Newhouse bill seeks to allow postal service alcohol deliveries

For the Basin Business Journal | June 12, 2021 1:00 AM

WASHINGTON, D.C. — If Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Yakima, has his way, one of the last remaining vestiges of the Prohibition Era could soon be repealed.

Newhouse and 17 other members of the U.S. House of Representatives are co-sponsoring the USPS Shipping Equity Act, a measure which will end the ban on shipping alcoholic beverages through the mail.

The bill is intended to give small and rural breweries, wineries and distilleries access to a much wider market.

“Currently, the U.S. Postal Service cannot ship beer, wine or distilled spirits because of an outdated, Prohibition-era ban,” Newhouse said in a press release. “This nonsensical regulation limits shipping options for producers and customers alike, affecting many of Central Washington’s local craft breweries and wineries.”

The bill would allow the U.S. Postal Service to ship alcoholic beverages by mail from licensed producers and retailers to customers over the age of 21. If passed, the measure would give the postal service two years to craft regulations to implement the law.

Private delivery services UPS and FedEx deliver alcohol, but only the U.S. Postal Service delivers to every address in the nation, according to the press release.

“Many Americans do not have access to direct-to-consumer alcohol shipments, though they may be legal under their state’s law,” the press release said. “The current ban is unfair to these consumers.”

Sarah Higgins, the assistant director of the Washington Winegrowers Association, said if the bill becomes law, the repeal of the 90-year-old prohibition on sending wine and spirits through the U.S. mail would support a booming direct shipping market, partly the result of COVID-19 related lockdowns, currently served only by private delivery firms.

“Direct shipping already exists, and this proposal supports consumer choice,” Higgins said. “Nationwide, in 2020, U.S. wine producers shipped 8.39 million cases of wine. That’s a 27% increase over 2019.”

Higgins said allowing the USPS to ship alcoholic beverages to the 45 states where it is allowed — the practice is banned in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Rhode Island and Utah — would be a “win-win” for both American consumers and the U.S. Postal Service.

Higgins also noted there are well-established safeguards to ensure minors aren’t busy ordering and buying booze online.

According to a National Conference of State Legislatures website outlining the legality of selling alcohol by mail in all 54 U.S. states and territories, any licensed holder of a winemaking permit issued by any state can legally ship their product to any customer aged 21 or older in Washington state. However, a shipper in another state must obtain a Washington state wine shippers permit and pay Washington state sales and alcohol taxes.

In Oregon, alcohol sellers must obtain a direct shipper permit or be located in a state that recognizes Oregon’s permits. Oregon law limits direct shipments of alcohol to Oregon residents to two cases of no more than 9 liters each per month.

According to the Washington State Wine Commission, there are more than 1,000 wineries in the state, which produce roughly 17.7 million 12-bottle cases of wine every year worth more than $8.4 billion.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at