As the 2001 legislative sessions get under way across the United States, five states so far have drafted new bills addressing the issue of whether their residents should be allowed to have wines shipped directly to their homes from out-of-state sellers.
The Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts and Mississippi houses of representatives are considering legislation that would permit interstate direct-shipments of wine, while a bill pending in the Montana Senate would make home deliveries a felony for shippers -- punishable by fines and up to five years in prison.
Laws on interstate shipments of alcoholic beverages vary widely from state to state. Twelve states allow shipments to and from other states that allow shipments reciprocally; 6 allow limited shipments, subject to quantity restrictions and permits; and 32 ban all interstate shipments of alcoholic beverages, six of which have felony provisions.
Wineries, retailers and alcoholic-beverage wholesalers have been battling over the issue for years in state legislatures and in the courts. Many small producers claim they are dependent on direct sales to compete with larger companies. Wholesalers fear that wine purchased directly via phone, mail order and the Internet -- rather than in retail shops -- may threaten their business. Retailers have weighed in on both sides of the issue.
Connecticut House Bill 5280 would allow residents who were 21 or older to have up to two cases of wine a month shipped to their home from out-of-state. A companion bill, HB 5589, would charge out-of-state wine merchants and wineries a $100 licensing fee to ship to Connecticut residents. According to 5589, the signature of someone of legal drinking age would be required at the time of delivery.
In Indiana, HB 1281 would allow wine consumers to have an unlimited amount of wine shipped to their homes as long as they had acquired a "connoisseur's permit" from the state, at a cost of $25 per year. Permit holders would not be allowed to resell any of their purchases; doing so could result in misdemeanor charges. Also, the buyer would have to report all purchases to the state yearly and pay any applicable fees or taxes.
If Massachusetts House Bill 803 is passed, residents would be able to send wine home if they made purchases while vacationing in out-of-state wine regions. However, since all wine purchases would have to be made in person, ordering via telephone, fax or the Internet would remain illegal. Each resident would have a three-case limit per out-of-state visit and could use the wine for personal consumption only.
Mississippi residents could have up to two cases of wine per month delivered to their doors, if HB 285 is passed. However, the wines ordered must not be available through in-state retailers. Out-of-state shippers would be required to register with the state and pay quarterly fees based on sales. Direct shipments would remain illegal in dry counties, and second-time violators of any of the provisions could face felony charges.
Montana legislators are considering making it a felony for shippers to send alcoholic beverages to its residents. Senate Bill 48 would expressly prohibit interstate direct-shipments of beer, wine or hard cider -- liquor is not mentioned -- to residents' homes. Violators could face fines from $1,000 to $5,000 per incident and jail time from one to five years. Currently, Montana allows an individual to bring up to three gallons of alcohol across state lines annually.
All bills are under review and face extensive revisions as legislative sessions progress.
Read more about recent direct-shipping legislation:
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