Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

FTC Report Questions Laws Banning Internet Wine Sales

from the costing-consumers-money dept

There are a number of states that have laws making it illegal to buy wine over the internet. These states all say that these laws are in place to stop kids from buying wine. However, the states that do allow wine sales have other restrictions in place to prevent kids from doing the purchasing - such as verifying the age and requiring an adult signature. Sure there are always going to be a few that trick the system, but most states that allow wine shipments report no reported problems with sales to minors. The real reason, of course, is to protect brick-and-mortar wine sellers who are afraid of internet competition. Now, the FTC has come out with a report saying that these restrictions are costing consumers billions, and they could save up to 21% if the restrictions were lifted. This report is the result of hearings the FTC held last year on the subject, wondering why people couldn't order wine (and other items like contact lenses). Of course, all of this is going to come down to a constitutional issue concerning the "commerce clause" of the Constitution which discusses interstate shipping laws, so any attempt to force a change in these laws, eventually, is likely to end up before the Supreme Court.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jul 2003 @ 12:40pm

    Won't stop states

    Regardless of supreme court decisions, plenty of states keep blue laws on the books. Alabama still had laws prohibiting interracial marriage 30 years after the Virginia vs. Love decision. In Pennsylvania and several Eastern states, wine can only be purchased from state-owned liquor stores with limited hours. Beer has to be purchased from either a bar or a "distribution company", and only in units of 1 or 20; a six-pack is against the law. Connecticut has a weird system with "package stores", and North Carolina has "red dot" stores. If you ask a local what the hell is a "package store", they will look at you like you're the dumbest person they ever met. People can and do receive lengthy jail terms for transporting alcoholic beverages across state lines.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Chris, 3 Jul 2003 @ 12:48pm

    No Subject Given

    Those laws are all the result of politically powerful lobbies that push for the restrictions on trade to insulate their businesses from competition. The wine laws (which VA just overturned this year) are pushed by the wholesalers who have a government granted monopoly on alcohol distribution in their respective states. The contact lens laws are pushed by optomitrists who want you to have to buy contacts from them at retail, etc. it has nothng to do with protecting children - its about protecting politically powerful friends.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Doug, 3 Jul 2003 @ 12:54pm

    Commerce clause?

    There's a constitutional issue here, but it's probably not the commerce clause. I'd expect trouble with the 21st amendment... the one that repealed Prohibition:
    Section 2. The transportation or importation into any state, territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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