Pa. GOP Wants To Decriminalize Out-Of-State Liquor Sales

Tristyn Bloom Contributor
Font Size:

It’s currently illegal to bring alcohol purchased outside state lines into Pennsylvania, and Republican lawmakers are tired of it.

State Rep. John Taylor recently announced that he’s drafting a bill to decriminalize purchasing wine, beer, or liquor out of state and bringing it home to drink.

“I don’t want to subject my constituents to criminal prosecution because they have a couple bottles of wine they bought in another state,” said Taylor, who is chairman of Pennsylvania’s House Liquor Committee.

Pennsylvania has some of the strictest alcohol laws in the country, allowing liquor and wine sales only at state-run stores with prices set at the state level. Beer is sold only at beer distributors, and even then only by the case — smaller amounts of beer, like six-packs, can be bought only at specially licensed bars and restaurants. The state has had a monopoly on such sales since the repeal of Prohibition in 1933.

Pennsylvanians caught transporting alcohol across state lines can be fined $10 per bottle or can of beer and $25 per bottle of liquor, in addition to having to surrender the hooch to the police.

If the law passes, Taylor explained, “It’s not going to dramatically change consumer behavior. … Most people don’t know or think they’re breaking the law now. There’s nobody that thinks they’re committing a crime, and they are.”

According to a recent study, 45 percent of Pennsylvanians admit to buying booze out of state. The Commonwealth Foundation, Pennvylania’s free-market think tank, estimates that the state’s liquor monopoly has lost it nearly $200 million in sales.

While the anti-bootlegging law is rarely invoked — six people have been arrested for violating it since 2012 — Republican officials hope it will revitalize the stalled attempt to privatize Pennsylvania’s liquor market. The State House actually passed privatization legislation in 2013, but the Senate has yet to take the issue up. According to a 2013 poll, the majority of likely voters in Pennsylvania support privatization.

The unions, however, are less excited. Union president Wendell Young, who leads the local chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, said that allowing Pennsylvanians to buy alcohol out of state is “patently unfair” to PA liquor store clerks and owners, according to The Patriot. Young was exposed for failing to register as a lobbyist earlier this year, despite being paid for his lobbying activities — much of it centered on opposing liquor privatization. His union spent $1 million on a six-week long ad campaign alone last year opposing the House’s bill.

“It’s not over yet,” he said at the time. We’re going to keep going.”

Follow Tristyn on Twitter.