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Published: Thursday, 7/28/2005

Keep the wine flowing

NOW that restrictions have been removed on direct shipment of wine to consumers in and out of Ohio, the challenge for the General Assembly is not to give in to special interests that oppose the new openness.

Those interests include wine wholesalers, who already are lobbying lawmakers to reverse the effect of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in May that said states could not treat in-state wine shipments different from out-of-state shipments.

The ruling knocked down laws in 24 states, including Ohio and Michigan, which prohibited consumers from ordering wine from out of state while allowing in-state sales.

At least one bill has been introduced in the Ohio House to prohibit shipping wine for personal use directly to consumers in or out of the state. Such a law presumably would leave the field to wholesalers and retailers, who gain profit by marking up the price. Similar legislation also is pending in Michigan, but its proponents have never put forth a satisfactory rationale for maintaining the traditional wholesale-retail monopolies.

Up north, a front group called "Coalition for a Safe and Responsible Michigan" claims - somewhat hysterically, we think - that a ban on direct sales is necessary to stop on-line orders of wine by teenagers.

The assertion that "alcohol is just a click away" is a scary catch-phrase, but no one has satisfactorily explained why teens would go to the trouble of ordering wine over the Internet when it is far easier to obtain with a fake ID at the local grocery store.

Indeed, no legitimate public purpose is being served by preventing adults from buying wine from their favorite wineries, whether inside or outside Ohio or Michigan, and having it shipped back home. Provided, of course, that they pay any required sales tax.

The Internet, in particular, has made shopping across state and even national borders for all sorts of goods easier and more efficient than ever. It's a new age in which many of the old monopolies, such as those who control wine merchandising, should no longer prevail.

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