Maryland wine shipping rides a wave of support–and pessimism

Friday was a rare moment in the legislative sun for the subject of wine direct shipping in the Maryland, where, as we discussed, is a felony to ship wine. Consumers and wine industry experts gave testimony before a committee. Tom Wark, executive director of the Specialty Wine Retailers’ Association, who was there writes via email: “Huge turnout in favor of shipping. Largest contingent of consumers I’ve ever seen at such a hearing. Yet, there is pessimism. The chair said what we all knew…that it was unlikely to pass. Distributor opposition, the “minors” red herring and fear of job losses.”

On Friday afternoon, Adam Borden resigned as executive director of the pro-reform group. The Baltimore Sun reported that he had lobbied aggressively for the cause–even calling a delegate’s mother–and ruffled some feathers. They quote him as saying he was resigning because he didn’t want his style to hurt the cause. His resignation letter is reproduced here in full after the jump.

Some key contacts:
Marylanders for Better Wine and Beer Laws and their page On Facebook
Delegate Dereck E. Davis, Chair, Economic Matters Committee
Senator Joan Carter Conway, Chair, Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee
House Bill (80/141); Senate Bill (26/47)

Sent this morning from the Marylanders for Better Beer & Wine Laws:

My name is Adam Borden, and I’m a wine drinker.

I am also the Executive Director of Marylanders for Better Beer & Wine Laws, a non-profit advocacy group trying to legalize wine shipping in our state. Friday, I spoke for the last time in that capacity. I am hereby announcing my resignation as Executive Director effective immediately.

When I first took over Marylanders for Better Beer & Wine Laws 15 months ago, I always knew consumers wanted wine shipping. What I neither knew then nor could have imagined was just how substantial our group would become. During my tenure, MBBWL has increased its membership from 1,500 members to over 20,000. Our elected officials have been inundated with calls, emails and faxes pleading with them to finally make this a reality. Not just fine wine drinkers are upset that wine cannot be delivered. I received an email last week from someone who is angry that he can’t send a bottle of wine as a gift to someone … and he doesn’t even drink. Period.

Wine shipping is not just a consumer issue. Our supporters are also county governments, chambers of commerce, economic development agencies, wineries, retailers, gift basket makers, entrepreneurs, farmers, grape growers … the list goes on and on. The only people not on this list are the liquor wholesalers, who refuse to this day to meet with us. They do not want wine shipping because it would amount to 1% of the wine sold in the state … and these are wines they don’t even carry.

Sure, they espouse arguments that seem legitimate like worrying about the kids, the difficulty the state might have in collecting taxes or the detrimental impact on local liquor stores. These arguments like all their others are smokescreens. They are cover for the plain business interest driving their motivation. They will stop at nothing to maintain their stranglehold on Maryland’s liquor supply and fear that wine shipping is the proverbial “camel’s nose under the tent” that would loosen their profitable franchise.

Who are these “barons of booze” to quote the Washington Post? The two main distributors in this state are estimated to supply 70-80% of the total liquor and wine in Maryland. It is a duopoly. These companies are enormous, operating in multi-state jurisdictions and grossing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. It is estimated that they and their friends have contributed to the campaigns of over 80% of the Maryland General Assembly.

Many in leadership have said that 2010 is NOT the year to debate wine shipping. Why not, I ask you? Because our leaders fear angering what is arguably the most generous political patron in the state at a time that every incumbent Delegate and Senator desperately needs campaign funds.

But all of this is not news to any of you. If the wine shipping debate truly rested on its merits alone, our elected leaders would have passed it long ago. Instead, the bill has been hijacked by the liquor lobby. Friday, we announced that we came to a critical common understanding with our opponents on this issue. We can finally agree on one thing: they want this bill killed more than anything else. They will stop at nothing to see it defeated rather than work on a meaningful compromise. No matter the thousands of constituent letters and telephone calls, no matter the prominent levels of support throughout the state, no matter the logic of our arguments, our elected leaders are hard-pressed to challenge the liquor lobby.

I am still an optimist. I have not given up hope. There are so many good people in the General Assembly who want this to pass that I still continue to believe that 2010 can be our year. Direct shipping will not create world peace. It will not solve our budget crisis (though it will indeed help). Nonetheless, direct shipping will do so much good for so many people all over Maryland that I know its day is just around the corner.

In the course of growing and building Marylanders for Better Beer & Wine Laws, I have pursued a grass-roots approach. Rather than play an inside game, we have gone directly to voters around Maryland to inspire them to take action. We’ve always played by the law but not always by the rules of Annapolis. As a result, my advocacy for this issue has sometimes rubbed politicians the wrong way. My own state senator from the 43rd District, Joan Carter Conway, is probably the most notable example; however there are others.

Because I care so much about this effort and about seeing Maryland enter the 20th century, let alone the 21st, I announce my resignation today. I hope my stepping down will in some small way advance the cause, allowing others to pick up from where I leave off. I would hate for my involvement in this legislation to be the reason for its demise one more year. Paul Hoffstein, a dear friend and fellow wine lover, will be taking over as interim director until someone more permanent can fill the position.

I want to be clear, though, that my resignation is in no way a concession of defeat. Nor does it mean that I will stop advocating for direct wine shipping, which I believe in wholeheartedly and have dedicated more time to than I can possible quantify over the last year and a half. I have taken no money from the organization and stand to gain nothing from the passage of this legislation.

I stand before you to deliver this message, “With my resignation today, there is NO reason that I know of, with the exception of the all powerful influence of Maryland’s liquor lobby, that this year’s direct wine shipping bill should not become law.”

If I have any regret about what has happened, it is only that I have not been able to share this news with any of our thousands of supporters before now. I want to thank each and every one of them for their continued dedication, especially those here today to testify on behalf of the house bill in Economic Matters this afternoon.

I am not yet a cynic and pray that our elected leaders will prove me wrong. With so much support and so many legislators behind this year’s bill, I continue to believe that 2010 will be our vintage. Thank you.

Tastefully yours,

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

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15 Responses to “Maryland wine shipping rides a wave of support–and pessimism”

  1. Will. Never. Pass.

    Second against the wall come the revolution: the liquor lobby.

  2. People who can should buy all their alcohol out of state…clearly this is a racket perpetuated by the corrupt politicians within Maryland…even the “pro-business” republicans go along with this…

  3. Hate to say I agree with Josh that it really has no chance. They have tons of delegates on board, but the two committee heads are entrenched.

    The enthusiasm is unparalleled, though. Hats off to MBBWL.

  4. Tom Wark posts on the frustration of testifying in Annapolis, MD

  5. Jeez guys sorry to hear some of you are forced to live in the 18th century over there! This is absolute nonsense. Meanwhile in duty free Hong Kong …

  6. Maybe those legislators that oppose moving forward should not be voted back into office. Politicians are not “For the People”. They’re for big business and whatever or whoever can make them the most money and keep them in office.

  7. Dr. Vino,

    I have to ask this question: has anyone challenged Maryland’s current law as unconstitutional under the commerce clause?

    Based on what I’ve read here, it seems readily apparent to me (a 3rd year law student) that this law impedes the free flow of commerce between the states.

    I confess that I haven’t read the law itself, nor have I researched beyond what you’ve posted here. But it still seems like a court challenge, while expensive and time-consuming, might be a better path at this point than seeking legislative relief.

  8. Jack –

    I’m not sure about the legal route to reform. Given that MBBWL just lost their executive director, perhaps Tom Wark could let us know about feasibility of a court challenge?

    I imagine it is cost-prohibitive. It’s hard to get consumers to rally to the cause.

  9. Jack:

    There is no conventional court challenge to be had in Maryland. Maryland’s approach to direct shipping does not discriminate—which has been the criteria for court challenges to this point. Maryland’s direct shipping laws treat in-state and out-of-state entities the same.

    The answer is simply to change the law. And frankly, I think this is probably the easier and least expensive and time consuming route.

    What needs to happen is to have consumers write and visit their lawmakers regularly. This is why if I were in charge of the effort in Maryland, I would be organizing trips to Annapolis by consumers on a monthly basis to put them in front of legislators to tell them what they want, why they want it and when they want it and what the consequences would be if they don’t get it.

    Pressure needs to be applied.


  10. The solution to this is simple if the entrenched distributers continue to live in 1823: I refuse to buy liquor from any Maryland liquor store or restaurant or bar.

    I buy from PA, VA, and DC and other states while on holiday.

    Maybe others can do the same too?

    Why should our tax dollars and votes go to support politicians who do not heed the wishes of the citizens?

  11. A few communications bullets.
    1. Let the legistators know that they will be buying their wine out of state rather than in state. Tell the distributors the same thing.

    2. Iowa got out of the high control business about 20 years ago and as a conservative state it had very, very few problems. If Iowa can do this, then Maryland should be able to do so.

    3. Pick a few legislative districts and make a real strong push to get a legislator to sign a pledge to support the effort. Then if that works, start going after others. The snowball effect will scare some more to break their position.

  12. Dr. Vino/Tom,

    Thanks for the response! I agree that it should be easier (and likely cheaper) to affect change through the legislative process. I was merely wondering if anyone had information regarding alternative routes of reform.

    Hopefully MD legislators are finally responsive to the will of the people!

    – Jack

  13. @ Tom – Nice, maybe there are some BYOB restaurants in Annapolis and it could be a fun event afterward for MD wine enthusiasts!

    @ Mike – wow, an out-of-stater buying from PA? Harrisburg would be delighted to hear that.

    @ Tone – yes, it would be great if the bill got a vocal champion in the legislature!

  14. A WaPo blog states that Sen. Conway’s committee will hold hearings on this issue on 3/17.

    Let’s hope there’s a good turnout!

  15. Thank you for the sensible critique. Me & my neighbour were preparing to do some research about that. We got a good book on that matter from our local library and most books where not as influensive as your information. I am very glad to see such information!


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