Thursday, February 26, 2009

GAAHHHHH!

We break up monopolies in the name of customers and smaller competitors. We create laws so that businesses cannot take advantage of consumers. Companies are not allowed to falsely advertise in order to protect consumers. See a trend here? In many cases, the advantage goes to the consumer.

Not so with alcohol sales in the state of Tennessee, however. We have some of the most backwards laws in the country with respect to the juice of the vine, and none of them benefit the consumer. Not one. They all benefit the wholesale liquor lobby and liquor store owners, but they most certainly do nothing to protect the consumer.

I'm over 21 years of age. I'm legally able to purchase alcohol. With the caveat that I can only purchase that which is available at my local liquor stores. Do they supply wines from all those great little vineyards in Sonoma or France or Italy? No. Can I get something special ordered that isn't already available from their wholesalers? No.

There seems to be a simple solution to this problem, right? Just order it. Yeah, that doesn't work here. We're not allowed to receive or bring any alcohol across state lines. So, we're limited to what's available through the wholesalers. Pursuant to this interpretation of our current laws, we also can't send back any tokens from our travels, either.

This is wrong. It's not fair to the consumers, and it's certainly not fair to the small vineyard owners who don't have the same bargaining powers of the larger vineyards. They should be able to legally sell their products to those who are legally able to buy them, and not be stopped because of our wholesale lobby. It's also unfair to small wine producers here in TN - because of the Supreme Court's decision regarding shipping reciprocity, not allowing consumers in our state to order out of state wines means that our producers cannot ship theirs out, either.

I've heard arguments all over the place that this would make it easier for underage kids to get their hands on alcohol. Phooey. Don't even try to tell me that a grocery store clerk (who already checks IDs for beer) or UPS driver is any less qualified than a liquor store clerk to check IDs. They all have to go through training about fake IDs and the like. Also, most underage kids I remember were looking for instant gratification - not that fabulous pinot that they can only get through the mail or the wine of the month club. They're not going to wait for something to be delivered to them, and again, the delivery person should be required to check ID on any shipments of alcohol.

The arguments against changing the laws for the benefit of the consumer are hollow and not backed up by available data. If you're also fed up, check out two sites working to change things.

Free the Grapes
Red White and Food

Yes, I realize that there are more important things happening in our country than whether or not we have choice of where and from whom to purchase wine in TN. However, a change in the laws adds better price competition for consumers, gives our producers more places to send their product, and allows TN consumers to purchase from smaller producers who can't or won't go through the wholesalers.

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