Updated: Aug 8
We frequently have our favorite wines shipped directly to us from the winery. This way we’re not limited to the wines offered in retail stores. It’s also a way to support these small businesses, which in many cases can’t get their products into stores.
So we were very interested in learning that a bipartisan group of Congressional representatives introduced a bill this spring called the USPS Shipping Equity Act. It would end the 100-year-old ban that prevents the U.S. Postal Service from delivering alcohol to consumers over the age of 21.
During Prohibition, transporting liquor was made illegal for all postal carriers. A three-tier system of alcohol distribution was set up after Prohibition, whereby producers had to sell to wholesalers, who then sold to retailers. Consumers had to buy alcohol from the retailers.
In the years after Prohibition, other package handlers were allowed to resume shipping alcohol. However, the Postal Service was still barred, in large part due to opposition from liquor wholesalers, according to Mike Marinella, Press Secretary for Congressman Dan Newhouse (R-WA), one of the bill’s sponsors.
Allowing the U.S. Postal Service to deliver alcohol would help both consumers and the wine, beer, and alcohol producers because it would give them another delivery option that may be cheaper than a private delivery company, points out Michael Kaiser, Executive Vice President and Director of Government Affairs for WineAmerica, the national association of American wineries.
Having the option to use the U.S. Postal Service could also come in handy if a private carrier can’t deliver, such as during a workers’ strike, which is a distinct possibility. It would open up new markets for wine, beer, and alcohol producers and increase access for consumers in rural, underserved areas, according to the bill’s press release. The Postal Service delivers to every address in the country, but the private carriers do not.
The change would also generate revenue for the financially troubled Postal Service.
The bill was first introduced in 2013 and has regularly been reintroduced since. The House sponsors are coordinating with their Senate counterparts to execute the re-introduction of the legislation there, says Marinella. The bill is currently in committee.
What Would be the Impact of this Change?
With direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales of wine and other alcoholic beverages skyrocketing, having another delivery option could be a welcome development. Fully 47 states now allow DTC shipping (the holdouts are Delaware, Mississippi, and Utah).
Not surprisingly, various stakeholders have strong opinions about whether the U.S. Postal Service should be able to deliver alcohol.
For instance, The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) opposes the bill on the grounds that the current state-based regulations for the sale and distribution of alcohol via licensed merchants ensure, among other things, the proper collection of taxes, a secure supply chain, and restriction of purchases to adults only.
WSWA also warns that DTC shipments caused “widespread and well-known enforcement, public health, and public safety issues” and of the danger of alcohol advertised online that often includes counterfeit or mislabeled products and possible sales to minors. To be fair, WSWA opposes DTC shipping over state lines by all carriers, not just the Postal Service.
Kaiser disagrees with these arguments, calling them misinformation. For instance, the bill doesn’t change the three-tier system of alcohol distribution or federal, state, and local excise tax collection and regulation of beverage alcohol. The legal guardrails to prevent the issues raised by critics are already in place, he says.
The bill also doesn’t change the current safeguards used to prevent underage consumption of alcohol, such as obtaining signatures and checking IDs when delivering.
Kaiser adds that enabling the Postal Service to deliver alcohol doesn’t hurt wholesalers because they are dealing with different products. “It’s a false narrative. A lot of wines in DTC are not in stores,” he says.
It appears that most of the problems with DTC shipping are coming from fraudsters operating illegal online platforms to sell alcohol, not actual wineries, breweries, and other producers selling and shipping to consumers.
USPS itself is being cautious. Its official statement is that it is “in the process of analyzing the bill to evaluate the challenges and opportunities it represents” and that a “subsequent regulatory process” would be required should the bill be enacted.
Will the Postal Service Actually Be Able to Deliver Alcohol?
So what are the chances that the bill will become law?
“There’s always a chance,” says Kaiser.
What do you think of this bill? If you have an opinion on whether the U.S. Postal Service should be able to deliver alcohol, let your senators and representative know.
They’re the ones in this driver’s seat.
Have any suggestions or feedback? Don’t hesitate to send us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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