Private Alcohol Sales—Is It Really a Problem?

How much alcohol is being sold online from individual to individual outside licensed entities like retailers and producers? There seems to be an effort by the country’s state attorneys general to convince us that it’s at dangerously large amounts. But is it?

Attorneys general from 46 states are so concerned about “illegitimate” alcohol sales on Ebay, Craigslist and Amazon that they put pen to paper and issued letters in October to these commercial platforms. In the letter, the attorneys general request the following from Ebay, Amazon and Craigslist:

“1. Review the current content posted to your companies’ websites and remove illegal postings for the sales and/or transfer of alcohol products.

2. Develop and deploy programming to block and prevent your platform users from violating state law by posting content for the sale and distribution of alcohol products on your websites.

The letter sent to the commercial platforms gives no hint whatsoever of how much alcohol is being sold online, by whom it is being sold, who is buying, what kind of alcohol is being offered by individuals or really any other specifics. However, the letter issued in October does provide some rationale for its issuance:

“We are aware of the occurrence of unlicensed, unregulated, and untaxed alcohol sales through digital platforms. Some of the products sold in this manner may be counterfeit, mislabeled, or fraudulent. The consumer may not know that this method of alcohol sales is illegitimate, or that these blackmarket products could pose health risks. Bad actors may exploit the anonymity of a digital platform to evade regulation, law enforcement, taxation and responsibility.

The campaign by the 46 attorneys general and the National Association of Attorneys General has gotten a very little amount of media attention, despite some of the attorneys general making an effort to pitch the campaign to media. Needless to say, the problem of “unlicensed, unregulated and untaxed alcohol sales through digital platforms” doesn’t rank too high in the media’s or consumers’ consciousness. The primary reason this collective effort hasn’t gotten attention is due to the fact that those trying to raise awareness don’t appear to have any statistics to share on how much alcohol is sold via digital platforms nor do they appear to have any identifiably instance of anyone getting sick, let alone dying, from a bottle of alcohol purchased on a digital platform.

Put another way, there hasn’t been much evidence that the person-to-person sale of alcohol on Ebay, Amazon and Craigslist is really much of a problem.

There is something else going on here beyond any real, pressing issue. Perhaps of the one AGs had a personal experience or local complaint by a constituent concerning alcohol sales on digital platforms and was able to use the National Association of Attorneys General to satisfy the concerns of the constituent. Who knows?

One thing should be made clear. This particular campaign is not aimed at curtailing sales and shipment of alcohol to consumers by licensed retailers and producers. It’s aimed primarily at private citizens who buy, sell and trade alcohol online.

 


One Response

  1. Joseph Schmoe - December 2, 2019

    Much ado about nothing. Ebay has extremely stringent requirements to qualify for alcohol sales, including documentation of a state license. Hard to fake that. Amazon probably has similar protocols. Craig’s list is still the wild west, where sex and non patrolled labor is a huge market..

    The sub rosa market for wine is minuscule compared to other platforms.


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