Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Gift That Keeps On Taking

Giving and getting booze as a gift in Pennsylvania is no easy feat.

Given the police-enforced monopoly that is Pennsylvania's wine and spirits marketplace, you might expect that there are laws to fence off all possible ways around those restrictions; for instance, no "gifts" of booze (that are then surreptitiously reciprocated with cash). But if you thought there was a one bottle or a case exception for honest gifts, you would be wrong. You still have to give the state its cut, even on a gift.

And you know who is responsible to pay the fees, taxes, and unknown markup on that bottle? Not the person giving, but the person receiving. A good friend of the blog recently quizzed the PLCB about all the steps necessary to give some hard to find, not available in PA no way no how, honest to goodness collectible booze to a PA resident. Here's what they learned.

As a rule it is generally unlawful for anyone, other than the PLCB or the holder of an importer’s license or a direct wine shipper license (or a sacramental wine license), to "import" any liquor (including wine) into Pennsylvania. 47 P.S. §§ 4-491(8), (11).

No problem, you think, I'm not bringing it in, someone else did and gave it to me. Ah, but it is also generally unlawful for anyone, other than a manufacturer, the PLCB, the holder of a sacramental wine license, or the holder of an importer license, to possess or transport any liquor or alcohol within the Commonwealth that was not lawfully acquired from the PLCB, a PLCB-licensed limited winery, a PLCB-licensed distillery, a PLCB-licensed limited distillery, a PLCB-licensed direct wine shipper, or a PLCB-licensed retailer holding a wine expanded permit. 47 P.S. §§ 4-415, 4-488, 4-491(2), 5-505.2, 5-505.4.

OK, so how do you LEGALLY get that bottle into the state so you can give it to somebody? Short answer: you can't. In a moment of supreme bureaucratic idiocy it was decided that the recipient has to do all the work. Why?  All I can come up with is that the PLCB can't screw an out of state person like they can screw a PA resident.

So if you go ahead and just illegally give that bottle to somebody in PA? Here's what they have to do, if they want to legally keep it and not just flush it down the toilet and deny all knowledge when the BLCE comes busting in.

First, they have to know exactly what you are giving them...ahead of time (which kinda ruins any surprise if that was your intent). Then they have to fill out an application for importation and an application for the payment of tax on the liquor to be filed with the PLCB’s Bureau of Product Selection by the intended gift recipient (i.e., the person importing the liquor). (40 Pa. Code§ 9.51.) No word on how long it takes to get that information (because nobody in their right mind has ever done it).

Once it has been decided by the Bureau of Product Selection what fees and markup and service charge (remember that this is a SERVICE to allow you to bypass the incompetents in Harrisburg) to apply, you then have to contact the Department Of  Revenue, because the state taxes on the liquor would be levied by the Department of Revenue, and they have to determine the amount of taxes that would be owed on the gift, if any. If they're confused by this, tell them the PLCB sent you.

(By this time, you may be wondering: if Revenue is collecting the taxes, and the BLCE is doing the enforcement...if we got rid of the State Stores, what would we need the PLCB for? Good question.)

If you want to try and figure out approximately what the fees are yourself, before committing to this mindstorm of bureaucracy - be prepared to wait. It took two weeks to drag the info out of the Bureau of Product selection. They finally sent a reference to 40 Pa. Code § 9.52. Why did that take fourteen days? Probably because nobody in organizational memory had ever been asked the question before. You know...because an ordinary citizen would just give their friend the bottle of booze and be done with it. 

Once that is done, hopefully before you are too old to enjoy your gift, you have to go back to the PLCB’s Bureau of Product Selection and turn in your application for importation and an application for the payment of tax on the liquor (which Revenue gave you). Now even though you have paid the tax, the fees, the markup, and the service charge, the Board can still say no because they have monopoly power and there is no legal recourse for you to appeal to if they are feeling a little bitchy that day.

Think you are done? Of course not! Your friend can't just drive across the border with with his gift. Horrors! The world will come to an end. No, the State has to maintain CONTROL by having you hire a Transporter for Hire Class A or Class C licensee to bring it to your residence. Yeah, really. And by the time this is all over, you'll want to remember to tell your friend to please never bring you another gift.

By the way, if you decide you don't like the gift and want to sell it -- because it is, after all, your legal property -- then just turn it in to any State Store and they will take care of it for you. "But what about the money?" you ask? Don't worry, it won't cost you a penny! Really. You don't get any proceeds from the sale...but your conscience will be clear knowing you didn't break the law. I'm not sure what happens if you sell a bottle when you are out of state but I'd bet the PLCB has some way to screw you if you do that too.
More Pennsylvanians than this buy or drink bootleg booze every day
Suppose this just was too much and the giver decides to say screw it, it is too much trouble for my buddy to go through, I'll just bring him some beer. Guess what? There are NO EXCEPTIONS for beer at all. No jump through the hoops while you kiss our ass paperwork hurdles, no forms to fill out, no taxes to pay. It is illegal, period, to bring beer into the state.

Don't believe me? Here is what the PLCB has to say about it: "The importation of malt or brewed beverages is governed by different sections of the Liquor Code, 47 P.S. §§ 4-431, 4-492(8), and no exception currently exists that would allow for the importation of gift malt or brewed beverages outside the otherwise authorized channels of distribution."

So I urge you to put on that mask, and join the tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians who say, 'Up Yours, PLCB!' every day, and bring that cheaper beer, nicer wine, and better liquor in over the border in as much quantity as youu need as often as you want. Be an outlaw, be a Hero for Freedom of Choice. Perhaps I'll see you on the border.


Smuggler's Blues from Michael Dewey on Vimeo.