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Winesipper

Shipping Wine

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Think Prohibition ended in 1933 with the ratification of the 21st? Think again. If you've ever tried to ship a bottle of wine to a friend or relative in another state, you know what I'm talking about. It's always been illegal to send alcoholic beverages through the United States Postal Service, but until a few months ago, UPS and FedEx would allow individuals to ship wine to certain states. A closer look at Section 23-1309A2(7) of Idaho State Law changed all that. That section allows shipment of up to two cases of wine to a resident in another state, but only by "a licensee who holds a license for the retail sale of wine ..." That means that only your local wine shop can ship wine for you, and only to states that allow such shipment.

Since the repeal of Prohibition, each state took over the regulation of the sale of liquor and wine. That has led to a confusing array of rules, regulations and rights that vary from state to state. Currently, Idaho is a reciprocal state, a sort of "I'll scratch your back if you'll scratch mine" arrangement that treats an out-of-state sale as occurring in the state of origin, and permitting shipment to states of like mind without the collection of taxes normally due the destination state. Confusing? It's about to get worse.

In May of last year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down laws in New York and Michigan that permitted intrastate shipping of wine but prohibited interstate shipping. Everyone hailed this as the beginning of the end of conflicting state regulations and the establishment of an open playing field for all. That turned out not to be the case. The Supreme Court decision simply required equity—shipping within the state and shipping into the state had to be treated the same. The result? Some states prohibit all shipping, some states remain reciprocal states, and some require permits and the collection of all excise and state sales taxes. In other words things are just as confusing as they were before.

Here in Idaho the Legislature opted to become a permit state, basing the new law on the model legislation penned by the Wine Institute's "Free the Grape" campaign. Seems like a good thing at first glance, but they changed the wording a bit. Where the guide bill covers "shipping by any person currently licensed in this or any other state as a wine producer, supplier, importer, wholesaler, distributor or retailer," the Idaho Legislature chose to strike those last six words. So as I read it, under the new law, only wineries can ship wine directly to private citizens?

I'm all for state rights, but maybe it's time for the Feds to get involved. If states are going to allow the shipping of wine it ought to be the same across the board. Under Idaho's new law you won't be able to buy wine from Internet and mail order retailers after July 1. It doesn't seem like the equitable treatment of wine shipments to me. Does it to you?