Last week, Gov. Parris Glendening signed legislation upping the penalty for shipping alcoholic beverages directly to consumers from a misdemeanor to a felony. The bill (HB 278) passed the state legislature overwhelmingly -- 125 to 8 in the House and 34 to 12 in the Senate.
The new law, which takes effect on Oct. 1, specifies that the ban includes alcoholic beverages "purchased through a computer network." It also sets penalties of up to $1,000 in fines and up to two years in jail for out-of-state sellers and distributors that violate the law.
Maryland joins seven other states that impose felony penalties on interstate direct shipments under certain circumstances: Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Texas came close to passing a felony law this year, but the legislative session ended before a final vote was taken on the bill.
This year, numerous state legislatures -- which have become arenas for a clash between opposing economic forces -- have been considering a variety of direct-shipping bills. Citing tax collection and access to minors as concerns, alcoholic-beverage wholesalers are pushing for direct-shipping bans in an effort to protect their business, which may be threatened by Internet, phone and mail-order sales of wine. Meanwhile, winery lobbyists and some retailers, who want to sell to a wider range of customers, are promoting permit bills that allow consumers to import alcohol, arguing that wine lovers should be able to buy small-production wines they can't find locally.
"Felony laws do not solve the issues but simply further protect the wholesalers' monopoly interests," said Seana Wagner, spokeswoman for Napa-based Free the Grapes!, a group of vintners and wine lovers pushing to open up states' direct shipping laws. "It's unfortunate that the state did not choose to work with the solutions that are available in a permit system, which can both provide consumers with access and give states a method for collecting taxes and preventing minor access."
For other recent state legislative news:
For more on federal shipping legislation:
For a comprehensive look at the direct shipping issue:
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