As of August 1, North Dakota consumers are free to bring in alcohol from another state or order it from out-of-state wineries and other suppliers via mail, phone and Internet. However, the new law comes with some restrictions: It sets up labeling and identification requirements to prevent minors from receiving alcohol and creates a graduated system of penalties for companies that violate those regulations more than once.
Earlier this year, the North Dakota legislature was poised to pass a law that would have made wineries, package carriers and possibly even consumers subject to felony prosecutions for any direct shipments. "There was a growing concern that underage drinkers can get access to alcohol over the Internet," said Sen. Vern Thompson, who sponsored the original felony bill, which was quickly approved by the state Senate.
But outcry from local wine lovers and wine clubs, newspaper editorial columnists, restaurateurs and even a few North Dakota retailers prompted legislators to reconsider. Different segments of the alcoholic beverage industry -- wholesalers, retailers, representatives of the hospitality industry and a lobbyist from the Wine Institute, a trade group comprised of California wineries -- came together to help craft compromise legislation. The amended bill passed the House and was sent back to the Senate, where it passed unanimously.
"There were concerns that we were limiting individuals' private consumption," Thompson conceded of his original bill. "But we were able to sit down with wine interests from in and out of state and with people that had concerns from a law-enforcement standpoint, and we were able to get legislation that everyone was satisfied with -- good legislation that protects people yet allows rights for personal consumption."
The new law allows any North Dakota resident 21 or older to bring into the state up to 9 liters of wine (one case) or liquor or up to 288 ounces (one case) of beer per month for personal consumption.
Wineries or other shippers, such as catalog companies or online services, must conspicuously label all packages with the words, "Signature of person age 21 or older required for delivery." Package carriers are required to check identification before delivering the product.
Any shipper or carrier that violates the labeling and ID requirements faces a tiered system of penalties. The first violation prompts a written cease-and-desist order, explaining the current law. The second violation is a misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of up to a year in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. The third violation is a felony, punishable by up to 5 years in jail and up to a $5,000 fine. In addition, vintners convicted of a felony lose the federal permit to make wine.
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