Examining the Evil That is Alcohol Franchise Laws
It appears that brewers in the state of Massachusetts are putting the pieces in place to overturn the state’s evil Franchise Law.
For those of you unfamiliar with franchise laws, they are the equivalent of entering into a marriage with an untrustworthy person and not being able to divorce them even if they abuse you, walk out on you and take the kids too.
Franchise laws are in place in nearly half the states and apply in most cases to both breweries and wineries. In essence, these laws prevent producers from ever dismissing their wholesaler no matter how bad that wholesaler is performing.
Originally, franchise laws were put in place where there were less than 50 brewers in the U.S. They prevented wholesalers from losing the right to represent brands from large producers like AB-Inbev and MillerCoors. Today, however, in the case of brewers, there are thousands located across the country. Yet, still, these franchise laws exist.
Brewers in Massachusetts have for some time been looking to overturn these damaging franchise laws and wholesalers simply have not come to the table in good faith to discuss the issue. And why would they? In the case of franchise laws, all the power resides with the wholesalers. Their position has been to use their power to run out the clock.
However, on July 13, state Senator Barbara L’Italien filed a measure that would have essentially repealed the repugnant franchise law. This caused the Beer Distributors of Massachusetts to go a little nuts, start “leafleting outside the capitol, and led to he head of the organization, Bill Kelley, to claim:
“This is a last-minute, back-door attempt to force a more extreme version of a long-rejected bill into law. This amendment hurts locally owned family businesses, hurts working families, and uses an approach completely lacking in transparency, openness, and public deliberation.”
Actually, this kind of sorely needed reform would put family owned producers close to within spitting distance of the same level as wholesalers.
In any case, the legislation has been altered and now an amendment to a spending bill in MA has been introduced that would create a commission of brewers and wholesalers to examine and suggest legislation to reform Franchise laws in the state. They are required to report back on their progress by December 31.
If this amendment is adopted and if there is a commission set up to look at franchise laws and if brewers and wholesalers sit together to discuss reform, the odds are that no real reform will result as wholesalers will likely not support any reform that diminishes their power over brewers and producers.
This in turn will likely lead to bolder legislation being introduced in 2017 to significantly reform franchise laws as there is growing sentiment in all branches of the MA government that not only franchise laws but the entire alcohol beverage code in the state needs reform.
It is a convoluted situation, but in the context of alcohol regulatory reform, it’s progress.
What’s absolutely true is this: Franchise laws are evil. They are an example of the state insisting one business be subordinate to another business for the sake of campaign contributions. They inhibit entrepreneurship. They represent soviet-style business practices. They encourage continued wholesaler domination of an industry at the expense of producers, retailers and consumers.