Virginia beer, wine ban unconstitutional

Judge rules wineries and breweries should be able to ship to consumers' homes

Apr 1, 2002 - A federal judge has ruled that Virginia's ban on purchasing wine and beer from out of state is unconstitutional. On Friday, U.S. District Judge Richard L. Williams of the Eastern District of Virginia said that the state's law violates the Constitution's commerce clause by discriminating against wineries and breweries in other states that want to sell to Virginia residents.


Across the country, consumers are fighting similar restrictions that prohibit them from purchasing wine on a trip to Napa Valley, Calif., or beer over the Internet and having it shipped to their homes. Maryland lawmakers have given initial approval this session to a measure that lets wine consumers purchase by mail or over the Internet from out-of-state producers.

In Virginia, the Williamsburg attorney said the decision could also call into question the state's decades-old system of restricting liquor sales to state-controlled stores.

Matthew Hale, the attorney, argued in court that the system of state-run Alcohol Beverage Control stores was unconstitutional because the only wine those shops sell is produced in Virginia. The judge agreed with that argument and struck down the laws governing those stores. If the ruling stands, Virginia's laws governing the sale of liquor will have to be rewritten in their entirety, Hale said. The system pulls in about $50 million in revenue for the state.

The law suit was brought by wineries and wine enthusiasts, but observers note that whatever law is settle on regarding wine sales will likely apply to beer as well.

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