On March 12, the Senate overwhelmingly killed a bill to permit direct shipment of wine in Mississippi. This vote didn’t age well.
The bill would have made Mississippi the 44th state in the country to allow consumers to purchase wine and have it shipped directly to their house. Currently in Mississippi, a control state, you are limited to what the state has in stock, limiting your freedom to choose the wine you prefer. If ABC doesn’t have it available, you don’t have that option without jumping through traditional government hoops. All to acquire a bottle of wine, something that’s been legal at the national level for 90 years.
But on an early session deadline day, the bill came to the floor and was defeated 32-13, with just 12 Republicans and one Democrat voting for the bill.
Just a few days later, the legislature went home, schools were closed, and a large chunk of the state was shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. Mississippians were staying in, and using technology to work from home, video chat with friends and family, order groceries, and have food from their favorite restaurant delivered to their front door.
Almost overnight, we realized how important technology was, how it impacts virtually every area of our life, and how limitations generally come from government, not the lack of entrepreneurs. A glaring example, the inability to have alcohol delivered to your house in Mississippi.
If you wanted wine delivered to your house from a winery in California, or if you just wanted something from a local liquor store to be delivered via an app like Drizly, you are out of luck. After the direct shipment vote in the Senate failed, it looked like alcohol freedom was never coming to Mississippi. But the pandemic changed things. Soon, the Department of Revenue was repealing regulations.
DOR allowed restaurants, who were forced to close their dining halls during the pandemic, to sell a sealed bottle of wine with to-go orders. They also began allowing residents of Leisure and Recreation Districts (which includes most of the state) to order a mixed drink with their to-go order and take it home. All of these small changes were previously illegal, as ridiculous as that sounds.
All of a sudden, regulations that many of us have been saying were unnecessary as they simply limit consumer freedom were being lifted during an emergency so consumers could have more freedoms. We hear about “health and safety” often when listening to proponents of regulations, but we can safely say that during an actual health crisis, alcohol prohibitions didn’t contribute to our health or safety.
If you didn’t want to go into a crowded store, it was quite the opposite. One could argue the prohibition on alcohol delivery makes us less safe. Or if you’re having a party at your house (while following social distancing guidelines, of course), you could also argue that it’s safer to have a new bottle of wine delivered rather than someone taking their chances on the road.
We know current prohibitions don’t stem from health and safety concerns, but from the protectionist tendencies that are built by the current government policies. It’s not inherently safer to purchase alcohol from a liquor store than a grocery store, but liquor stores have an obvious financial incentive, created by the government, to maintain their monopoly. At the same time, there are plenty of limitations on what liquor stores can sell that also serve no purpose and should be removed.
But this is all overshadowed by the fact that all alcohol runs through a state warehouse, not a traditional distributor. And guess what would happen if we allowed Walmart or Kroger to sell wine? We wouldn’t have enough room at the warehouse and taxpayers would have to fund a bigger facility. Or so we are told. It’s as if we lose every concept of the free market when it comes to alcohol.
Rather, we need to back away from overburdensome regulations and prohibition-inspired laws. While this will just be a footnote from the pandemic, when it comes to alcohol policy, we’ve learned we simply need to ease off protectionist monopolies and trust consumers and technology to allow the market to work.
It’s unfortunate it took an international pandemic for us to learn that lesson.
» BRETT KITTREDGE is the Director of Marketing & Communications of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, the state’s non-partisan, free-market think tank.
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