Massachusetts Lawmakers Comment on Wine Shipping Laws

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Looking to get wine shipped to MA? You might find this post helpful:

Reader Question: Can I ship wine to a friend in Massachusetts?

As we learned earlier this year another Massachusetts legislative session has come and gone without enacting legislation that would enable the direct shipment of wine from out of state wineries to Massachusetts residents.

It's a shame since (1) the state continues to be non-compliant with a 2010 federal court ruling and (2) the state is leaving significant revenue on the table by barring shipments.

The two bills failing to make it out of committee for a vote are HB 1029 and HB 1882.

An interesting piece by Colleen Quinn of the State House News Service sheds some rare and precious light on the issues holding up passing of direct shipment bills.

Representative Speliotis comments:

Rep. Theodore Speliotis (D-Danvers), who chairs the Consumer Protection Committee that gave the wine buying bill an unfavorable rating this week, said Thursday that while he favors removing the buying restriction, the state needs to find a way to protect local sellers
“The biggest fear is package stores will go by the wayside like hardware stores,” Speliotis said. “The object is to try to allow new technology into an old profession without costing Massachusetts jobs. 
Speliotis said he hopes the wine industry and the local package store owners will reach a consensus on a bill. They frequently discuss the issue to come up with a solution, he said.

This commentary is interesting to me because in my view the central issue in this battle has always been out of state entities (wineries and to a lesser extent out of state retailers) against Massachusetts distributors. But here the issue is painted as out of state wineries and in state retailers.

Next time you're in a wine store ask the owner whether they're concerned about the direct shipment of wine. The ones I've asked couldn't care less. The primary concerns I've heard from in-state retailers are laws which prohibit them from shipping out of state, high markups from Massachusetts wholesalers relative to other states, and wine being sold at an increasing number of nearby grocery stores.

Further, the commentary is eerily similar to the protectionist stance that got the state into trouble in the first place by limiting shipments to small out of state wineries. The reason Massachusetts should allow wine shipments is simple: Because a federal court said they need to. It shouldn't be a negotiation that involves the concerns of in state retailers.

Here's commentary from Frank Anzalotti who collectively represents the package stores in the state:
Frank Anzalotti, executive director of the Massachusetts Package Store Association, said that if online purchasing is allowed, they want local brick and mortar stores to be able to sell online too. Otherwise, he said, they would be at a disadvantage. 
“We are not, in general, in favor of online purchasing,” Azalotti said. “The obvious reasons are we want a reliable responsible party doing a face-to-face transaction to make sure it is legal.” 
This is another strange misdirection. Massachusetts retailers are split on whether they want to sell online. Many old guard package stores don't want things to change, while other retailers are already selling online - albeit limited to shipping only to Massachusetts addresses.

I agree that Massachusetts retailers absolutely need to be able to ship out of state in conjunction with allowing out of state wineries to be able to ship to Massachusetts. But at the same time out of state retailers should also be able to ship to Massachusetts - a provision that's never been any bill proposed to date.

Finally, check out this quote from House Minority Leader Bradley Jones - who's on our side as wine enthusiasts since he's the one who sponsored the bill:
Jones said only a handful of residents have contacted him upset they cannot buy wine out of state. But he added, “There are court cases that say we should change this.”
Our call to action is pretty clear: We need to write our representatives.
Don't know who your representative is? A list can be found here.

An authentic, personally written email with your address goes a long way towards getting the message to our legislators that this nonsense has gone on for long enough. Let's Free the Grapes!

Related Reading:
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