Will Maryland youth abuse direct wine shipping?

In our continuing series to educate the public about direct wine shipping, we would like to address the alleged concern that Maryland youth will use direct wine shipping to become inebriated.

Myth: Minors will use direct-to-consumer wine shipping to obtain alcohol illegally.
Fact: Multiple national studies, other states’ experience and evidenced youth behavior show that this argument is baseless.

One argument against direct shipment is that it will allow wily, internet-savvy minors to purchase wine online.  Advocates of this position claim that minors, who have easy access to credit cards and the internet, will use direct shipment as a means to illegally obtain wine.  Multiple national studies, evidenced youth consumer behavior and enforcement data from 37 states show that this argument is without merit.

A study conducted by the Federal Trade Commission found that there have been no reported problems with minors abusing direct shipment in the states that allow it.   In the 26 states that permitted direct wine shipping at that time, the FTC found no problems with increased access of wine to minors.  The report stated:

“The states that permit interstate direct shipping generally report few or no problems with shipments to minors. Some states have applied the same types of safeguards to online sales that already apply to bricks-and-mortar retailers, such as requirements that package delivery companies obtain an adult signature at the time of delivery. Some states also have developed penalty and enforcement systems to provide incentives for both out-of-state suppliers and package delivery companies to comply with the law.”

This study gives three reasons why minors don’t use direct shipment as a source of alcohol.  First, minors are less likely to consume wine, as opposed to other beverages such as beer and hard liquor.  Second, minors have more easy and direct means of obtaining alcohol.  Third, minors as a group are more likely to desire instant gratification which makes the time delay of direct shipment an unattractive avenue for obtaining alcohol.

Another study conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that the internet and direct shipment are not a source that youth generally consider when attempting to obtain alcohol.   The most frequently cited ways minors stated they obtained alcohol were the time-tested techniques available under our current system. (purchasing with a fake ID, having a friend or family member purchase, asking a stranger to purchase and taking it from someone’s home).  Not a single respondent of the almost 340,000 surveyed mentioned online or the Internet as their source of obtaining alcohol.

Even the Supreme Court of the United States has rejected this, saying that such arguments are made as ‘unsupported assertions’.   In the landmark 2005 Supreme Court case, Granholm v. Heald, which found that a state may not ban out-of-state shipments while permitting direct shipping from in-state wine producers, the Court made the following arguments against the state’s interest in protecting minors:

“First, minors are less likely to consume wine, as opposed to beer, wine coolers, and hard liquor. Id., at 12. Second, minors who decide to disobey the law have more direct means of doing so. Third, direct shipping is an imperfect avenue of obtaining alcohol for minors who, in the words of the past president of the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators,’ . .want instant gratification…’”

Direct-to-consumer shipping is legal in 37 states and the District of Columbia  which comprise 83% of Americans; yet none of these jurisdictions have noticed widespread abuse of their shipping policies.  There have been at most a handful of enforcement actions taken against common carriers (UPS, FedEx) for failure to check ID when delivering an alcohol-labeled package – one case in New Hampshire resulted in the FedEx driver being fired.  Moreover, carriers contractually require winery or retail stores to purchase the signature verification feature, at additional cost, before taking on a new alcohol shipping customer.

Although these studies look at the shipping situations in other states, some have questioned whether the same will hold true in Maryland.  To that end, we commissioned a survey of Towson University students to inquire about their online alcohol purchasing habits.  With 234 respondents, we found that their sentiments echoed those from the national studies referenced above.  They do not buy wine online for three reasons: it’s easier in person (“It is more convenient and efficient to go to the store myself and purchase alcohol.”); it’s safer in person (“Doesn’t seem safe.”); and students don’t plan ahead (“I don’t want to plan what I’m drinking in advance.”).  Legalizing wine shipping does not solve any of the three underlying concerns mentioned by Towson University students.

Maryland’s proposed direct wine shipping bill would require carriers delivering wine to utilize a recipient-verification service that confirms that the buyer is of legal age just like in other jurisdictions.  This service is strictly enforced by both FedEx and UPS and provides the same, if not better, safeguards against the sale of alcohol to minors as those employed in retail stores.  The state has every right to impose this requirement on the common carriers, whose drivers are highly-trained and -compensated professionals.  They regularly follow complex rules and can do so with alcohol just as they do for other controlled substances.

Tastefully yours,

Adam Borden
Executive Director
Marylanders for Better Beer & Wine Laws
4315 Underwood Road
Baltimore, MD 21218
Tel: (443) 570-8102
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