Money Hungry Lawmakers in Maryland to Ban Shipment of French Wines

I've watched a lot of legislatures debate direct shipping policy and watched many lawmakers give in to special interests over and over. However, I've never seen lawmakers so blatantly be bought off by local special interests at the expense of consumers, state tax revenue and free trade like has recently happened in Maryland.

Marylandlawmakers I listened to Senator Joan Carter Conway— who chaired the Maryland committee that gets to hear testimony on alcohol policy—in both a private meeting with stakeholders that I attended as well as in public hearings not only demonstrate a profound lack of understanding for the most basic issues at hand, but also blatantly take her cues from those that contributed to her campaign: The local wine wholesalers and the local retailers who convinced Senator Conway that they are so inept at selling wine, they need protection from out of state retailers.

Meanwhile, yesterday, the Maryland House sub-committee on alcohol decided to endorse a direct shipping bill (HB 1175) that literally only had 2 sponsors: Charles Barkley, the chair of the Alcohol Sub-Committee in the House and Dereck Davis, the Chair of the House Economic Matters Committee from which the Alcohol Sub-Committee springs. The committee chose not to endorse a bill (HB 234) that actually had more than 80 sponsors in the Maryland House of Delegates. That makes the members of the Alcohol Sub Committee and set of cowards who can't count—unless its campaign contributions they are counting.

Davis is a known opponent of direct shipping and consumer rights. But one has to wonder if he simply is against consumer rights and direct shipping on principle or not, considering that since 2006 Davis has hauled in more than $17,000 in "campaign contributions" from Maryland wholesalers and retailers, who are against this bill. Conway has taken $10,000 since 2006.

So, Marylanders will be able to have wine shipped to them from out of state wineries when all this is said and done. And many will hail this as a victory for consumers. But it isn't.

When HB 1175 is passed it will be against the law for Marylander to have any of the following wines shipped to them from either in-state or out-of-state:

-French wines
-German wines
-Spanish wines
-Italian wines
-Austrian wines
-Israeli wines
-New Zealand winesa
-Australian wines
-Chilean wines
-Argentine wines
-Canadian wines
-Wines sold at auction
-Wines from "Wine-of-the-Month" clubs
-Most rare and out of vintage wines.

You see, these are wines not shipped by out of state wineries. These wines are sold by wine stores, auction houses and wine-of-the-month clubs.

When I asked both Senator Conway to her face and the wholesalers in the room to their face, why they would want to make it illegal for Marylanders to buy these wines I got the following response from Senator Conway: "Well wineries from outside the country can't be shipping into the state!"

After what I fear was an audible heavy sigh, I responded, "Yes, Senator Conway. However, these are the wines that only wine retailers in America sell. Wineries in America don't sell French wines or any other foreign wines. By excluding retailers from shipping either from within Maryland or into Maryland, you make it illegal to get these wines. I can't see why you would want to do that. Can you or anyone else in the room explain why you would want to pass a law that bans Marylanders from having French wines shipped to them, but making it legal to have Oregon wines shipped to them?"

Senator Conway's response was: "Well I don't see many other retailers in this room who think that's a good idea."

I'm sure they all heard by sigh after that.

Both Senator Conway's and Delegate Davis' slavish concern for their campaign contributors desires is very unimpressive. There is a word for someone who will sell themselves for cash.

If you want an idea of how sure the campaign contributors were that the lawmakers they own would do their bidding, consider that in public hearings wholesalers and retailers in Maryland who oppose consumers having wine shipped to them from out of state retailers offered but one single reason for their opposition: "It will be competition!"

So, once again consumers and free trade get screwed by lawmakers who are dragged around by the scent of cash.

Maryland retailers and wholesalers think they won the battled to hold competition at bay. However, the not-so-secret fact is that the vast majority of wholesalers and retailers in Maryland are considered among the worst in the country. This is why the state's wine drinkers regularly make the drive to the District of Columbia and Virginia to find a decent bottle of wine. There are a few good retailers in Maryland. But guess what, those competent retailers were IN FAVOR of allowing Marylanders to have wine shipped to them from out of state wineries AND retailers.

At some point, consumers need to stand up and make some noise about this. At some point, consumers need to band together and start calling lawmakers who ignore them exactly what they are and demanding better. Or…Consumers could simply gather up enough cash to impress the Maryland lawmakers and buy themselves a real direct shipping bill since it seems pretty clear that it's cash that is necessary to get a lawmaker in that state to do the right thing.

14 Responses

  1. James McCann - March 17, 2011

    Since you have named the legislators, why not name the wholesalers and retailers that are among the worst in the country, as well as the retailers that are in favor of allowing shipping?

  2. James McCann - March 17, 2011

    Where do the control counties stand on the issue?

  3. Tom Wark - March 17, 2011

    There was no testimony by county administrators.
    As for your first question, the list would be too long.

  4. James McCann - March 17, 2011

    Then how about the retailers that are in favor? How can they be in favor if they are not willing to be indentified?

  5. Marcia - March 17, 2011

    (Audible Sigh.)

  6. Tom Wark - March 17, 2011

    The Maryland Wine Merchants that don’t feel like they need protection from the state and have not asked for it and who believe consumers ought to be able to access the wines they want formed their own organization:
    Wine Merchant Association of Maryland.
    However, they did not give money to any candidates. So, they were largely ignored.

  7. James McCann - March 17, 2011

    Unfortunately, their website does not list their members. No money, no publicity, remaining anonymous… they are either politically naive or are content fighting windmills.
    If they believe that fine wine consumers will take their side, they should be shouting from the rooftops that they are in favor of direct shipping from out of state retailers. You don’t win against a well funded and well organized establishment without getting your hands dirty.
    (And you did bury the lead, which is that it looks like MD consumers will be getting shipments from wineries, finally.)

  8. tew - March 18, 2011

    That would be the “scent of cash” (not “sent”).

  9. Jay - March 18, 2011

    As a USA wine consumer not in Maryland) I guarantee you that if a consumer in Maryland wants wine to be shipped to him it will get it there no problem and no one would ever know. I live in a state that is much like Maryland in that it protects the 3 tier system. Hogwash with that. It limits our freedoms.

  10. Tom - March 21, 2011

    @Jay, that’s probably true — but it is a felony to ship into Maryland and as a retailer who ships, I wouldn’t take that chance. And @James, the lede is buried, but the fact is that we don’t know what MD regs will be for registration and reporting. Even with this bill it’s not clear how those things will work.

  11. Bob Davis - March 22, 2011

    Jay is correct. Wines get shipped into Maryland by the truckload that did not pass through the legal channels. Besides it’s a short drive to DC and VA and just have it sent there. HB1175 is a start. Retailer shipping is problematic in other direct shipping states as well. The thing people need to keep an eye on is the “C.A.R.E” act being introduced in DC. It will pretty much make it legal to stop all direct shipping on virtually any grounds. One of the initial sponsors has Southern Wine and Spirits as here #5 campaign contributor. She’s from Florida.

  12. carpenters in essex - March 29, 2011

    That’s another tough issue again. I bet there will be more who will involve on these problems. And I doubt that many will opposed.

  13. David T - April 7, 2011

    If I ever move to Maryland, I’m going to be drinking a lot of Portuguese wine! Their dry table wine is getting better and better, not to mention Port! Looks like Tokaji is still fair game, as well.

  14. gutter guard reviews - October 9, 2011

    If they have reasons to ban on those stuffs then they can. I am sure that the people will be ware on this and on what the lawmakers are intended to do.

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