N.C. alcohol rules should join the 21st century

Imagine you’re prepping a dinner party for 10 friends. You pull out your smartphone and fill your Amazon shopping cart with the best meats, vegetables and delectable cheeses.

Then, a bottle of Californian Cabernet Sauvignon pops up as a recommendation. You read the reviews, scope out pictures of the winery, and add to cart. Finally, you select Prime premium shipping. It arrives in less than four hours.

For millions of Americans who use Amazon and other online commerce sites, it’s an everyday occurrence. And the process is getting more efficient, quicker, and is offering more and more products for consumers to enjoy.

However, in states such as North Carolina, that Cabernet can’t be added to the cart. Or almost any booze for that matter.

Due to strict N.C. alcohol laws, online merchants such as Amazon can’t stock your favorite wines, craft beers or liquors unless they follow a very strict line of regulations.

No one can receive an alcohol shipment from out of state unless they’re a licensed wholesaler. Wineries looking to ship bottles must be located in state and can’t send you more than two cases per month. Breweries and distilleries face the same restrictions.

Unfortunately, the failed experiment of alcohol prohibition, which ended over 100 years ago, still looms over our great state. There are still too many unnecessary obstacles in front of our favorite drink.

The Alcohol Beverage Commission’s three-tier system, the method of alcohol distribution introduced after the repeal of Prohibition, makes it hard for consumers.

It mandates that producers sell their products to wholesalers who then sell to retailers to then sell to consumers. That benefits the large wholesalers represented by groups such as the N.C. Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association.

That ultimately raises the costs of doing business for entrepreneurs in the alcohol industry, who then pass that on to consumers. This has to change.

Recently, reforms have made it easier to purchase alcohol before noon on Sundays, and they have raised the cap on craft breweries’ stock without using a distributor.

But any new entrepreneur is met with a byzantine set of rules and laws that make it almost impossible to survive.

Who is protected by the current strict alcohol laws? Is it children? No – age prohibition is its own law. Is it alcoholics? No – they can still procure their drinks at any store in the state. Is it consumers? Definitely not.

Allowing individuals to order wine or craft brews online would help grow a burgeoning industry. That’s what the legislature should examine when they consider HB500 Alcohol Omnibus Bill next month. We need reform that favors consumers and treats them like responsible adults.

Imagine if NoDa or Catawba Brewing was able to offer its great selection to online customers across the East Coast, or if white wines made from our unique scuppernong grapes were allowed to be enjoyed nationally at a simple click.

If North Carolina wants to fully embrace the 21st century, it should legalize the sale and shipment of alcohol across the state, regardless of whether it comes from the state-run liquor store or the mom-and-pop brewery or winery that is just getting started.

Ossowski is a Charlotte-area native and deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center.

Published in the Charlotte Observer

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