Direct Delivery: Lawmaker pushing for online wine purchases, shipments

By ANTHONY WARREN,

The fifth time could be the charm in one lawmaker’s efforts to pass a bill that would allow customers to purchase wine online and have it shipped to their homes.

District 111 Rep. Charles Busby is again planning to introduce a bill that would lift the ban on direct shipment of wine in Mississippi.

He’s hopeful that new leadership on the House Ways and Means Committee, coupled with several provisions he’s adding to the bill, will push the measure forward.

“It stands a much better chance,” he said. “I can’t speak to how the body will vote, but the people who have the ability to kill it early seem to be in favor of it.”

The bill is considered a revenue bill, meaning it would have to go through House Ways and Means. That committee is chaired by John Thomas Lamar III, according to the House website. Lamar couldn’t be reached for comment at press time.

The bill must be introduced by February 24. If passed, it would allow customers to purchase wine directly from wineries and vineyards and have it shipped to their homes.

The proposal is backed by many Northsiders, who like the idea of being able to order online and having access to products not readily available from the Mississippi Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC).

However, some liquor store owners say the bill could hurt their business.

Others still are worried that its passage would make it easier for young people to get alcohol and cut down on state revenues.

“I don’t believe we’ve seen a bill that addresses those concerns if I’m not mistaken,” said Scott Jackson, owner of Colony Wine Market.

District 64 Rep. Shanda Yates supports the idea of direct shipment, but like Jackson, wants to make sure the state still collects taxes on the beverages.

“I don’t see how it can’t be set up like Amazon, where you have entity to collect the sales tax and submit it to the state,” she said.

Busby said his bill would address both Jackson’s and Yates’ concerns.

Wines sold through direct shipment would still be subject to ABC’s 27.5-percent markup, as well as state sales tax.

Additionally, customers would have to show proof of age and sign for it before they could receive a shipment.

“That’s the way it’s handled in other states,” Busby said. “(Many) states do this. We have the luxury of learning from their mistakes.”

Forty-three states now allow for some form of direct-to-consumer shipment, either with or without restrictions.

Other provisions include expanding what items package stores can sell and loosening restrictions to allow retailers to sell libations on Sundays. Busby also is proposing allowing owners to own/operate up to three stores.

Currently, liquor store owners can only have one store. Package retailers also can only sell liquor, drink mixes and limited amounts of glassware. Not even ice can be sold at package locations, and stores cannot be open on Sundays.

Finally, Busby plans to add a provision that would allow licenses to be transferred from one owner to another, giving liquor licenses a monetary value.

“I work with two attorneys, one who says you can do it and one who says you can’t,” he said, referring to the sale of licenses. “I’m under the impression that you can’t.”

In Mississippi, all liquor sold must go through the state ABC warehouse in Madison County. It is illegal for wine to be sold or purchased online.

ABC monitors sales, in part, through attempting to make online purchases itself, according to Department of Revenue Associate Commissioner Meg Bartlett.

Individuals caught selling to anyone other than ABC can be fined up to $2,000 and face six months in jail.

Consumers also can face penalties, including all tax liabilities related to the purchase, Bartlett said.

Whether the state can enforce out-of-state manufacturers remains to be seen.

The state is attempting to sue three out-of-state companies for shipping wine to customers in the state.

The case was argued before the Mississippi Supreme Court on January 15.

Former Attorney General Jim Hood and Mississippi Commissioner of Revenue Herb Frierson filed suit against Wine Express Inc., Bottle Deals In., and Gold Medal Wine Club, for shipping wine direct to consumers, in violation of state law.

According to the Clarion-Ledger, the companies shipped some 19,000 bottles of wine to customers in the state between 2015 and 2017, costing the state tens of thousands of dollars in tax revenues.

The matter was dismissed by Rankin County Chancery Judge John S. Grant in 2018, who said the state did not have the jurisdiction. The initial complaint was brought forward in 2017.

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