This Post-Prohibition Relic Is Haunting Microbrews In New York

PG Veer Contributor
Font Size:

A 2013 New York State law mandating microbreweries get most of their ingredients from in-state farmers may be unconstitutional, according to a new study from Boston College.

The state legislature was trying to boost the local economy by getting microbreweries to buy from New York farmers. But Eric Hawkins, author of the study and a JD Candidate at Boston College Law School, argues this law is a violation of the commerce clause.

“This part of the Constitution clearly states that only Congress can regulate interstate commerce,” he told The Daily Caller. “States have no power to either block or put obstacles in that matter, not matter how small. Courts have generally ruled in that fashion.”

Hawkins believes the Twenty-First Amendment, repealing Prohibition, may be how the state justified the law. “The second provision gave states the right to regulate alcohol within their borders,” he said. “It was basically a boost to the Wilson and Webb-Kenyon Acts, which both allowed states to regulate alcohol before Prohibition.”

“However, this New York law does not encourage ‘temperance, sobriety, state revenues or order in the markets’, as the second provision has been interpretated,” Hawkins added. “It is a law meant to promote New York farmers by mandating microbreweries to get 90 percent of their ingredients in-state by 2018.”

A challenge could either come from inside the state or outside.

“In the first case, a New York brewer could complain that he either couldn’t get the ingredients he wants or that they were too expensive – simple supply and demand,” Hawkins said. “In the second case, a farmer from, says, Washington State could challenge the law because he couldn’t sell his barley to a brewer because the out-of-state quotas were already met.”

Hawkins’ solution? “While states can promote their farmers and breweries, they cannot mandate it,” he told TheDC. “New York should take Massachusetts as an example. That state does sell a special “farmer brewery” license like New York and encourages buying from in-state farmers but there are no quotas attached to the law.”

Another solution would be outright deregulation in the matter as it would respect the spirit of microbreweries. “They were meant to promote local initiative and ingredients without government dictating what to do,” he concluded.

The New York State Liquor Authority did not respond to TheDC’s request for comment by press time.


Please note that this study is the sole opinion of its author and does not imply a support from Boston College

Follow PG Veer on Twitter and Facebook