The right approach to alcohol policy

And that is where the CARE Act comes in. This bipartisan legislation clarifies that states — not federal courts — are the appropriate decision-makers when it comes to regulating alcohol. Our state-based system of alcohol regulation is not simply based on the needs of commerce. The laws governing alcohol must take into account the social impact of this unique consumer product. What is socially permissible in New York City does not mirror the mores of citizens in Provo. State legislators unquestionably understand and are accountable to the needs of their local communities.

However, CARE Act opponents believe state legislatures cannot be trusted and that legislating through the courts is “the American Way.” Sound public policy is made by legislators — elected by their constituents and accountable to their communities — not unelected judges.  

While the federal government plays an important role in the regulation of alcohol, Section 2 of the 21st Amendment explicitly grants primary authority to the individual states to regulate the transportation and importation of alcohol within their borders.

The roots of the 21st Amendment can be traced back to our nation’s Founding Fathers. Upon introducing the 10th Amendment, James Madison argued “… that it should be declared in the Constitution, that the powers not therein delegated should be reserved to the several States…” While Madison did not foresee the unhealthy monopolization of the beverage alcohol industry by brewers and distillers which led to rampant public drunkenness, poverty, crime and public health problems leading up to Prohibition, he envisioned future federalism battles and sided with states’ power to regulate rather than broad federal mandates.

American consumers today have more options to purchase beer, wine and spirits than ever before. Strong state-based regulation of alcohol has allowed more than 1,700 breweries and 7,000 wineries have come into existence across the U.S., with as many as 50,000 wine labels and 13,000 beer labels available on store shelves. This range of consumer choice is unavailable anywhere else in the world. These products are marketed and distributed by American, family-owned businesses in every congressional district in every state with operations in 4,360 locations across the country, providing 68,900 jobs and $2.5 billion in wages. These numbers speak for themselves.

The Constitution is explicit in its support for state-based regulation of alcohol. While some are actively attempting to tear down our alcohol regulatory system, the CARE Act will help ensure a state’s continued right to decide how, where, when and to whom alcohol may be sold. Congress: support your state legislators, regulators and the American, family-owned businesses that drive our nation’s economy.

Jim Rowland is the senior vice president of Government Affairs for the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America.

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