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Free the Liquor Stores!

Summary:
The Fine Wine & Good Spirits liquor stores are slowly beginning to reopen in Pennsylvania after they were all closed on March 17 in response to the spread of the coronavirus. On May 8, 77 stores reopened. On May 15, 155 more stores reopened. On May 22, 50 more stores were opened. During the time when the liquor stores in Pennsylvania were all closed, Pennsylvania residents flocked to liquor stores in other states, such as New Jersey, West Virginia, and Ohio. In April, Ohio’s governor, Mike DeWine, signed an executive order “requiring six Ohio counties near the Pennsylvania border to require proof of local residency for the purchase of alcohol.” Said the governor, “This is necessary because of repeated instances of persons from Pennsylvania coming into these counties for the sole or main

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The Fine Wine & Good Spirits liquor stores are slowly beginning to reopen in Pennsylvania after they were all closed on March 17 in response to the spread of the coronavirus. On May 8, 77 stores reopened. On May 15, 155 more stores reopened. On May 22, 50 more stores were opened.

During the time when the liquor stores in Pennsylvania were all closed, Pennsylvania residents flocked to liquor stores in other states, such as New Jersey, West Virginia, and Ohio.

In April, Ohio’s governor, Mike DeWine, signed an executive order “requiring six Ohio counties near the Pennsylvania border to require proof of local residency for the purchase of alcohol.” Said the governor, “This is necessary because of repeated instances of persons from Pennsylvania coming into these counties for the sole or main purpose of purchasing liquor. Any other time, we’d love to have visitors from Pennsylvania, but right now this creates an unacceptable public health issue.”

When the Fine Wine & Good Spirits liquor stores closed, why couldn’t residents of Pennsylvania just go to another liquor store in Pennsylvania instead of having to drive to another state? Because the Fine Wine & Good Spirits liquor stores are the only liquor stores in Pennsylvania. They are government liquor stores. No private liquor stores are allowed to exist.

Pennsylvania is one of seventeen “alcoholic beverage control” states, where the state government controls the wholesaling, and often the retailing, of distilled spirits, and in some cases, beer and wine. The other states are Alabama, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming. There are also jurisdictions in Alaska, Maryland, Minnesota, and South Dakota that control the sale of alcoholic beverages.

According to the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association (NABCA)—the national association representing jurisdictions that directly control the distribution and sale of beverage alcohol within their borders—“control jurisdictions represent approximately 24.8% of the nation’s population and account for roughly 23% of distilled spirit sales and a significantly smaller percentage of beer and wine sales.” The mission of the NABCA is “to support member jurisdictions in their efforts to protect public health and safety and ensure responsible and efficient systems for beverage alcohol distribution and sales.”

In 1933, the Twenty-First Amendment repealed the Eighteenth Amendment that had since 1920 prohibited the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all the territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” However, some states, such as Pennsylvania, instead of allowing liquor freedom, chose to institute liquor socialism and monopolize the retail sale of hard liquor.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) “was created by state law on Nov. 29, 1933, at the end of Prohibition.” “The agency is governed by a three-member Board whose members are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by two-thirds of the state Senate.”

The mission of the PLCB

is to responsibly sell wine and spirits as a retailer and wholesaler, regulate Pennsylvania’s alcohol industry, promote alcohol education and social responsibility and maximize financial returns for the benefit of all Pennsylvanians. The PLCB regulates the manufacture, importation, sale, distribution and disposition of liquor, alcohol, and malt or brewed beverages in the commonwealth. The agency issues licenses to private individuals or entities that wish to engage in wholesale operations of beer, either as an importing distributor or as a distributor. The agency is also responsible for wholesale distribution of wine and spirits, which licensees may pick up from state-operated Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores or licensee service centers or have delivered from PLCB distribution centers.

The PLCB operates “more than 600 Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores across Pennsylvania, including more than 90 Premium Collection stores and an e-commerce retail website.” Since 1987, Pennsylvania’s liquor code has been enforced by the Pennsylvania State Police.

But the PLCB is not the only way that alcoholic beverages are restricted in Pennsylvania. The state also allows voters in each municipality to limit certain alcohol sales or ban the sale of alcohol altogether. According to the PLCB, “681 of 2,560 Pennsylvania municipalities are at least partially dry.” According to the Pennsylvania Liquor Code, “a local option referendum to change what alcohol sales a municipality allows or prohibits may be voted on during any election.” Thirty-two other states also allow localities to prohibit the sale of liquor. Pennsylvania is different from most states with a local option in that this option applies to municipalities and not to counties.

Why?

Why is alcohol treated differently from any other commodity? Why are alcohol sales restricted in some way, in most states, on Sundays? Why is the drinking age twenty-one, when Americans are considered legal adults at age eighteen? Why do some states make a distinction between alcohol consumed on premises and alcohol purchased for consumption off premises? Why are alcoholic beverages heavily taxed? Why, in Louisiana, is the sale of alcoholic beverages of any kind permitted in supermarkets, drug stores, gas stations, and convenience stores, while in other states grocery stores can sell distilled spirits only in a separate store or in an attached location that has its own entrance?

Free the liquor stores.

Free the liquor stores to sell what products they want, what days of the week they want, what hours they want, and to whom they want. Free the liquor stores from government regulation, oversight, licensing, and control. Free the liquor stores from government ownership. Free the liquor stores from local options that can institute dry counties or municipalities. Free the liquor stores from modern-day prohibitionists. Free the liquor stores from religious zealots.

Now, none of this means that there are no health risks associated with alcohol abuse. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),

Drinking too much can harm your health. Excessive alcohol use led to approximately 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost (YPLL) each year in the United States from 2006–2010, shortening the lives of those who died by an average of 30 years. Further, excessive drinking was responsible for 1 in 10 deaths among working-age adults aged 20–64 years. The economic costs of excessive alcohol consumption in 2010 were estimated at $249 billion, or $2.05 a drink.

But since when is it the proper function of government to discourage the drinking of alcohol, prohibit commerce in alcohol, license the sellers of alcohol, educate anyone to “make informed, smarter decisions about alcohol,” restrict the hours when alcohol can be sold or consumed, or set a minimum age to purchase, possess, or drink alcoholic beverages?

At the bottom of the Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board’s website, next to the seal of the state of Pennsylvania, it says, “Keystone State. Proudly founded in 1681 as a place of tolerance and freedom.” Yet when it comes to the commodity of alcohol, there is no tolerance or freedom in Pennsylvania. Not when no one is permitted to open a private liquor store. Not when all restaurants are allowed to purchase the liquor they sell only from the PLCB. Not when business must get a license to sell alcoholic beverages. Not when the liquor stores need to be freed.

Originally published by the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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Mises Institute
The Mises Institute, founded in 1982, teaches the scholarship of Austrian economics, freedom, and peace. The liberal intellectual tradition of Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) and Murray N. Rothbard (1926-1995) guides us. Accordingly, we seek a profound and radical shift in the intellectual climate: away from statism and toward a private property order.

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