It seems every day I read another news story about the law and regulation of alcoholic beverages, both in my home state of Maryland and elsewhere. In the past week we’ve all witnessed the brouhaha over caffeinated malt beverages like Four Loko and how states and, more recently, the federal government have acted to ban their sales. Here in Maryland, the state legislature will consider one piece of legislation this session that will raise the tax on alcoholic beverages by the equivalent of a dime a drink and another that will permit the direct shipment of wine and other alcoholic beverages to consumers in Maryland, something that is currently illegal. The U.S. House of Representatives will also consider legislation that could greatly restrict the ability of small producers (particularly wine producers) to get their product to consumers.
The regulation of alcoholic beverages is a fascinating area of the law as it implicates taxation, commerce, public health, and safety. Further, the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition, reserves to the States important rights concerning the sale of alcohol, while the Commerce Clause specifically gives the federal government the rights to regulate interstate commerce. This duality creates not only tension but an array of constitutionally important issues concerning the sale and distribution of beer, wine and liquor.
This blog will be dedicated to exploring the Lex Aqua Vitae — the Law of the Water of Life (we lawyers can’t resist our latin). From distillation to consumption and from local regulations to the federal constitution, I hope to cover the field. I hope you find it interesting.