Bill to Allow USPS to Ship Beer Passes Senate

The US senate has passed a bill that includes provisions allowing the USPS to ship wine, beer, and spirits. Private carriers have been shipping wine for decades, but the USPS has been banned from doing so for over one hundred years.

18 U.S.C. § 1716(f), the 1909 law that prohibits the USPS from shipping “all spirituous, vinous, malted, fermented or other intoxicating liquors of any kind” remains on the books. That law pre-dates prohibition by ten years, and has never been repealed. That would change if Senate Bill 1789 becomes law. The bill was passed in the senate on April 25, 2012, and Section 405 provides that wine, beer, and distilled spirits are considered “mailable” by the USPS as long as a) it is consistent with the laws of the states where the shipment is initiated and where delivery is to be made, b) the addressee is at least 21 years of age, and c) the addressee provides a signature and a valid government-issued photo identification upon delivery.

In order to become law, Senate Bill 1789 still needs to pass through the House of Representatives. The bill was designed to address the moratorium on post office closures that expired on May 15, 2012, which had already been delayed from an original deadline of last December.

Comments

  1. Brewtopian says

    As much as I would like to see the USPS start shipments of alcohol I don’t see this bill getting through the House. The GOP is on record as wanting to shut down the postal service entirely and there’s no way that they will allow any changes to be made that could potentially save it.

    On top of that the wholesalers association is dead set against any expansion of shipping to residents from manufacturers or retailers. I know first hand how serious they are about this since i tried to get our state laws clarified on this matter and they literally called up Senators and started threatening them and my business if it ever went to a vote. These people are essentially the mafia and they will stop at nothing to protect their monopoly. They have millions of dollars at their disposal and will spend it to protect the billions that they make in annual revenue.

  2. pete says

    Brewtopian wrote: As much as I would like to see the USPS start shipments of alcohol I don’t see this bill getting through the House. The GOP is on record as wanting to shut down the postal service entirely and there’s no way that they will allow any changes to be made that could potentially save it.

    On top of that the wholesalers association is dead set against any expansion of shipping to residents from manufacturers or retailers. I know first hand how serious they are about this since i tried to get our state laws clarified on this matter and they literally called up Senators and started threatening them and my business if it ever went to a vote. These people are essentially the mafia and they will stop at nothing to protect their monopoly. They have millions of dollars at their disposal and will spend it to protect the billions that they make in annual revenue.

    Here’s an idea for thought Rick. Send the monopoly a msg with your orders and order more of our local beer from the independent, hometown distributor!

  3. Brewtopian says

    I’m not sure what you mean Pete.

    As for the independence of the distributors they are all technically independent but they are all also members of the National Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association which is the lobbying organization for the distributors. Its this body that determines which legislation they support or oppose and they overwhelmingly oppose any changes that they see as eroding their local marketshare. In their mind shipping alcohol to residents be it from manufacturer or retailer is in direct conflict with the established 3 tier system and they have too much invested in the system to allow it to be changed.

    We’ve been fighting for the right to ship beer to residents for several years now. We’ve gone head to head with both FedEx and UPS. We’ve butted heads with the State of Texas, Iowa, Minnesota and New Hampshire and we’re working on a Granholm like lawsuit to get a broader ruling from the Supreme Court so beer is included in that decision.

    I’ve made a couple of offers to speak before the Wholesalers Assoc. to explain to them how its in their best interest to support shipping of beer and wine. By supporting it they increase the number of accounts buying product from them and they increase the reach of their market from this small region to almost the entire country.

    Distributors concerned that these shipments will have a negative impact on their sales need to understand that people who buy beer online aren’t buying things they can get locally. They are buying product that is unavailable to them in their area. People aren’t going to pay $25 for a six pack of Budweiser or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and wait a week for to show up when they can buy it at their local market.

    In a world of rapidly expanding craft beer these distributors could capitalize on the expansion by being an outlet for these new brands and get a chunk of that revenue by supporting shipping. Considering the stagnant sales of mass market brands you’d think they would want to bulk up their portfolios brands that may be desirable to someone on the other side of the country.

    The sad reality is the distributors are stuck maintaining the status quo. They live in fear of any little ripple in the ocean of the 3 tier system overturning their boat. This fear and their financial power in Congress is what is stifling a potentially huge retail category. Until there is some concrete conclusion that unequivocally grants retailers and manufacturers the right to ship their product to consumers businesses like mine will be very reluctant to invest much in the form of time or money into growing that side of their business.

  4. pete says

    Well, I’m not going to mention any names since I don’t want to get ceasteded and desistaded again for no damn good reason but I suspect that some of your distributors might be more NBWA than my distributor. After all, who do you think controls the NBWA and is coming down on you? Perhaps those worldwide beer conglomerates? Sure, all distributors, mine included, share some common interests but those big brand distributors still run the show. Send ’em a msg buddy!

    As far as retail to consumer shipping, I can see why the middle tier feels threatened. What happens if that takes off and then the law changes to where I can ship direct to you? That is what they are trying to make sure never happens and if you and I were in their shoes we would probably see things the same way. I do agree with you that more direct consumer shipments would create more business for the middle tier and craft retail in general, I just think the middle tier views the future as being much safer keeping things the way they are, and he who has the money gets to write the laws.

  5. Brewtopian says

    Pete, the law could never change enough to have a substantial negative impact on their business. In order for that to happen the entire Constitution of the United States would have to be amended. That has always been difficult but in todays political climate it would be virtually impossible.

    As an example of the sort of impact that you could expect from the law changing to clearly permit beer to be shipped just look at what the Granholm decision did to the wine industry. You can now buy wine from winery or retailer and have it shipped to your home and it didn’t change the way wholesalers operated at all. You can still pick up bottles at your local market but when you want that one particular wine from that boutique vineyard in Napa you visited on your honeymoon that you can’t get in Hartford you buy it online. Its it is exactly the same with beer.

    That local distributor didn’t miss out on a sale because he doesn’t carry it and your purchase online didn’t cut the amount of wine you’re going to buy locally it just supplements your purchases.

    There is one difference between beer and wine when it comes to shipping and that’s markup. A bottle of wine often has a markup as high as 300% while even the most expensive bottle of beer will only be 40 to 60%. This difference in markup allows a wine shipper to offer free shipping while the beer shipper can’t. This advantage means that the online wine business will always be much bigger and more successful than online beer.