The Best Government Money Can Buy

~After talking with some people a few days ago, it occurred to me that many wine consumers don’t yet understand the nature of alcohol control in the United States.

Briefly, federal, state and local governments view alcohol as a beautiful sin: a wonderful source of revenue; a place to stick it to the public who demands its alcohol. The rest follows…

~Alcohol regulation is a fine example of hypocrisy; it puts the lie to the need for a war on drugs (legalize them and the government can make money), and it shows how easily government regulators can subvert the premises behind the U.S. Constitution.
~Before I go on, did you know that there was a time when the government did not control wine traffic, and people could freely buy and sell the product without a license? In fact, wine was promoted by many of the country’s founders and latter supporters as an antidote to the bane of “drink.”

We all know that story about the Boston Tea Party, when the valuable commodity was dumped into Boston Harbor to protest onerous taxes.

About a decade before the famous tea party, Boston Harbor was the site of an almost skirmish concerning wine.

At the time, shipments of Madeira (the most popular wine in the colonies) went untaxed, until the British legislator at Boston slapped a tax on an incoming shipment on a vessel named the Liberty.

The locals revolted and the British backed down.

The vessel’s owner was John Hancock.

Perhaps, the Tea Party gang got inspiration from that earlier incident concerning wine!

~In the early days of our republic, Doctor Benjamin Rush was one particular supporter of wine. This personal friend of Thomas Jefferson was the man to first refer to alcoholism as a disease. He was also convinced that moderate wine consumption was not only healthy—it was one way to reduce alcoholism.
~Today, there is a substance abuse program and hospital named after Rush. Back then, Rush gave speeches tearing down evil drink and building up moderate wine.
~Benjamin Rush died in 1833, the same year that the American so-called temperance movement took flight in Western New York.

The word temperance originally meant moderation but was promoted by Prohibitionists until it took on the cloak of abstinence.

~The Prohibitionists had a valid argument—drink was a problem in the early country—but like most special interest groups, they took it to the extreme (or maybe they had been infiltrated by extremists). In any event, they used Doctor Rush’s speeches to support their argument against alcohol, and they made sure to leave out his positive references to wine.
~It took about 85 years for the Prohibition movement to win its victory, which first came with a few localities within a few states going dry, then a few states going dry, then a bolstered movement got to the Congress, to the often pusillanimous body of legislators who know a special interest when they see one. The Congress responded in 1919 with the Volstead Act: Prohibition.
~In 1933 the errant Volstead Act, the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, was wiped out with three simple sentences known as the 21st Amendment, Repeal of Prohibition—it was the first Amendment to the Constitution to completely wipe out an earlier Amendment.
~Repeal was a wonderful moment in American history; still, the 1933 Congress that killed Prohibition proved that it was equally as pusillanimous as the 1919 Congress that created it.
~During Prohibition, while myriad preachers and moralists fought hard to make Prohibition a lasting American aberration, an equal myriad gangsters and corrupt politicians made sure that alcohol flowed during the enactment of the law.
~When Repeal came, the corrupt realized they could lose that stream of money and so, they solidified their positions within the states, and were able to do so because the mealy brained Congress had built into the 21st Amendment a provision that became an override to an existing Constitutional protection under the Commerce Clause in Section 8, Article 1: free and unfettered trade among the states.
~Contrary to the Commerce Clause, the 1933 Congress gave the states the right to control and regulate alcohol within their borders. How the control and regulation was set up mainly became a reflection of the level of corruption and influence alcohol traffickers maintained within each state.
~Some states took complete governmental control of licensing, distribution and retail sales—and we know the kind of corruption that can, and did, produce. Other states allowed private businesses to handle the distribution and retailing, but not without paying the piper, and for their tax and secret monies, the states helped alcohol distributors by acting as a protection ring for them.

Today, amidst the maniacal morass, large distributor wholesalers are opening their wallets to prevent politicians from doing what should have been done in 1933: leave the wine business to work like any other business in America—free and unfettered.

~You may have heard of a case that went to the Supreme Court a few years ago concerning wine shipping across state lines. Until the Supreme Court ruling, the hodgepodge of states that prohibited wine shipping across their borders and states that allowed it was confusing at best, unconstitutional at worst. Unfortunately, after the ruling, the situation isn’t much better.
~The courts’ decision was narrow: it homed on one constitutional issue (state commercial protectionism) while it avoided another (the subversion of the Dormant Commerce Clause that was built into the 21st Amendment).

Disclaimer: I am neither lawyer nor constitutional scholar. I just know a scam when I see one.

Commerce Clause 21st Amendment The Supremes

~As legislators and justices are often wont to produce, the Supreme Court decision left an ambiguity that is now being exploited, state by state, across the country, the result of which is that, while the borders may not be officially closed to wine shipping, the activity of state politicians, responding to their coffers stuffed with distributor dollar bills, has effectively lessened the chances for wines being shipped across many state lines. (Moralists are out there too. They sit in state as well as federal government chairs just loving the fight! And don’t think for a minute that moralists don’t sit on the Supreme Court).
~For a sample of what is going on, check out these sites.

Illinois Wisconsin

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
July, 2007. All Rights Reserved.

2 Responses to “The Best Government Money Can Buy”

  1. winophite says:

    Thanks for trying to clear up this regulatory mess. Where can a person find and read the regulations for a particular state such as IN? Also, how to find record of state bills introduced relating to these regulations and who voted how?Seems to me the government purposely makes these things hard to find. Thanks, Winophite

  2. Thomas says:

    Try this Web site for state liquor controls:
    http://www.travelenvoy.com/wine/state_control_boards.htm

    As for state regulations, etc., I’d start with Googling your state’s government name, or better yet, contact your local newspaper.