Arizona Sued Over Direct Mail Wine Ban

The Institute for Justice, a nonprofit law firm in Washington, sued Arizona over a statute that restricts consumers from receiving direct mail wine shipments from wineries outside the state.

The suit, filed Oct. 7 in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, claims that the law violates protections for interstate commerce and civil rights of the plaintiffs.

Consumers in Arizona can buy wine via the Internet, mail order or telesales, but the wine must be shipped to an in-state distributor, which in turn sends it to a retailer, before it can be sent to a customer. Also, an out-of-state winery may ship directly to a consumer in Arizona who is physically present at a winery when an order is placed, and the volume is limited to two cases per purchaser per winery. In-state wineries face no such restrictions on shipping in Arizona.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Willowcroft Farm Vineyards, a small Virginia winery, as well as seven Arizona consumers. One plaintiff is John R. Norton, former deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

According to the institute, Norton sought to buy a case of wine from Willowcroft in September, when he faxed an order for one case of wine that is available only from the winery, along with a copy of his driver's license to show that he was an adult purchaser. The winery declined the order because of Arizona's direct shipment ban.

Arizona's Wholesale Beer and Liquor Association has said the ban on direct shipments allowed for the collection of state taxes and helped enforce the legal drinking age. It said taxes on wine purchases made by Arizona consumers would be almost impossible to collect.

Arizona is one of 24 states that bans the interstate direct shipment of wine to consumers but allows direct shipments from in-state wineries.

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