Pennsylvania’s perpetual prohibition

Philadelphians love our beer. Especially our little niche-serving craft-beers. The city of brewerly love has produced some of the countries best-loved brands and the by-our-Belgian-bootstraps attitude has inspired many brewers throughout the country. But from the recent behavior of those in charge of oversight for booze in PA you’d think we were a state of teetotalers. beer-week-philly-2

The problem is, when it comes to the regulation of booze there is zero competition. Since most of the people handling the regulations are appointees, citizens barely have a say in the matter. The result? A regime that regulates in a heavy-handed manner, that is inefficient, and performs a function nobody wants them to do.

In the free market a service provider that is inefficient or unable to perform the duties for which it was hired is replaced. However, when it comes to government oversight, there is little or no competition among regulators. Thus, even when a regulatory entity repeatedly demonstrates its inability to perform, businesses and individuals have no choice but to continue complying with these agencies’ deficiencies.

For example, take alcohol regulation in Pennsylvania and the recent bar raids in the city of Philadelphia. One bar owner, Leigh Maida, had three of her establishments raided raided by the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement last month based on a complaint from an anonymous source claiming that they were selling “un-registered beers.” The state of PA requires distributors of beers to register each brand they intend to sell in PA (for a fee of course). “something really crappy happened to us,” said Maida about the Bureau’s seizure of over 300 bottles of beer and 3 quarter-kegs.  As it turns out many of the beers confiscated were registered.

Maida claims that more than half of the beer taken was actually properly registered but the cops couldn’t find it on their lists because of “clerical errors” and “blatant ineptitude” between the police and Liquor Control Board (with whom he officers were deliberating with via phone.)

Case in point; Monk’s Café Sour Flemish Red Ale. The beer has been sold across PA at dozens of restaurants and distributors for more than seven years. The brand appears on the state’s online list as “Monk’s Café Ale” and because the names did”t match up, troopers seized 20 bottles and three kegs of the “illegal” ale from the three bars.

Police also took Duvel Belgian Golden Ale because it only appears on the list as “Duvel Beer”.

“After checking their inventory against the state’s official list of registered beers (which contains more than 2,800 brands) the officers seized four kegs and 317 bottles. Police calculations indicate that they now possess about 60.9 gallons of beer with an estimated value of $7,200.”

According to the Philadelphia Daily News State Police Sgt. William N. La Torre said that the beer would be kept in a secured location, as evidence, until the case is resolved, probably in six to eight months.

The burden of regulatory inefficiencies should not be shouldered by businesses. The Maida’s establishments has lost the ability to offer these beer for 6-8 months, if not permanently. By the time the bars re-acquire the brews they’ll potentially be past the date of best use, consumers who had wanted to purchase the brands would have been disappointed and the image of the bar has been severely damaged.

Regulations like this make it difficult for businesses to remain open in Pennsylvania. It’s to their credit that bars, brewers, and distributors can deal with the logistical and financial burdens of these regulations and continue to operate in spite of them. What is more harmful to Pennsylvanians: being served an unregistered beer or losing a businesses that serve customers, pay taxes, pay employees, and contribute to the state’s attractiveness for residents and visitors?
It’s time to axe the hangover regulations from prohibition and allow brewers, bar owners, and consumers to make their own decisions when raising their glasses.

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