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Another View -- Tom Wark: NH should not interfere with wine shipments

By TOM WARK
February 18. 2018 10:31PM




Why is the New Hampshire Liquor Commission pushing a new law that can only be deemed an affront to free trade, consumer choice and free markets? This is the only way to describe a legislative proposal by the commission to ban New Hampshire consumers from continuing to enjoy the direct shipment of wine from out-of-state sources.

Senate Bill 353 is the work product of Liquor Commission Chairman Joseph Mollica. If passed it would ban wine shipments to New Hampshire consumers from out-of-state wine stores, a free-market initiative Granite State wine lovers have enjoyed for 15 years.

The bill was presented by the chairman as having no impact upon consumers whatsoever. Yet, the proposed ban would wipe away $3 million in purchases that New Hampshire consumers transact with out-of-state wine stores and retailers annually. At the hearing on this bill in January, however, the chairman responded to the question, “As a consumer how will this impact me?” by saying, “you won’t notice at all.”

The reason consumers will notice is that New Hampshire’s open market is a lifeline for many wine consumers who simply can’t find what they want in New Hampshire. Looking just at imported wines, the Liquor Commission provides access to roughly 10,000 different imported wines from places like France, Germany, Italy and other countries. Yet, this is a minuscule percent of the more than 215,000 imported wines that have been approved for sale in the United States in the past two years alone.

And we know New Hampshire wine consumers exercise their right to buy from out of state stores. More than 1,100 out-of-state sellers have received a New Hampshire permit to ship wine to consumers in the state. Only 81 of those (6 percent) are held by out-of-state wine stores and retailers, rather than wineries. However, more than 25 percent of shipments into the state originate with these same 81 out-of-state wine stores.

The chairman of the Liquor Commission claims this potential strike against consumer choice is necessary to protect New Hampshire stores from competition from outside entities. But New Hampshire consumers aren’t stupid. They don’t pay the often-exorbitant shipping costs on wine they can find in state stores. They will, however, pay the shipping costs on wines that are only available outside the state, such as wine-of-the-month club bottlings, obscure imported wines, rare wines and collectible wines not available in New Hampshire.

More importantly, the Liquor Commission has no business restricting consumer choice with policies that violate the principles of free trade and free markets in order to protect the commission’s bottom line. If he wants a bigger piece of the pie then Mollica should offer consumers more choice, not restrict it.

Senate Bill 353 was rejected by the Senate Commerce Committee by a vote of 5-0. The full Senate should heed the committee’s advice and also vote to reject this anti-consumer bill.

Tom Wark is executive director of the National Association of Wine Retailers.


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