Far be it from me to give PR advice to someone who is in the PR game—if I had any PR talent, I’d certainly be a much wealthier wine writer. But a recent series of posts at Fermentation.com compelled me to both pull out of the discussion and give my opinion here where I am safe and comfortable!
I applaud Tom Wark’s work with the Specialty Retailers Association. I believe fully that the present system of alcohol regulation that was left to the states to decide, individually, is a disaster of great proportions, not to mention the little matter of it being the result of a Constitutional Amendment (the 21st) that contradicts an earlier and still existing Constitutional clause (the Dormant Commerce Clause in Article 1, Section 8).
Yet, I am of the opinion that Tom’s counter arguments to the specious arguments put forward by the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) may be helping to create more fog rather than to lift it.
WSWA is obviously in favor of maintaining the present three-tier wine distribution system, and even to tighten it further. The system is perfect for the group. It makes wine wholesalers among the few, if there are any other, industries that survive by way of government revenue protection--a cursory glance at many state regulations clearly shows that the purpose of the three-tier system is to contain the industry so that the state can easily identify and collect its tax revenue.
That same glance at the regulations will show the astute among us something more enlightening about the system.
When Prohibition ended in 1933, the country did not automatically lose those with “dry” sentiments. The Congress knew this fact, and some in congress knew they had constituents and lobbyists back home who were watching. So, the mealy bunch in Washington punted the ball to the states. After the feds set up their alcohol tax revenue interests, they allowed the states to set up their own, plus their own idea of what constitutes alcohol commerce.
States where powerful “dry” interests resided were more severe with regulations than those with a weaker “dry” interest. In the former states, legislators brazenly stated that their interests were to make it difficult for businesses to traffic in and for consumers to have access to alcohol—in a recent court case in Washington State involving Costco, that state’s liquor control authority plainly said so in testimony.
The 75-year three-tier system is entrenched. It will not go away easily if at all. The only way that it can ever be abolished is through a national frontal attack on its obvious Constitutional conflict, and even then it would take a less moralistic Supreme Court than the present one to shoot down those contradictions.
When Tom Wark rails against the self-interested bullshit that WSWA puts out, he gets himself sucked into the wrong arguments. Those who support the WSWA bring up all the side issues that have little or nothing to do with the real issue; then, Tom responds and some other subject comes up. With each response, a new subject comes up and soon enough, people are arguing over everything except the plain fact that the three tier system may not have been designed in conflict with the U.S. Constitution, but the Congress of 1933 certainly opened the doors for abuse of the Constitution.
If Tom or anyone else wants to do something positive concerning the disgusting way that wine is regulated and controlled across the U.S. it would seem best to ignore the WSWA and go straight to the courts. Build a coalition of legal minds from state-to-state to attack the constitutionality of state legislation over the commerce of wine and get that story into the mainstream press.
The people who agitated for Prohibition were successful because they learned that reformers do their best work when they turn the tides from being on the defensive to being on the offensive.
(Anyone reading this blog on a site other than Vinofictions is made aware that it has been used without permission--a violation of my copyright.)
December 2008. All rights reserved.