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What You're Doing Might Be Illegal

Thursday, February 4, 2010


This story in last Sunday's Boston Globe caught my eye.  It reminds us not only that buying alcohol in tax-free New Hampshire and bringing it back to Massachusetts is illegal, but it also raises awareness of a couple of everyday acts that are also, evidently, against the law in Massachusetts:

Scenario One
You pick up 2 cases of Charles Shaw at Trader Joe's and drive it home.  You've just broken the law because you're not allowed to transport more than 3 gallons of wine (roughly 15 bottles).  Read the law here.

Scenario Two
Your relatives are traveling from New York to Massachusetts and they bring a bottle of wine for dinner.  They broke the law when they crossed state lines without carrying a special permit for the bottle of wine.

The laws defining what you can and can't do with alcohol are described in Chapter 138, Section 2 of the Massachusetts General Laws:

"No person shall manufacture, with intent to sell, sell or expose or keep for sale, store, transport, import or export alcoholic beverages or alcohol, except as authorized by this chapter"

What you're supposed to do is apply for a "special permit" using this form from the ABCC's website.  According to the Globe Article,  although thousands of Massachusetts residents purchased alcohol from New Hampshire alone last year, only 168 special permits were issued (most of which were likely for purposes like foreign import and samples for the wine trade).

As I've lamented before, what's ridiculous/maddening about these laws is the way they say only what you can do rather than what you can't do. It doesn't say anywhere that we can consume alcohol from a wine glass- is that illegal?  Of course it isn't.

I don't agree with the interpretation that driving one bottle of wine across state lines constitutes importation.  I mean- who says that?  What reasonable person considers that importing?  Who calls their relatives on the cell phone and says "I have just crossed into Massachusetts and successfully imported the bottle of wine we're bringing for dinner."  It's not importing.  It's not changing hands.  It's just driving around with wine.

Just another example of outdated legislation that needs to be updated.  Free the Grapes!

Photo Credit: Joe Shlabotnik

Note: I'm not a lawyer.  Just a wine consumer who thinks these wacky laws should be changed.

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