore Democrat and chairwoman of the
Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, said she has too
many concerns to bring the bill up for a vote, though six of the nine
committee members are co-sponsors.
"Conceptually, it's a good thing," Conway said of the proposal. "There
are a few things I'm hung up on, and I don't think those can all be
resolved this year."
Her chief concern, she said, is that underage drinkers will tap the
Internet for wine. There's no way, she said, to force delivery
agencies, whether the U.S. Postal Service or a private carrier, to
verify the age of the person accepting a package.
The other problem, she said, is that it is difficult for state
officials to collect taxes from out-of-state entities - or penalize
Raskin said he has not heard "any convincing argument against the wine
bill. It's working in other states. It can work here, too."
He argues that Marylanders are already having bottles of wine shipped
to their homes illegally or to other areas, such as Virginia or
Washington, where it is legal. Either way, Maryland doesn't get a cut
of the taxes on those bottles.
Adam Borden, director of Marylanders for Better Beer and Wine Laws, a
lobbying group, said direct shipping would generate about $1.5 million
per year in state and excise taxes.
Repealing the law would open Maryland wine cellars to cabernets and
syrahs from boutique wineries such as Sonoma's Michel-Schlumberger Wine
Most of their wines are shipped directly to residents, said Jim Morris,
the vineyard's director of marketing. They do not sell to any of the
state's wine distributors, but Morris said some Maryland customers have
found a loophole: Those who work in the District of Columbia have the
product shipped to their business addresses.
"We always ask, 'Do you have an address in D.C. or any other state?' "
Morris said. "Maryland is a really difficult state to do business with."
Liquor lobbyists strongly oppose direct shipping of wine, saying it
bypasses the state's carefully crafted network of government entities
that regulate the sale of alcohol. Developed just after the end of
Prohibition in 1933, state law requires alcohol to pass from producer
to wholesaler to retailer before it reaches the consumer.
"What do you think the liquor boards are for?" Bruce C. Bereano, a
lobbyist for the Licensed Beverage Distributors of Maryland, says of
The wine-shipping legislation would require manufacturers who import to
be licensed, but Bereano says such a system would "not be a meaningful
substitute" for liquor inspectors charged with the authority to shut
down a business selling to underage customers.
Conway said she supports the existing regulatory system. Direct shipping, she said, "violates the integrity of it."
But some proponents of the direct-shipping bill question whether she is
too personally tied to the system to be fair. Her husband, Vernon "Tim"
Conway, is a city liquor inspector since 1995 who made $67,000 in his
position last year, according to city records.
All 188 lawmakers and Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, are up for
election this fall, further imperiling the wine-shipping bill.
According to a 2008 analysis by The Baltimore Sun, more than 80 percent
of state legislators have received campaign contributions from the
Conway said her concerns are shared by Senate leadership. Senate
President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Prince George's County Democrat, has
not traditionally supported the direct-shipping bill, either.
Still, Raskin said, he holds out hope that 2010 "will be our vintage for passing this bill."
Baltimore Sun reporter Annie Linskey contributed to this article.