Pennsylvania’s Totalitarian Liquor Laws: Could Privatization Be In Sight?

For most Americans in a majority of states, beer and other alcoholic products are readily available in many private retail outlets. That is not the case in Pennsylvania, which is one of 18 “control states.” It seems that the effects of prohibition still have not worn off in the Keystone State.

wine and spirits

Wikipedia — The alcohol laws of Pennsylvania are some of the most restrictive in the United States of America, and contain many peculiarities not found in other states.

Pennsylvania is an alcoholic beverage control state. Wine and spirits are to be sold only in the state owned Wine And Spirits shops, where all prices must remain the same throughout the state (county sales tax may cause the price to differ slightly).

Beer may only be purchased from a restaurant, bar, licensed beer store, or distributor. Beer distributors mainly sell cases and kegs of beer, not smaller volumes of beer such as six packs. Six and twelve packs, along with individual bottles such as 40 ounce or 24 ounce beers, are sold at bars, restaurants, and licensed retailers. A consumer is limited to 192 ounces of beer per purchase. For larger quantities one must go to a beverage distributor which sells beer only by the case or keg. Beverage distributors (which also sell soft drinks) may sell beer and malt liquor, but not wine or hard liquor.

In recent years, some supermarkets like Wegman’s and Weis have gotten around Pennsylvania’s strict liquor laws by selling beer in separate but attached restaurants. In some cases these are just cafe’s that are open to the rest of the supermarket, but with separate checkout lanes. So in Pennsylvania, if you go to the supermarket to buy beer along with your other groceries, which is still rare in the state, you must checkout twice. You can’t buy your loaf of bread along with a six-pack of Yuengling or Victory.

Now the Republican controlled legislation as well as Republican governor Tom Corbett have announced a plan to privatize Pennsylvania’s over 600 Wine and Spirit stores as well as make it possible for other retail establishments to sell beer and wine. This is one of the few times you will ever see a Left Call endorsement of a Republican plan, but I say this is long overdue. In almost all cases I’m against privatization of public services, but in the case of liquor sales, I do not believe it is a public service. The government has no reason to be in the business of selling alcohol. Government can highly regulate and even highly tax liquor sales and that is fine, but there is no reason for state-run stores. An interesting twist, especially for a liberal like myself, is that the biggest obstacle to privatization of liquor sales in Pennsylvania is the union that represents Wine and Spirit store employees.


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