Why Can’t I Ship Alcohol Through the USPS?

Rachel Hoffman | May 12, 2022

Vino drinkers in 48 locales can get their favorite wines shipped direct-to-consumer (DtC) to their home, while beer and liquor aficionados only can have their top libations delivered in 12 and seven locations, respectively. These shipments must also be through a private carrier, as the United States Postal Service (USPS) is forbidden from delivering alcohol anywhere in the country. Current USPS laws are getting in the way of customers’ desires and producers’ bottom lines. But why can’t the USPS deliver alcohol?

Once upon a time

Prohibition ended nearly 100 years ago but some of the laws surrounding alcohol distribution remain in place. One of these laws, the ban on shipping liquor via the U.S. Post office, has persisted. Following Prohibition’s unraveling, John D. Rockefeller commissioned “Toward Liquor Control,” a report offering guidance to policymakers rebuilding alcohol regulation. These regulations were a direct response to the high amounts of overconsumption that was seen in saloons. Of course, a lot has changed in 100 years. Saloons are a thing of the past, and wine clubs and taproom alcohol sales are a common occurrence. But still, institutions operating in the 21st century are beholden to laws from a different time.

Common carriers have already proven with DtC wine shipping that alcohol can be safely delivered to individuals’ addresses. The sizable market for DtC wine shipping has also shown that the number of minors purchasing alcohol will not suddenly skyrocket. Third-party carriers are required to check IDs upon delivery and some states do in fact mandate age verification at the point of sale. Additionally, a recent Treasury Department report advocating states to further alcoholic beverage shipping noted the lack of evidence of problematic shipping related to minors.

Consumers want it

DtC wine shipping is a $4.2 billion industry. Both beer and spirits DtC shipping have a chance for similar success. For example, a survey conducted for the 2022 Direct-to-Consumer Beer Shipping Report found that 92% of regular craft beer drinkers would purchase beer DtC at least once a month if their state laws permitted it. If the USPS could get a piece of the DtC pie, consumers, producers and the government agency would all stand to gain.

Currently, 14 states and the District of Columbia permit out-of-state retailers to ship directly to their residents, and fulfill those orders through a common carrier. Many rural consumers rely heavily on the USPS because private carriers can’t or won’t access them. Because it’s a government-funded agency, the USPS provides service to every home in the nation. Some residents of states where DtC shipping is legal can’t take advantage of it because of their more isolated locations, an inequity for these buyers and the alcohol producers who create their favorite beverages.

What can be done about it?

There have been many attempts to change the Prohibition-era ban on shipping alcohol through the USPS. For example, there is the recent bipartisan bill, the USPS Shipping Equity Act. While not allowing for opening up DtC shipping in new states, the Act would give shippers more options and competition, which would in turn help rural areas that private carriers don’t serve.

The USPS Shipping Equity Act would also allow USPS to ship alcoholic beverages directly from licensed producers and retailers to consumers over the age of 21, in accordance with state and local shipping regulations. The bill gives USPS two years to develop regulations and implement the law, ensuring USPS is ready to safely deliver alcoholic beverages to adult consumers with appropriate identification checks in place.

Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS) president and CEO Chris Swonger estimates that the bill passing could generate $180 million per year for the USPS. This new source of revenue could be extremely beneficial to the USPS, as it has faced more than a decade of financial challenges.

How can you make a difference? Contact your senators and let them know that you support the USPS Shipping Equity Act, and ask them to do the same. Government officials are voted into office to speak for their constituents, and it’s your right as a resident to bring up this (and any other) issue.

Photo credit: Ⓒ Brewers Association

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