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
€œthere 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 €œprotections€ 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
€œviolate 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.

This entry was posted in Direct Shipping, Maryland, Washington Post, Wine. Bookmark the permalink.

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