Bill would ban 'e-moonshine'

Legislation meant to limit sale to minors grows much broader

Aug 4, 1999 - A proposal originally introduced to reduce the availability of alcohol to minors shopping online has grown into a battle between large liquor distributors and small wineries and and breweries seeking to extend their markets.


On Tuesday, the House passed a bill that appears to give the victory to the big guys. The bill would allow state attorneys to go to Federal court to prosecute out-of-state companies that violate state restrictions on alcohol sales. Similar legislation has already passed the Senate.

The White House has not indicated its position on either the House or Senate bills, but has generally opposed any new regulations on electronic commerce.

The bill started as an idea from Mothers Against Drunk Driving to crack down on Internet sales to minors. But even MADD's director of public policy, Bob Shearouse, thought the House bill went too far: "We're not against a 35-year-old ordering a fine bottle of wine over the Internet," he said. "We don't want a total ban, but just proper safeguards. The Internet does not produce an immediate problem as college kids tend to want immediate gratification, which they don't get if they have to wait two weeks for the delivery."

States can regulate the import and sales of liquor within their borders, and almost every state prohibits or limits the direct shipment of alcohol from out of state to residents or unlicensed sellers. Attorneys general, however, have been reluctant to take action against growing mail-order and online sales because there was no effective way for them to prosecute out-of-state companies.

The bill was opposed by representatives from California and other areas with wineries and breweries that are often unable to distribute their products through the traditional wholesalers. More vintners that brewers have gone online in in order to overcome the limited shelf space in retail outlets.

Prohibiting online sales "will restrict interstate commerce and limit consumers' choice around the country," said Representative Lois Capps, a California Democrat, who argued that the bill put unfair restrictions on "law-abiding citizens."

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